Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Atten-hut ... Now Tweet! Of war and social media.

Modern warfare is waged on multiple battlefields at once. From the streets and alleys of Fallujah or Gaza, to the open stretches of the Arabian desert to the jungles of South Thailand, men still fight for ground or air superiority.

But more and more, other warriors fight in different arenas. Cyberwar is a reality. We've seen it in quasi-open conflicts (Estonia/Russia), in open battles (Georgia/Russia), in the not-so-cold war and spying between China and the rest of the world. Now we're witnessing it as well in Gaza, Israel and other parts of the Middle East.

We're also seeing the emergence of a social version of the infowar ... where the fight is for the hearts and minds, of not only national constituencies, but international public opinion. Isreali "social warriors" are now the new cool kids on the block

The use of social media in modern societies is now so prevalent that it actually can become a tactical tool ... because we're humans and like to talk about what we're witnessing. That can pose a risk as Israeli authorities have deemed.

We saw in the Mumbai terror attacks, and we're seeing it again in Gaza and Israel, the crowd uses mobile tech and social networks to livestream/tweetcast the conflict. And this can be mapped quite accurately.

So what does this means for crisis communicators or emergency managers? There are clear parallels. As we've seen from Hurricane Sandy, our audiences can get pretty upset when they feel our response is not what it should be. Monitoring and engaging on social networks becomes vital to any operational activity so that the focus can remain on the response and not veer into political damage control.

Ask Governor Christie, Mayor Bloomberg, the American Red Cross and FEMA how important it is to win the "hearts and minds" of not only the people impacted by disasters but also a much larger set of audiences.

Do you have a social war room ready for battle? Ready to guard and defend your reputation the next time you're engaged in an operational response? You better be ... your whole mandate, your very existence, might be undermined by the false (or accurate) perception of a mishandled reaction to a disaster.

Remember, the three critical roles of the public information officer in a disaster in terms of pushing out info:

  1. giving out info that will help people stay safe ...
  2. giving out the info so our audiences can adopt the behaviours we want them to adopt (evacuate, shelter in place, prepare)
  3. and put your response under the best positive light ... the PR component of his/her job 
It's that last bit that is so often forgotten. The current social war, amid a very real shooting war, indicates how essential guarding your reputation against threats ... even in a preemptive fashion, is to the very success of your operations.

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