Thursday, February 28, 2013

the SMARMIE conference and related thoughts

I really enjoyed watching the livestream of the #smarmie conference from the Metropolitan College of New York today. It was a great assembly of many of the thought leaders of the #smem community (social media in emergency management),

From @patrickmeier to @kim26stephens, @_jsphillips to +Wendy Harman ... and @tamer_hadi ... the brain trust there was powerful ...

Patrick Meier got the day started and it was all about validation of SM data ... real-time analysis (which was further advocated by the people behind geofeedia ...) Here's a link to Patrick Meier's post where he talks about his presentation. It's full of essential links ....

Key questions of the day for me included:

  • social data validation 
  • social media listening capabilities (in house v. external via VOST-type operation or other digital volunteers ...)
  • operationalization of social listening activities .... where in the ICS or response structure (Tamer Hadi gave an interesting outlook on that ...) and Wendy Harman talked about the Red Cross Digital Operations Centre.
In the continuum of acceptance and integration of SM into EM ... the day provided further ammunition to convince those who still don't see the obvious (orgs that listen, respond better ...move at the speed of social media or be irrelevant ... use the tools your audiences use, meaning mobile tech, or run the chance of being ignored ...).

  1. EM as a comms/emergency info tool ... we got that one mostly covered 
  2. finding more empirical evidence, case studies and academic research on the validity of social data ... we're now sitting on a pretty high mountain of results that show how valuable social media intelligence can be in a response/recovery
  3. operationalization fo SMEM/social listening in a response: the Red Cross and other organizations (particularly during Sandy) have shown how it can be done .... VOSTs continue to demonstrate that ...
  4. sustainability ... a key question that needs to be nailed down ... many organizations (official agencies and/or digital volunteer communities/VOSTs) still depend on too few individuals which limits surge capability and sustainability ...
  5. rendering the social data into actionable intelligence for command or the EOC ... an ongoing process as ICS forms are being adapted ... lack of standards might be an issue ... but some people are leading the way ... so stay tuned ...
All in all, SMARMIE was a great learning opportunity ... alas I had to do it remotely but I was there in spirit with my #smem "compadres" ...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Live news, live tweets and law enforcement ...

Let me first say that I'm a great supporter of law enforcement officers. I have helped train many in crisis communications and social media practices. I worked closely with some of the most professional planners and strategic thinkers from different police agencies while we were preparing to secure the G8 and G20 summits in 2010. 

Police adapt to the changes society brings because they are part of the social fabric. Woven into this fabric are brand new "threads" that are expanding the elasticity of our collective construct. Social networks are the latest in the human race's efforts to share, commiserate and help out when incidents/disasters occurs ... or when drama unfolds.

So trying to ban or circumscribe their use is futile at best, and most certainly misguided. It's as useless as a local sheriff trying to restrict the media's ability to show damages caused by wildfires such as was the case in Colorado last year.

So now, in an era where Twitter is a constant news feed for breaking events, trying to deny it's use is both senseless and counter-productive. People crowdsource the news. They are their own broadcasters. 

Shutting them down or reporters tweets, is not the solution. This particularly applies when authorities are crowdsourcing a manhunt themselves.

So, you're asking the public's help ... through the media and then turn around and say: "oh well, you shouldn't tweet about this ..."? 

This is what you end up with as a reaction: (from @CalFireNews)
#LAPD wants ##twitter turn off all # Dorner hastags replace with just a happy face :) #NothingToSeeHere #MoveAlongNow

It's perhaps a bit of an extreme reaction but that sense of ridicule was widely shared on Twitter and other social networks. It was in reaction to this:

Okay, it might make perfect sense to worry about officer safety. But this tweet shows a total misunderstanding and lack of knowledge of how people use social networks. We don't wait for the media ... we ARE the media ... we'll retweet, share, post what we witness and experience ... media or not.

Unless your normal fugitive is on the lam with a full fledged social media command centre while trying to avoid capture ... I doubt he's keeping an eye on a Twitter stream which sees hundreds, if not thousands, of tweets every minute ... So it's a bit counter-productive to focus efforts on social networks.

Much more worth it is using social networks to tell your story

Yes, each of us has some responsibility and accountability to shoulder about what we share in a crisis ... Social networks have brought about an era of higher expectations about openness and transparency. Going against the grain can expose you to some unnecessary criticism ... and the most outlandish of conspiracy theories.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Being relevant means doing things in real-time

My good friend Cheryl Bledsoe has already put together a pretty good analysis of the lessons learned for SMEM (social media in emergency management) from the Superbowl on her blog. I still feel the need to add my two cents worth.

I have said that in the era of social convergence, two things guide our response to incidents and threats to an organization's reputation:

  1. move at the speed of your audiences (social networks) ... or you'll be irrelevant
  2. use the tools your audiences (mobile devices) ... or you won't be heard ...
Pretty simple stuff really but much harder to actually implement in any large organization, particularly in the public sector. The key reason: approvals and delegation of authority.

I believe we can take some measure of encouragement by the fact that most public entities now realize the need to communicate as fast as possible when an incident impacts its constituents ... but even with the best intentions, that can still take a couple of hours ... Well, in the era of real-time. that's waaaaaaaaay too long! 

View image on TwitterThere are many lessons to be learned from the agility, preparedness to react, social listening skills displayed by the private sector during the Superbowl. Seizing the opportunity shouldn't just be the purview of marketing professionals. 

Crisis communicators should also put their organizations in a posture that will allow them to react in real-time to incidents, good or bad. There are few more brilliant example of how the makers of Oreo Cookies (and their marketing firm) reacted to the power outage during the big game.

A few things can be transposed to the realm of crisis communications ready posture:
  1. monitor social networks and the web
  2. involve your comms team in the incident management process
  3. empower your team to react, delegate authority
  4. accelerated approvals process
  5. engage in real-time
You don't need a full "mission control" set up ... just a few experienced, trained professionals with a strong, well-exercised crisis comms plan will do! 

In other words, the key is preparation ... There are few things more dangerous than improvising in a crisis. Case in point, how the Applebee's restaurant chain in the US is reacting to an online/social media crisis that's destroying its reputation.

Picture 67

The people responsible for Applebee's social media accounts have made so many mistakes it's a study in ineptitude and could almost be seen as deliberate in its disregard for the intelligence of its audiences.

Again, preparedness is the key. Every social network has its own peculiarities, its own communities of users. You MUST know the difference between them. How to post updates on Facebook for example and how to react to comments. How to craft a comment moderation policy well in advance of any crisis ... something that will be solid and not seem improvised and poorly executed.

Some key points:
  1. identify in advance which social networks you'll use for different types of crises and responses
  2. determine how you'll craft and disseminate your messaging
  3. train your people in responding to online criticism 
  4. for God's Sake ... don't do it in the middle of the night ! 
  5. don't take your audiences for idiots 
Enough said ... I know that chances are I'll be eating Oreos rather than having a meal at Applebee's ... bottom line is that a lot of people are thinking just like me ... and that's going to hurt the restaurant chain's bottom line !