Wednesday, March 31

Traveling With Colleagues: How Twitter Works

There is not much to be seen near Valley Wells Station along I-15 in California. The closest exit is an unincorporated community called Cima, but so few people live there that has been classified as a ghost town.

It was also along this unpopulated stretch of desert highway where we experienced a blowout. The initial impact was jarring, as the back mud flap scraped along the highway at slightly more than 70 miles per hour, enough to wake me up from a light nap. I immediately hit the hazard lights and helped guide Kim from the fast lane over to the shoulder.

Once we made it, I wasn't too worried. Even after surveying the damage and discovering I couldn't do the job alone (the tread had lodged itself between the tire and back bumper and the spare was too low on air to use safely), I was confident enough. Having recently renewed our AAA membership, the best would be a short wait with two travel-weary children (unless the car was deemed inoperable).

The unintended benefits of Twitter.

Before deciding on the best way to divert their attention, I mentioned our situation on Twitter (and Facebook via Twitter). "Whoa, we just had blow out on I-15 headed home," I wrote. And then, something unexpected happened.

One of our clients, Jay Shubel, CEO of a credit card processing company, gave me a call. He offered more than words of concern. He asked if we needed a rescue, saying they were more than willing to drive two hours or so to pick us up. (His executive vice president added on Twitter that I was too valuable to leave stranded in the Mojave Desert.)

While this wasn't the first time Twitter has proven itself useful during a personal crisis, the gesture touched us. It didn't matter that AAA delivered on its promise when the mechanic from Baker arrived well under the 45-minute expectation set by the dispatcher. It was still nice to know that people do more than listen on Twitter. They're willing to be proactive in offering help.

Crisis communication plays out in personal life too.

Naturally, we could have called other family or friends if we needed a rescue too. But Twitter also proves to be a useful tool, allowing you to travel with a unique connection to colleagues. In this case, it was especially nice to know that if we had any additional problems during the remaining 90 miles, everything I say about Twitter would be proven true. You get out of it exactly what you put into it.

There was another lesson to be learned too. Technology aside, crisis communication doesn't have to exist exclusively in corporate settings. Communication plays out daily. Here's how we managed ours:

1. Assess the situation. Emotional reactions are useless and detrimental. Stick to situation analysis, with an emphasis on gathering facts. You need to know where you are in order to plan a course of action.

2. Determine the impacts. In this situation, the best case scenario was having a mechanic assist and then slowly returning home on the spare. However, alternative plans could have included another night away or asking friends for help. While we had to wait for all the facts, we had already narrowed our options.

3. Synchronize messages for the audience. Make no mistake that almost every situation has an audience. And for my wife and me, our audience was our children. If we couldn't agree on a course of action and communicate to them based on their needs, even 15 minutes could be a disaster. They needed assurance that the situation was under control and there were multiple solutions.

4. Designate spokespeople. Sometimes the messenger is the message. While my wife is a seasoned communicator, the kids tend to turn to me when there is uncertainty and her when they are injured. So, instead of allowing them to become impatient, I set their focus on the raw video footage of their vacation while we waited. It didn't matter that I shot more stills than footage. I had just enough to make the wait a positive experience.

5. Collect feedback and adjust. Since the kids were satisfied watching the footage, there wasn't any need to adjust. But there could have been. I had alternative ideas in the works (just in case) to keep them engaged.

Crisis communication doesn't have to be elaborate to be effective. In most cases, it amounts to a series of steps and situational decisions, with enough flexibility to allow for those moments when things do not go as planned. Even better, relying on these five simple steps helps to ensure that life doesn't happen to you. You're an active participant who makes reasoned choices.

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