As you can see from the timeline, the crash occurred at 8:59am and the first tweet about it was posted exactly ten minutes later by talkback radio station 3AW. A passing motorist who had witnessed the crash had called in to talk about what he’d seen.
Two minutes later Channel 7 tweeted that they were diverting their traffic chopper to this area. And, by the time Channel Nine tweeted twenty minutes after that, video from this helicopter was being broadcast on TV and livestreamed by most Australian TV stations on both Facebook and Twitter.
Emergency services had also been tweeting alerts about the incident and the closure of the freeway next to the crash site.
FlightRadar24.com had been tweeting as well. In fact, they tweeted a screenshot of the flight data from their records a little over an hour after the crash.
The Direct Factory Outlets (DFO) shopping mall that the aircraft crashed into didn’t say anything publicly or on social media till almost two hours after the incident. But, given those folks probably don’t do as much intense crisis planning as airlines do, that’s not bad.
The key take-away here is that the bulk of the story about the crash was told within the first sixty to ninety minutes.
The lesson for businesses and for communicators is that, if an incident has anything to do with you, and you don’t jump into the online discussion quickly enough, all the discussion, the speculation, and the apportioning of blame will happen without you.
Basically, you will have lost the opportunity to share the authoritative account of the incident. Instead you’ll be stuck battling the numerous unverified, limited-knowledge stories and opinions that will already be out there.
In the case of the Essendon DFO crash, there was no charter service operator who could jump in and tell the authoritative story because the person who had chartered the aircraft was the pilot himself. So this whole story was told by other people.
If you do manage a business, however, and you find yourself involved in a major incident, then you must jump on to social media very quickly to make yourself a part of the online discussion. That means, if you haven’t created a crisis management plan, create one now. And, if you haven’t practiced yours in a while, you should go ahead and do that sooner rather than later.
To all the communicators out there who will have to deal with crises in the future: I know how difficult a job you have and I wish you all the best!