Sunday, October 30, 2011

Crisis communications: the landscape has changed forever

Immediacy of response, trust and credibility, online presence ... those are terms that have been mentioned frequently on this blog. It's for a simple reason, social networks have forever changed how organizations must prepare to deal with a crisis. The old ways, based on a top down approach are GONE!

The only way to save your organization's reputation which can be destroyed in seconds online, is to empower your people to get your crisis communications plan in motion ASAP ... often without consulting you! You may be able to avert destruction with pre-approved messaging using identified channels (focusing principally on social networks) to reach key audiences ...

Let's look at some of the indicators of the seismic changes in the field:

  1. how we consume our news is changing ... fast ... more and more people will use mobile devices, in particular tablets, to do so ... and people who own tablets seem to be more "engaged" consumer of news ...
  2. More engaged audiences will share their perceptions and opinions about any crisis that might impact them and/or your organizations ... social networks are great platforms for the exchange of views ... the line between traditional reporting and what's being posted on social media is becoming blurred ...
  3. We are in an era of participatory or democratic media ... everyone is a journalist or a publisher. The Occupy Wall Street Movement (check out #OWS on Twitter) is a perfect example of that.
  4. Legacy or traditional media are starting to cope with the changes ... by monitoring social networks for breaking stories and how to verify the information, to integrating this process in their own professional development programs.
  5. Organizations are quickly realizing the impact of social networks on their future ... looking at their "reputational resiliency" in the era of constant, immediate, citizen-driven and produced information. The business of social media monitoring is booming. Here's a relevant example.
  6. In a crisis, while people will still have the reflex to turn on their TV, especially for large scale events, more and more of us actually rely on online sources, including social networks as revealed by the results of this summer's Red Cross survey.
  7. If you lie, or don't reveal the full extent of the impact of a disaster or a crisis ... you will burn. There are too many people out there with access to information for organizations to try to obfuscate. But they still do ....
Now, that's a brief list ... some of the things you've read in my blog posts before ...but frankly, very few "experts" do a better job at explaining the changes than my friend Gerald Baron.

Let me know what you think!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Of trust, social and public alerting

A few things tonight.

First, a little blurb about trust. My friend James Garrow wrote a very good blog post on that topic today. It explores the steps needed to gain trust before and during any emergency or crisis:
For all of the “be first, be right, be open,” there is one thing, though, that seems to underpin both situations: trustworthiness.
Jim cites a great article from the Wall Street Journal on this very topic.  For me, the key lesson is that trust is the only currency that PIOs have to ensure they are not only heard, but that their messages are acted upon. It's as simple as that. You can be swift, occupy the public space at the onset but if you don't prove to be trustworthy, people will ignore you.

Another truth: don't lie! Seems simple, yet, we saw examples of misdirection, misinformation and outright falsification of facts during the aftermath of the Tsunami in the nuclear disaster that followed in Fukushima. Despite all the early assurances from both the utility (TEPCO) and the Japanese government, things turned out to be worse than anyone had imagined. 

Trust is a hard earned currency. When authorities squander it, people will turn to more credible organizations, often ordinary citizens and volunteers. In a whirlwind of violence, Mexicans have had to grapple with extreme depravity shown by the drug cartels and complete incompetence married with corruption from their government officials, Who to trust? 

That is at the center of efforts to help communities deal with the ongoing violence with crowdsourcing and crisis mapping. A few thoughts on that process here.

Tonight's second topic deals with the "social" component of SM as public alerting tools. I've been thinking a lot lately on the usefulness of social networks as alerting channels. They offer another set of methods to reach wide audiences (in addition to things such as sirens, reverse 9-1-1, electronic notification system, etc.). 

The strength of social media as alerting tools comes from .... well, their social nature. See this great presentation on the role of SM in that process. The principles behind social networks are not new. They have been here for centuries. It's about relationships. In a crisis, people turn to people they know and trust. The become even more social. Social media then become "force multipliers" in terms of your alerting process by greatly enhancing that process of peer-to-peer information sharing.

That can be especially useful when some of your other alerting tools become less useful as suggested in the quote below from the Joplin Globe's coverage on a federal report:
The investigators, who interviewed more than 100 people, found that many of them said that they “hear sirens all the time” and that they are “bombarded with sirens so often that we don’t pay attention.”
In addition. adding social media to your array of public alerting channels can be cost effective in an era of tight budgets. Using social networks to alert your citizens of impending disasters is certainly part of the two-way dialogue that SMEM proponents champion everyday , including the head of FEMA.

Again, I hope to hear from you.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Another powerful argument for the use of social media

We have truly moved into the age of social convergence in emergency management. We are now in the "How can I use social media in my EM program? instead of the "why should I use SM? ...

Craig Fugate, the head of FEMA, gives the best argument I've seen in a while in a written testimony for the US Congress:

"We value social media tools not only because they allow us to send important disaster-related information to the people who need it, but also because they allow us to incorporate critical updates from the individuals who experience the on-the-ground reality of a disaster.”

Read more on this in Kim Stephen's post and the full testimony.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Updating the Irene social media after action report

Online collaboration is a great thing! When my modest intellectual means get overwhelmed, I can count on great people to pick up the slack. In introduced the group of people who have contributed to the report in a previous post.

