Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Of earthquakes, how we get our news and what it means for emergency managers and crisis communicators.

Oh Golly ... an earthquake on the East Coast! Who would have thunk it!

I have been planning to write this post for a few days now, today's event gave me the impetus I needed to actually get to it.

RT @twitter: Within a minute of today's #earthquake, there were more than 40,000 earthquake-related Tweets. #smem

That tweet actually says it all. Increasingly, we turn to social networks to find out what's going on when disaster strikes and to share what we've experienced. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google+ offer very effective platforms to do just that. Today's earthquake is a case in point.

Today was not an isolated event. Legacy media, in particular newspapers and TV, are losing ground as the primary source of information for a great many people. Research shows that the Internet and social media are now key channels for accessing the news. Some key points:

First, people will go to whom they trust. With social media, they will interact with online friends and family because they know and trust them. Stories that will often be relayed from online sources. There's a lesson to be learned there about the value for organizations in establishing a solid, permanent online presence on all key social networks.

Second, most of us will also turn to pages where we can find all sorts of relevant info ... I do with my own Google Reader Account ... but there are very popular ones out there as well: Drudge, Huff Post and many others.

Third, legacy media are catching on and adapting in order to survive. The understand the great value of social networks as news gathering tools. They also fully realize the value of being present on the same platforms and use online tools to enhance their own storytelling as was done recently with the London/UK riots.

My friend Gerald Baron has written about this topic and the current trends impacting the news business.

My own view is that traditional TV networks will disappear (or morph online) and be replaced with specialized networks and hyper-local news programming and stations. This is already on the horizon in places like Philadelphia and New York.

What does all of this mean for emergency managers and crisis communicators? Well, now more than ever, we realize that we have moved from the era of "Why should I use social media in my program?" to the age of "How should I integrate social media in my plans?" ... That's a big step ...

There are now plenty of case studies that show the benefit of social networks to reach many segments of your audience when disasters happen. Organizations need to be both broadcasters and "narrowcasters" ....

They need to become broadcasters by having a comprehensive (yet accessible via mobile devices) and updated website with interactive content, ready for re-use and broadcast. A key thing is to provide info quickly. I checked the USGS website within two minutes of today's earthquake and the info was already there. Well done! Another fantastic initiative is the crowdsourcing of earthquake info and data gathering put in motion by the Service. Truly an example.

This first step should be complemented by an established presence on social networks where agencies/organizations are continually engaging in conversations with key influencers and their audiences. By doing that, you become a trusted source and people will interact with you in a crisis, read/view/hear what YOU have to say rather than getting their info through the media or other less trustworthy sources. That's the big plus so when events occur, your organization will end up on a list such as this one.

So, the use of SM should be part of any communications planning twinned to response plans. Also, because impressions are made so quickly nowadays (within minutes), being ready means having people ready to respond to public and media inquiries.

In an age where reputations are made (or destroyed) in minutes, having the right person, with the proper training and messaging, speak/tweet on behalf of your organization is critical. A good post from Jim Garrow on that very topic. 

I'll say it again. Every single organization, every single emergency management program, should have a crisis communications plan focused on the five Ps. That's the only way to succeed in the age of social convergence. The fifth P deals with social network and technology platforms that need to be essential foundations of your planning as well.

I hope this makes sense!

Looking forward to your comments as always!

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