Tsunami proved worth of social media, says Japanese tourist organisation

The UK Japanese National Tourism Organisation says social media has become a vital tool since last year’s earthquake and tsunami but it still has no dedicated budget for it.

Kylie Clark, head of public relations and marketing, told a briefing on using social media in a crisis organised by FTI Consulting, that it had not used social media in a crisis before last year.

However, she said after the organisation started to engage on the channel following the devastating events of last March, its Facebook fan base grew 100 times to over 10,000.

Five months after the disaster Clark said its Facebook fans were 400% more interactive than they had been before.

“From our experience social media is really useful during a crisis,” she said.

“We had very small budgets and had no budget at all for social media but it was a way of getting our message across quickly at no cost and directly.

“We found it invaluable. We still have no resources for it but we think it’s important.”

Clark said one of the stories after the disaster, which claimed 20,000 lives and led to an ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima power station, was a leak that Japan might offer 10,000 free flights.

She said the story, first reported in Japan, circulated widely on the web so the JNTO issued a statement saying the idea was just a proposal on its website which crashed due to the traffic.

The idea was eventually shelved at Christmas time when Clark was due to take a holiday so she put out a statement on Facebook before she left.

“I thought the backlash was going to be immense, but people were actually very good about it,” Clark said.

“When we explained they were far happier the resources were going to go into help people who lost their houses.

“Lots of the mainstream media picked this up from social media. For this story there was a big uptake in interaction through social media channels.

“We had never engaged with the pubic in this way before the crisis. The general public feels they have a better relationship with us because we have had close contact with them over the past year.”

During the crisis Clark said she tried to respond quickly to enquiries without getting approval from Japan, but that this is often a problem for regional tourist board offices.

Initially she was not allowed to make any statements in the UK until one had been made by the Japanese Ambassador.

However, she was able to change the Facebook fan page picture during the crisis having asked an artist friend to create something more welcoming than had been used previously.

Victoria Bacon, Abta head of communications, said social media was now really useful for organisations to get their message across in a timely fashion in a crisis.

“Timing was always important, now it’s absolutely critical. If you leave a vacuum someone will fill it with speculation and gossip.

“You have to constantly judge and assess what’s going on in real time because people have not got the patience to wait,” she said.

However, Bacon warned against jumping in too quickly to respond to a criticism or complaint online saying organisations should assess who is saying what and how influential they are.

She said it was more important than ever to build offline relationships with influential writers or bloggers who can be supportive in a crisis.

“There is nowhere you can hide in the world of online. Everyone has a voice. What you think may be a small issue can become massive if it’s not nipped in the bud.”

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