Now that the latest version has been uploaded on Scribd (you can find it here), I again await your comments and suggestions. Hurricane Irene marked a watershed moment in the general acceptance of social media as crisis communications/emergency information tools but also as operational/response enablers.

I'd like to add two names to the list of contributors:

  • Laura Madison (@org9 on Twitter)
  • Katie Freeman (@kgfreeman on Twitter) 
Hope to hear from you!

Collaboration in promoting the use of social media in emergency management

I had the opportunity to lead an online webinar on behalf of NTEN and 2-1-1 Ontario last week. Things seem to have gone well and we covered lots of ground. Here are a few highlights:

  1. we went from "why use social media in my emergency program?" to "how can I best use SM?"
  2. we're in an era of greater participation by volunteers and citizens in disasters brought about by the age of social convergence = people no longer just want to be witnesses or victims ... they want to take part = crisis mapping, crowdsourcing and sharing info on SM platforms
  3. agencies can no longer just use SM to push info out ... more and more, to be relevant and expend resources strategically ... they need to pull info in ... mine it to enhance their situational awareness and allocate resources more effectively/efficiently + to engage in real dialogue with their audiences
Those are significant developments in the world of emergency management. Hope you share my views and I hope to hear from you if you don't ! 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hurricane Irene and Social Media

It's finally here ... well, almost ... and we need your help!

Our draft Hurricane Irene Social Media After Action Report is now available for input and comments from anyone, especially the #smem community. 

At this point, it's imperative that the following people be recognized for their contribution:
  • Kim Stephens (@Kim26stephens on Twitter)
  • Heather Blanchard (@poplifegirl)
  • Jim Aleski (@JimAleski)
  • Scott Gauvin (@scottcgauvin)
  • Sara Estes Cohen (@saraestescohen)
  • Kate Starbird (@katestarbird)
  • Justin Kenney (@JustinNOAA)
(my apologies to whomever I may have forgotten ! )

You can find a copy of the draft here and we will welcome your comments and suggestions and own observations.
In particular, we welcome additions to the following sections: 
  • section 3.5 which deals with examples of contributions from citizens ... feel free to add your own work!
  • section 3.6 which highlights the use of social media and crisis mapping by legacy media and the private sector ... again, tell us your story or something you've found ...
  • section 4 where we need more instances of the use of SM, crisis mapping and crowdsourcing by gov't agencies at all levels.
  • in section 5, we'll take a look at whatever suggestion for improvement you may want to bring forward
  • section 6 is for any comments you may have that's relevant and respectful ... they can be critical of the use of SM during disasters but they MUST be made in appropriate ways 
You can send any comments, suggestions, additions to me at:

In the meantime, here's an excerpt from our conclusion, to help spur the debate and contributions from the community at-large:

This revolutionary trend toward the “age of social convergence” in emergency management, foretells of a future bright with closer collaboration between governments, agencies, volunteer organizations and ordinary citizens.

This closer relationship should contribute to build better prepared communities by harnessing the power of social networks as public education tools. It will also ensure responses more closely matched to the actual needs of people impacted by disasters who now have the ability to instantly share what they experience and what their needs are. Finally, mobile technologies and social networks have already proven their ability to help foster, create or strengthen communities affected by disasters and help speed up the recovery process.

We believe that these observations have proven true again in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, It is our hope that this document can help provide stronger arguments to convince executives and elected officials about the need to integrate social media and the extraordinary contribution of volunteers and citizens, in all aspects of local, state and even federal emergency planning activities, response operations, exercise programs and recovery efforts.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Selling social media to emergency managers and government officials

I'm in Ottawa where I've just delivered a presentation on the use of social media in emergency management. The  occasion is the Conference Board of Canada's conference on social media in government.

As my train neared our nation's capital, I was thinking how to best adjust the "pitch" those of use who believe in SM in EM, must use to convince agencies to move toward the ultimate objective of a "community-based situational awareness".

For more on this, see my previous post.

The key is a staged approach. Any presentation on SMEM should focus on the following:

  • explanation of the basic social media tools during an emergency (what twitter is for, Facebook's forte, Youtube's power, the use of hashtags)
  • showcase the resiliency of social media during disasters
  • case studies on the use of SM during recent disasters (post 2009) 
  • describing a staged approach in implementing SM into EM (see above link)
To be effective, we need to go beyond the recent Congressional Research Service report which was mired in ante-2009 examples (the infancy of SM use in disasters) ... a lot has changed in the last 2-3 years.

I like this graphic for the simple purpose of basic awareness of SMEM.

It's key for us who champion the use of SM in EM to not forget the very basic of social networking and to have the ability to explain their benefits in disasters clearly and simply.

Not to focus on current popular platforms but on what they allow and the opportunities they offer the emergency management community.

The danger we face is to talk about QR codes, crowdsourcing and crisis mapping to an audience that is still grappling with putting info into a 140 character format.

Champions can't keep on preaching in a desert. They need to connect and convince, show good ROI and emerging accepted practices in SMEM to build up the confidence level from top executives and elected officials.

That's a hard task ... One that will go on for a while yet ...

I know i haven't managed to cover all the bases in the presentation I gave today but, hopefully, I was entertaining enough to pique the curiosity of the many civil servants who were in the room.