Sunday, August 17, 2014

A shooting in Missouri

Okay folks ... this post won't be about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. It won't even be about the nature of the police operational response on the first couple of nights of disorder in the St Louis suburb (however misguided it was ... although I must say I have no sympathy for looters who continue to take advantage of the situation ...despite a shift in the police response ... ) 

The police are really between a rock and a hard place as the situation continues to flare up ....

This post is really about communicating during a crisis and how social media has changed how it's done. It's really simple .... it's something I've written about before. To stay relevant you have to do four things all at one: 

  1. alert: let people know what's going as soon as you can using mobile and social media
    1. okay ... besides a bullhorn and riffles ? any other comms tools at your disposal?
    2. Hey, that nice LRAD (long-range acoustic device) mounted on that nice      tank-like APC ... you can talk through that right ? Not just send out ear-piercing noises ...
    3. You've heard of Twitter maybe ? (not a key tool for the St Louis County Police Department (which was heavily involved in the "muscular" police response)
  2. respond ... that won't change but be conscious you're on camera ... media and public scrutiny is heightened a million-fold because of social convergence
    1. What works better to diffuse a situation when the world is watching: a line of geared-up cops ready for a patrol in Afghanistan or Iraq ... or officers in the day-to-day uniforms ...engaging with the community? 
    2. It's not really cool to go after reporters ... not usually a sign of transparency and openness ...
  3. Monitor ... listen on social networks to see how people/key stakeholder are reacting and gain a better understanding of the situation 
    1. If social media is transforming a local issue into a national or even a global story ... YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT IT ! 
    2. You could even gather some actual investigative intel out of listening ! 
    3. But mostly, it's a good idea to see how your response is being perceived in real time ... especially by people who you'd think would understand ... like veterans.
    4. And, if you have anything even remotely to do with the crisis ... DON'T IGNORE IT ! It's something that could be damaging.
  4. engage ... dialogue ... maintain effective comms channels with key stakeholders and the public ...
    1. dialogue is the only sure avenue toward building trust ... a hard thing to do when pointing a gun a protestors ... and even harder after blaming the victim (even if you later say it had nothing to do with the deadly encounter ...)
    2. That need for dialogue is something the Governor of Missouri recognizes ... 
    3. You have to find a way of explaining your actions ... keeping the public informed while maintaining operational security of course ... they are not opposing principles.
In other words: OCCUPY THE PUBLIC SPACE ... and do it quickly before someone does it for you ... tells your story ... don't let others set the agenda ... sounds simple ? right ? 

You simply cannot rely on the legacy media anymore ... on the daily news conference or scrum ... to tell your side ... things move at light speed ... not at 24 frames per second ! 

Organizations (municipalities, politicians, first responders, EM agencies) must become their own social broadcasters. All sorts of tools exist to allow that ... direct channels to audiences. 

Besides, relying on an 80s strategy (daily media briefings), is dangerous if your spokesperson isn't trained or prepared to to it. It can actually make things worse (ring a bell for the folks in Ferguson ? )  If you send the chief to do this ... his answers should be a bit stronger than " I dunno ! " 

Also, in a tense situation, is it really a good idea to do a scrum in the street ? where you have little control of the environment ? Why not do a more formal media conference in a location of your choice ... moderated ... with a clear strategy and not improvised messaging? 

So, is this easy ? By no means ... I only wish we can all be as ready as we can to communicate when all hell breaks loose and our organizations are in the spotlight! 

Good luck ! 

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