Forrester says there are several reasons why social networking should play a role in an emergency communications strategy. For one thing, social technology adoption is increasing, and a greater portion of employees and customers have continuous access to social sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
In addition, social channels are essentially free. It costs very little to set up a Facebook, Twitter, or Yammer profile, recruit followers, and send out status updates.
Social media sites can also facilitate mass communication with external parties, the firm says. Typically, during a crisis immediate communication is limited to internal staff. However, companies should also plan for situations that call for communication with partners, customers, public officials, and the public at large. Social media sites make it easy to establish these external connections.
Finally, the environment of social discussions provides mass mobilization and situational awareness. The value of social networking sites offers unique advantages in the crisis communications arena, Forrester says.
One downside of social networks for disaster recovery is that social networking "by its very nature has the ability to increase FUD -- fear, uncertainty and doubt," Silverstone says. "So I would advise companies that they need to have a policy in place [on how to use social networks] long before a disaster happens, and think about many different possibilities and manage all access and data sharing on social networks like any other communication effort."