Simply put the traditional media is no longer the primary audience in a crisis. The news is now told by those witnessing or being impacted by events ... no intermediaries necessary. The time for a purely reactive crisis communications posture has gone by. Organizations that let others tell their story are putting their very existence in jeopardy. You can steer your own ship ... or have someone else run it aground ...
Just ask the owners of the Costa Concordia and Carnival Cruises if they'd do things differently now ... Things go wrong, people screw up ... be ready ... You need to be able to monitor social networks and be able to adjust your "pitch" in minutes ... not stick to some corporate policy when everything is going wrong.
Emergency managers and private sector executives should now think of their organization as their own broadcasters during incidents. Take charge of the conversations ... right from the get go. It's not about message control ... that era is also gone ... It's about message competition. So, you need the right tools and policies to be effective, to be heard.
This can start with a sound Twitter strategy for example. Something very effective when done immediately and sustained ... such as my good friend James Garrow highlighted in a blog post on the City of Hoboken's response to a water main break.
And now, with what may turn out to be the start of a new pandemic, the World Health Organization also took a Twitter-centric approach to its updates on H7N9:
Twitter is really a perfect tool for broadcasting your actions during a crisis or emergency. You can break down the info in digestible chunks and then follow up with more details on other social media and web platforms. Works great most of the time ...In fact, if journalists can win a Pulitzer Prize with their coverage of the aftermath of a tornado which destroyed their town and their office ... anybody should see the value in it.
But the tools don't stop with Twitter and other microblogs. Why not literally become your own broadcaster? Youtube and other livestreaming services allow you to do just that. Costs might be an issue but some services are fairly non-expensive. It's an idea that's been promoted by crisis comms expert Gerald Baron for a few years now.
I'd certainly recommend reviewing static or responsive-only crisis communications plans. Among hundreds of conversations during incidents, how will your voice be heard if you're whispering? Fact is, a sound strategy is to build an audience over the long-term so your stakeholders will WANT to hear YOUR voice when a crisis erupts because you'll have a rapport with them. That's worth about a million PR and crisis comms experts and consultants.
So go ahead ... talk, listen, engage ... be social!