Crisis management–putting your ears to work

November 2, 2009

I’ve been talking for some time about the rapidly growing role of monitoring as a critical part of crisis communication. Also been saying in presentations that social media and the online conversation is where so many people are going to get their information. That crisis communicators need to understand at best they will participate and the days of control over the information flow are over.

Being involved in a fairly major event in the past week has brought these lessons home. We are using a variety of means to monitor what is going on–everything from PIER MediaTools to view and clip media including broadcast, to Google Alerts, to Twitscoop.

A few quick observations.

1) Media monitoring shows a tremendous amount of media activity but a lot of it is from the fact that media are now major players in social media with their news websites. All print media as well as broadcast use their news sites heavily which makes for a lot of traffic, frequent updates, and a tremendous amount of linking by interested viewers via their blogs and Twitter accounts.

2) Local is global. This is a fairly localized event with only a smattering of national media attention, but the conversation is global. Those interested (or passionate) about topics involved are going to be jumping into the conversation heavily and will keep it going as long as it of interest.

3) People learn from each other. It’s fascinating watching the online conversation and see many of the same news stories or comments showing up over and over on different sites. It’s one of the reasons this monitoring is so important because invariably some get the facts wrong and unless the correct information is readily available or the wrong info is quickly challenged, it does not take long for it to become accepted. The only saying about a lie repeated often enough becoming the truth takes on new urgency in the viral world of social media because it can be repeated a hundred or thousand times in mere minutes or hours.

4) The conversation was always there–but now you can hear it. That is something that really strikes me about a big change in communications and crisis management. All major events stirred lots of conversation–dinner table, office chat, in bars and restaurants, wherever people gather. Except now they don’t gather to have conversations, they do it by text, tweets, blogs, comments, all kinds of social media. And that means you can listen in on a lot of those conversations. Sometimes it seems its like the roar of too much conversation in an overcrowded bar. But if you focus in a little, you can hear fascinating things. And these can give you great insight into how things are turning, what the concerns are, what questions need to be answered, what information is going sideways, etc. In other words, the conversation will drive the communication response as much or maybe more in some cases than the events of the response itself.

5) Participate–not control. It’s is still very difficult for most response leaders and those who have been in public communication for a long time to really grasp this. In this world of heightened conversation, you don’t control the information. At best, you participate. But you do this by providing a continuous feed of of relevant, up to date information about what is going on. You can’t participate if you insist on sticking to a one press release a day strategy. And you can’t participate by putting all your eggs in the press conference basket–as important as it is. You participate by being the best, most reliable source for what is really happening. Then, you will find, as did in this incident, that soon your website will be given shortened url and sent around the twittersphere and blogosphere as the fastest, most relevant source of what is going on.


3 Responses to “Crisis management–putting your ears to work”

  1. Jimmy Jazz Says:

    Okay, I’m a big dork, but this could be my favorite post of yours, Gerald. Real-person me is trying desperately to institute regular media monitoring in his job, but there is absolutely no interest in it. I had to fight for two years to get TVs installed for media monitoring during crises. When I report on our social media outreach (which took 18 months to get started), all anyone cares about is the numbers, not the content of the messages.

    In my line of work, the standard line is that we push out information, and the only questions we’re interested in come from reporters.

    I have no doubt that will change eventually, I just want to make sure it happens on our terms, and not in response to a crisis.

    Thanks again,

  2. Mike Says:

    Great post, Gerald!

    I like how you talk about participation and control in social media. Social media has really transformed the way we look at media all together. Social media is a 2-way means of communication, and thus organizations can only participate in the conversation and not control all of the information sharing. The conversation will continue whether crisis management companies participate or not, and only the best resources will go viral. It really is the democratization of media.

    Social media monitoring is becoming a big topic these days as well. The FBI has recognized the importance of social media for a along time, and recently has invested in a software company for its social media monitoring efforts. What do you think of this? Although, information shared over social media is public, does the FBI’s social media monitoring not create a sense of ig Brother?

  3. gbaron Says:

    Thanks Jimmy, I’d be happy to review some of the content of this one and show that what is being said is important and once it is seen will inevitably shape the communication messaging. That’s the way communication works, doesn’t it?

    Mike, interesting question about big brother. I’ve said social media is like having microphones in all the bars, restaurants, etc where people talk. We’d object like crazy to that but we willingly use very open forums like Twitter to share our thoughts. It’s hardly big brother when people are using very public methods–but I’m guessing that there will be interest in more private methods such as exist already–Yammer is one I think.

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