Thursday, April 18, 2013

Social media, digital volunteers, distance and coordination ...

It's been quite a week. First, the Boston Marathon bombing, then the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas and today, severe weather, tornadoes and floods across the US Midwest. In all of these events, social media is player a big role.

One of the images of the suspects captured by still cameras and surveillance cameras along the marathon route. The FBI released a set of such pictures today.

In Boston, the investigation is being crowdsourced with digital volunteers coordinating through Reddit and the FBI and law enforcement are counting on the millions of people armed with mobile devices that can be real-time sleuths and provide valuable tips. Here are the two suspects.

Here's an excellent summary of the many stories on the role of social media in the aftermath of the bombing.

As far as the severe weather outbreak ... crowdsourcing, social networks, mobile technologies are finding their expressions through some impressive crisis mapping. ESRI once again shows the way.

Finally, the gigantic explosion at the fertilizer plant in Texas, in the little town of West, some distance from Waco proved to be devastating. 35 or so deaths and many more are still missing ... the social convergence phenomenon (mobile tech + social networks) have given us one of the most poignant videos we've seen in a long time:

I observed some very interesting exchanges last night about the use of hashtags ( #) on Twitter about the explosion. Two sources/contacts on Twitter that I respect had opposing views on what principal location hashtag should be used.

The NYC ARECS (Amateur Radio Emergency Communication Network - @nycarecs on Twitter) was using and promoting the use of the #waco tag:

@nycarecs : Report: Every home within a four-block area of the fertilizer plant is gone. West, TX #waco 3 mins ago · more » · @GlobalRevLive : BREAKING ...


For some, closer to the action in Texas, this did not sit too well. There's a big difference, 

between the little town of West and Waco. Michael Walter (@michaelmwalter on Twitter)

an SMEM enthusiast and PIO for the Office of Emergency Management in Houston pointed 

that out to the New York ham radio crew.

DO NOT USE as Hashtag for or !

is not where the event is happening. most of the information is on and - please stop tweeting this.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Royal mess ... and no, this is not about that family in London ...

My good friend Gerald Baron has already chimed in on the brouhaha around the Royal Bank in recent days. His post talks about sending the right person with the right messages to do crisis communications. It's a good read as always.

For me, there are five critical components to effective crisis communications planning ... the 5 Ps:

  1. Procedures (easy to use, flexible, allow for quick action)
  2. People (how they are trained, skills needed, roster)
  3. Preparation (key messages ahead of time = message mapping)
  4. Practice (exercises, drills, full or table top)
  5. Platform (the tech: emergency mgmt/BCP software + social networks)
Training is the key element of the second P ... the People part; and, as happens too often, it's the forgotten part. So now, imagine you're dealing with a Big Headline reading something like this: Canadian Bank (one that makes billions in profit) Fires Canadian Staff And Replaces Them With Foreign Workers.

Yep, that's the mess in which the Royal Bank of Canada finds itself in. No matter what the actual technicalities of "outsourcing" jobs are, the RBC is scrambling to express its position clearly. Things didn't start well:

As my friend Gerald Baron said is his piece, I'm sure that Ms Hirji is supremely competent in her job running HR for the bank. But was she really the best spokesperson to explain RBC's practices ... which are fairly common in large corporations? 

Being a senior corporate executive or elected official is NOT the same as being a proficient communicator ... especially in a crisis. Training to learn how to communicate clearly when things go wrong or your reputation is at risk, is of the ultimate importance.

The above video is an illustration of what NOT to do:
  • appear jittery to the point of appearing as uncaring 
  • avoid the issue and obfuscate
  • expand on technicalities ... use jargon
  • don't focus about the most crucial factor: the people involved.
To be honest, her big boss ... Gord Nixon didn't fare much better in a later interview with the CBC:

Yes, we understand that it's a common practice for big businesses to outsource IT work to firms from abroad but the very first words out of his mouth should have been about the Canadian workers impacted. About what RBC is doing FOR them and I'm sure they are doing good stuff. 

Again some key points. Your messaging should:
  • emphasize your human values/face ... your compassion 
  • point to a tradition of excellence, best practices, worker/community-centered approach to conducting business
  • stress the huge benefits brought by your presence in many communities.
Perhaps this will serve to remind many leaders that leadership is also about clear and compassionate communications in a crisis or emergency. It's something that's occasionally beyond the most successful among us who are use to ferocious competition to get to the top of their field ... 

