Thursday, August 21, 2014

A shooting in Missouri ... part 2

This whole #ferguson mess is an ongoing crisis communications "how not to" ... 

My first post on this focused on the crisis comms (or lack thereof) during the protests that followed the Michael Brown shooting. 

I also put a Storify relating police actions (as they were experienced by protesters) during the protests ... Quite a narrative. Many say that protesters get what they deserve. They're agitators, rabble ... even communists ! (another image from the 50s and 60s ... another reason why this whole situation echoes of the Civil Rights movement).

But can we really dismiss all the calls for police restraints as overreactions from bleeding heart liberals? I don't think you can when you see this: 

So, people ask questions ... but they remain largely unanswered. Prosecutors do their thing (which seems like foot dragging ....), the situation about the investigation into the shooting remains murky (is there a police report? or not ? ) ... And when reporters want to know ...when they question police actions .... especially during protests .... here's what often happens ... journalists are apparently the enemy for Ferguson authorities.

That's one of the stupidest things I've ever seen. The incident commander (Capt. Johnson) walking along ... surrounded by officers in full tac gear. On the outer ring, reporters asking all sorts of questions ... normal right? To be expected in a tense situation, right? 

Was the police prepared? No. Where was the PIO (public info officer) to help handle the media ... potentially diffuse the situation? Nowhere to be seen.

It's that type of situation ... lack of transparency and openness that has a lot of people questioning everything ... from the shooting itself, to what happened in the minutes/hours that followed, in the ongoing investigation and the protests.

And people are surprised that trust is gone? 

The thing is, social convergence puts everyone in the public eye ... there are cameras everywhere ... smartphones ...people videoing ... tweeting ... 

That's why a crisis comms response has to be immediate, consistent, transparent and open ... it revolves around the following four imperatives: 

  1. alert/notify those who should be made aware (for their safety, they're stakeholders, for public info ...) be proactive ... occupy the public space with a quick notification ... that's going to give you time for more detailed messaging later
  2. understand your response is going to be scrutinized, analyzed, dissected on social networks and even live streamed across the world via mobile devices ... How's that for training your people not to pull an "officer go f*ck yourself" ? 
  3. monitor social networks ...what's being said about your response? who's shaping public opinion ? Are they relaying/amplifying your messaging? or have your comms being usurped by other more vocal and MORE PRESENT voices ? 
  4. keep the dialogue open and ongoing ... don't revert to the old days of relying on a daily media briefing ... keep on social networks ... engage on your online friends to retell YOUR story ... going dark is a path to comms oblivion ! 
Maybe, one day, we'll know what really happened ... in the meantime, the police in Ferguson is a victim of its own ineptitude ... because nothing they say now can be taken at face value ...there's just too much doubt ...

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 ! 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The social intelligence conundrum

I had an interesting dialogue on Twitter over the weekend about the need for agencies/organizations to use pay services to garner situational awareness in a crisis.

Here's how it started:
  1. Do you have access to a social media monitoring service? If not, you're definitely unprepared for digital crisis comms.
  2. you don't need a service for that ... anyone can monitor SM for free with right training/policy and integration into EM
  3. I don't believe there is any way someone could be as efficient in terms of situational awareness without a service.

I particularly pointed out the contribution of digital volunteers, most of whom, use a variety of free tools to do a fabulous job during emergencies around the globe:

tell that to all digital vols like and .don't need paid service .i'd trust their monitoring chomps over any1

The key question really, is what's needed? What do EOC managers or incident commanders need? Do agencies need access to the full "twitter pipeline" ?

I make the following points:
  1. with the proper search/monitoring procedures (keywords, hashtags, geo-fenced searches), agencies can get a pretty good sample of tweets/social posts to discern trends, identify rumours, etc .... often with the support of digital volunters (VOSTs come to mind)
  2. In the current state of the adoption of #smem by emergency managers ... there is simply no demand to get the whole data set ... to most in the EM community'd just be noise ... that's where digital volunteers come into play.
Data without analysis or meeting the need of the emergency management organization or agency is useless ... It's got to support effective decision-making and online engagement.

So, a representative sample (and that figure keeps increasing with every single disaster) is more than enough to conduct social media monitoring. Again. this can be done for one or more of the following five reasons: 
  • validate emergency information put out by an agency (are people doing what you want them to do ? )
  • detect rumours/misinformation that could pose a threat to public safety/public health
  • identify and route through appropriate channels, calls for assistance (although you won't see them all ... you need a process in place to have it go to the right place)
  • detect reputation threats that could impede the agency's ability to respond (like key influencers criticizing your response or calling out senior executives or elected officials)
  • to enhance your situational awareness (gather social inter via posts, pictures, videos that people share when they witness an incident/disaster)
The fact is ALL OF THAT can be accomplished by using free tools (Hootsuite or Tweetdeck for example) although their paid version adds some umph does a tool like @geofeedia.

More important than using paid tools though is the ability to validate data from your social listening operation. More and more of these tools that combine some analysis and verification features are now available. A few here:
What do you think? Paid or free ? the tools or the training and motivation of a dedicated team of volunteers ? I chose the latter ...

Friday, August 1, 2014

Digital volunteers and the emergency management community: strange bedfellows or natural mates?

I recently produced a three-part series of posts on the integration of socially-convergent tools into emergency operations centres and incident command posts. This week, I had the occasion to take part in very interesting discussions on how to integrate the work of digital volunteers using social convergence with official efforts from EMOs and government agencies. 

The meeting was to prepare an experiment that will look at fostering that integration across Canada (and the US too ! ). It's part of the broader CAUSE III program. The experiment in Halifax (Nova Scotia) will also coincide with the Red Cross Disaster Management Conference

Now during the meeting this week, long discussions occurred around how best to manage the flow of data/info created by digital volunteers during emergencies. Whether it comes from global organizations/Volunteer Technical Communities or VTCs (Standby Task Force, DHN, Geeks Without Bounds, etc) or local Virtual Operations Support Teams (VOSTs) or even spontaneous collectives, that input needs to be part of the situational awareness equation in EOCs. 

While everyone agrees on the benefits (better info to support decision making and online engagement), the question of the place to give to the info provided by digital volunteers  in the EOC or command post remains.

I stated on many occasions that my belief (especially as a leader in CanVOST) is that VOSTs are well positioned to be the link between VTCs and the emergency management community, But, the VOST main mission is still to provide surge capability to monitor the social sphere during incidents. 

But the debate rages on: 

  • How can agencies tap into collective/spontaneous virtual initiatives that spring up during any large-scale incident? 
  • How can VTCs that most often work in supporting relief/response/recovery efforts in third world countries best work with governments in the first world? Will they? 
  • Is it better to have a group (such as a VOST) made of people with experience in both the VTC world and the EM realm act as a go-between? 
  • How can organizations built around diffused command and control integrate their operations (or output ...) with quasi-militaristic, top down set up like we see most often in EM? 
Part of the experiment will be to provide some possible answers to these questions as VOSTs (CanVOST and other teams in the US) will be involved, as will VTCs (notably CrisisCommons).

Here's a look at how it's happened so far.

Stay tuned !