Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The hidden kernel of truth in the social media universe ...

Another week ... another gun-toting maniac kills a dozen people in Washington, DC. Seems almost banal by now .... 

A constant, in this tragedy, and in any other modern day crisis, is the growing importance of social networks in how the story is told and unfolds. Crowdsourcing tools (and I include apps that let people listen in on police scanner) have changed what's news, how it's created and, too often, how it's wrong.

In the never-ending battle to be first, legacy media outlets are now in a headlong rush to push out facts ,,, info often obtained online ... and often issued by them without any verification or filter on whether or not the public interest in served in publishing every detail (think police scanners ...). So, we now have TV stations who quote police scanners

That rush to be first leads to mistakes and often painful corrections. For some digital news organizations, this correction process is a life-or-death issue in terms of their credibility.The shooting in Washington saw another litany of media mistakes ... a good list here.

The public will participate whether we like it or not ... the first instances, such as in the Boston Bombing might not be entirely positive. But the truth is that the crowd is smarter ...the collective intelligence unwavering and unstoppable ... and it learns! 

So, is public participation in reporting a crisis or providing damage assessments after a disaster to be discounted? Certainly not. In fact, FEMA's is maximizing the power of the crowd in the current floods in Colorado. Case in point is their new "Disaster Reporter" program.

Other organizations recognize the need to monitor social media to gather more info and get a better operational picture. Frankly, they either do this or run the risk of being marginalized.

I had the opportunity in the last few months to lead a project on behalf of Agincourt Strategies, and collaborating with two key experts (Gerald Baron and Bill Boyd), to provide a social media monitoring training program for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. 

It's now an imperative for organizations in all fields, public or private, to have the ability to stay abreast, minute by minute, of any crisis. To do so, they must monitor social media and for the following five reasons: 

  1. emergency information/messaging validation: how are your audiences reacting to your messages? 
  2. identifying reputational threats? what's being said out there that could negatively impact public perception of your response/actions in a crisis ... and hamper your ability to fulfil your mandate? 
  3. Routing calls for help or assistance through the proper channels ...we know people will use social media to call for help in a disaster ... few, if any, public safety agencies are ready for this ...yet they must have a plan in place to do it ...
  4. detecting and countering rumours: a critical function of any social listening operation ... in fact, probably the most important aspect at the onset of any crisis.
  5. finally, gathering info (pictures, videos, tweets, posts) that provide you with a better idea of what's going on ... adding to your comprehension of an event.
This five-part rationale for social listening during a crisis serve everyone to some extent: a PR crisis, an emergency response, a public health risk .... It's essential because the world now moves at the speed of Twitter ... Sees the story unfold through Instagram or Youtube ... and provides ongoing comment on Reddit ...

Are you listening?