Crisis communications training builds on our shared human traits of compassion, empathy and not just on competence alone. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Proactive crisis comms or emergency information .... or death ...

I've written in the past about the need for organizations dealing with a reputational threat or responding to an emergency, to be ready to occupy the public space quickly. The social convergence of mobile tech + social networks means that agencies and companies must now move at the speed of their audience (social media) and use the tools they use (mobile devices) to have a chance to be heard and be relevant. 

Simply put the traditional media is no longer the primary audience in a crisis. The news is now told by those witnessing or being impacted by events ... no intermediaries necessary. The time for a purely reactive crisis communications posture has gone by. Organizations that let others tell their story are putting their very existence in jeopardy. You can steer your own ship ... or have someone else run it aground ... 

Just ask the owners of the Costa Concordia and Carnival Cruises if they'd do things differently now ... Things go wrong, people screw up ... be ready ... You need to be able to monitor social networks and be able to adjust your "pitch" in minutes ... not stick to some corporate policy when everything is going wrong.

Emergency managers and private sector executives should now think of their organization as their own broadcasters during incidents. Take charge of the conversations ... right from the get go. It's not about message control ... that era is also gone ... It's about message competition. So, you need the right tools and policies to be effective, to be heard.

This can start with a sound Twitter strategy for example. Something very effective when done immediately and sustained ... such as my good friend James Garrow highlighted in a blog post on the City of Hoboken's response to a water main break

And now, with what may turn out to be the start of a new pandemic, the World Health Organization also took a Twitter-centric approach to its updates on H7N9:

You read it on our Twitter account. As soon as we get new numbers, we’ll post them here. Full updates will follow on website as usual

Twitter is really a perfect tool for broadcasting your actions during a crisis or emergency. You can break down the info in digestible chunks and then follow up with more details on other social media and web platforms. Works great most of the time ...In fact, if journalists can win a Pulitzer Prize with their coverage of the aftermath of a tornado which destroyed their town and their office ... anybody should see the value in it.

But the tools don't stop with Twitter and other microblogs. Why not literally become your own broadcaster? Youtube and other livestreaming services allow you to do just that. Costs might be an issue but some services are fairly non-expensive. It's an idea that's been promoted by crisis comms expert Gerald Baron for a few years now.

I'd certainly recommend reviewing static or responsive-only crisis communications plans. Among hundreds of conversations during incidents, how will your voice be heard if you're whispering? Fact is, a sound strategy is to build an audience over the long-term so your stakeholders will WANT to hear YOUR voice when a crisis erupts because you'll have a rapport with them. That's worth about a million PR and crisis comms experts and consultants. 

So go ahead ... talk, listen, engage ... be social! 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Writing the right statement in a crisis

I was recently asked to write a statement about a tragic public safety issue in our province. While I accomplished the task rather quickly, I started to think afterwards about the key elements that need to be reflected in such a writing assignment.

First, let's be clear that this is not an apology type of statement where an organization responds to an issue it has created or is responsible for. This is about showcasing your organization's human side.

So, what are the key elements of that statement? Well, they are:

  1. showing empathy/compassion
  2. relaying a sense of action
  3. presenting a positive outcome
This clearly follows one of the components of Dr. Vincent Covello's message mapping principles: Compassion + Competence + Optimism ... With a clear focus on empathy in the message delivery:

You can access the full video of Dr. Covello's to learn more about the message mapping technique. 

To really be effective, such a statement needs to be short and not feature any political or self-serving messaging ... it also needs to point the way to a brighter horizon/future. 

It's a hard balancing act ... Finding the right tone. Here's a great example of how to achieve this from the speech of Virginia Tech's Chancellor following the tragic mass shooting of a few years back: 

So here's a brief idea of how it can be done:
  1. we share your grief .... collective sorrow .... all of us ... our thoughts and prayers .... with the victims, their families
  2. our will is undeterred .... we will continue to fight XXXX, YYYY, ZZZZ  ... safer, more vibrant communities .... stronger ... positive alternatives .... 
  3. together we can achieve this .... brighter future for us all .... we can all unite in this effort ...
Yes, it might sound formulaic ... but that's because it works ... and when delivered by a trained crisis communications spokesperson .... they carry weight and have a great impact on your stakeholders/audiences.

Here's more info on crisis mapping and the use of social media ... from a presentation I did with my colleague Barry Radford.