Social media has revolutionized communication. In July 2013, at the San Francisco International Airport, a Boeing 777 flight from Seoul, South Korea crashed at the airport. An observer snapped a picture of the accident with his phone and shared it on Twitter. Within half an hour, over 44,000 tweets were posted about the accident, including videos taken by survivors escaping the wreckage.

The event highlighted social media’s role in crisis management. Twitter enjoys over 2 billion followers and Facebook even more. Leaving companies to deal with a massive number of potential “citizen journalists.” Getting social media crisis management right is vital for companies presenting themselves as aware, prepared, on top of things, sympathetic, reactive, and more importantly committed to safeguarding relationship with customers and stakeholders.

When a crisis strikes, the basics of an effective social media communication strategy involves:

Getting the communication basics right. The basics remain the same: communicate honestly and openly. Acknowledge the risk, uncertainty or ambiguity. Accept responsibility or accountability. Communicate with empathy and compassion, meet all the needs of the media and make it a priority to remain accessible. Do your best to alleviate any suffering.

Coordinate with other parties. Social media affords stakeholders an opportunity to create content, all of which must not only corroborate but also complement each other. Take an airplane crash, the stakeholders include the airline, the airport, the aviation authority, the plane’s manufacturer, airline registration bodies, the government and various technical advisors. As a professional courtesy, each body should provide the other with a copy of any public statement including new information, allowing them time to respond.

Communicate individually. Only 2% of Twitter followers see tweets because the feed moves so fast. Equally shocking, a Facebook organic page only reaches 2.6% of its members. Interestingly, 25% of all verified accounts on Twitter belong to journalists, 53.8% of those regularly use the site. If anyone with a Facebook account co-opts your messaging, you lose your voice. Your company’s role in a crisis should be to avail resources and accessibility to stakeholders amplifying your message.

Be prepared. Conduct practice communication drills and when crisis strikes, incorporate social media from the start. And whatever else you do, when crisis hits, remember to keep in touch with your customer base and those who may intimately feel the pain of the events with you.