Of the many lessons learned from participating in a large oil spill drill last week is that many of the world’s top communication professionals do not understand the blog world and do not appreciate its role in the public information environment. Before saying anything that might sound critical of these professionals, let me start by saying the immense respect I have for them and the outstanding professional job they do of open, transparent communication–particularly with the mainstream media.
But, it does seem clear that they continue to live and breathe in a world where the MSM dominates their thinking. There is not the stakeholder first strategy that is frequently discussed here. And there is little understanding of the growing role and importance of blogging in forming public opinion and determining reputation and trust. To wit: the drill exercise did not include any blogging activity as part of the simulation or “injects.” There was no reference to what bloggers might be doing or saying, no consideration of how the communication team would monitor or respond and no understanding of bloggers would be used by the MSM as part of their story development.
In this case, a large oil spill in one of the most pristine and notorious environments in the world, it is my feeling that likely at least 20 bloggers would be posting stories, photos, videos and comments on their blogs starting from the early hours of the event. This information, though understandably from questionable sources, would be used by the MSM to supplement or perhaps even drive their coverage. An oiled bird shown on a blog site could not be distinguished from this event or one that happened in the past. Nor oiled beaches. Information from observation about response activities, injuries and environmental impact could and would be reported by MSM referencing “witness on the scene.” There is no difference in credibility between a witness standing on the shore and one writing in his or her blog.
Yet, when asked about this some of the communicators were very dismissive of blogging. “No one pays any attentions to blogs.” “Everyone understands that blogs can’t be trusted.” “The reporters know better than to use blogs for their stories.” This is what was expressed to me when I questioned the approach. I think they are quite wrong. Bloggers would to a very considerable degree drive a story like this. The voice of the Joint Information Center representing the response team would only be one of many voices that reporters would use to prepare their stories. It is essential that those involved in these kinds of events be able to do real time blog monitoring and have communicators able and ready to review blogs, comment on them, respond quickly on their own websites and communication releases addressing false information, and be able to quickly correct any MSM stories that reflect the misinformation that may be found on blog sites. It is clear after this experience that even some of the world’s best communicators and communication organizations still have a ways to go in understanding just how much and how fast the world of public information is changing.