Posts Tagged ‘twitter’

Behind the Scenes at the Austin Plane Crash–an exercise in virtual communication response

March 4, 2010

On the Frontline of a Virtual Communication Response—The Austin Plane Crash

For several in days in February the major news story was the crash of a small plane into a building in Austin, Texas. This is the kind of event that is discussed here on this blog all the time and I was fortunate to have a front row seat of sorts to the public communication and news coverage of this particular event.

The City of Austin, specifically the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, is a new client having recently implemented our crisis communication system. While the agency’s website was set up on this platform and ready to roll, the agency’s PIO had little experience in working with the system. To make matters worse she, like several others from the office were in San Antonio for the Homeland Security conference.

I was sitting in a meeting in Houston when I was called out and informed that there was a plane crash into a building in Austin. The initial information we received, not from the City, was that the building may have housed FBI offices. The specter of a terrorist attack was immediately raised. We made contact with the PIO who was on her way back to Austin from San Antonio. We quickly informed her of the information that was being broadcast and that was coming via Twitter. She confirmed some of the information from her sources and we placed an initial statement on the City’s OEM website—from Houston.

For the next day and half we continued in almost continual contact and pushed out a total of nine information releases. Since the city staff were out of their offices and away from their normal tools and systems, they could not push the information to their normal media lists. But we quickly built an up-to-date media list of all Austin media and distributed the releases to them. These were in addition to the almost 400 contacts of Austin area agency contacts and other officials that had been built into the platform.

There were several times during the incident that we were able to report back through the PIO new information that was emerging on Twitter. This information would quickly find its way into the news coverage which had geared up with remarkable speed.

The various agencies from the City of Austin soon formed a Joint Information Center using the OEM site as the focus of new information. News reports began to reflect a coordinated flow of information from the City. Clearly the most significant communication came from the several press conferences held at the scene of the crash and fire. But the PIO was able to maintain the relevant information on the website by calling us from the press conference and we would quickly add and update the information on the site. Plus the agency was able to very quickly and efficiently distribute updates on the fast breaking situation to the media as well as to numerous agency leaders and others in the Austin community.

I say “we” because those involved in supporting Austin remotely during this event included Kevin Boxx, VP PIER Systems and Timothy O’Leary, my colleague at O’Briens’s Response Management. Direct support was also provided by Sandra Salazar, PIER’s Project Manager located in Houston who was at a different location than we were. Geoff Baron at PIER’s HQ in Bellingham, WA also provided direct assistance.

Some key learnings from this event:

–       Austin Police and Fire have received some strong kudos for their fast and effective crisis communication during this event—both from people within the community and from experts outside observing.

–       Virtual communication operation, or the Virtual JIC, does indeed work as has been demonstrated in other events. But this event was particularly telling because of the speed of information flow between the PIO and those on the scene and those operating remotely to keep the updates going.

–       Twitter and other social media are no doubt driving the information about an event of this nature. Reports coming from Twitter were almost concurrent with the event as some early “tweets” were from people witnessing the event as it occurred.

–       Major media use Twitter and other social media as primary sources of news. When you see “reports” or “eye witness reports” in the media coverage do not think it is that they have talked to someone directly but are likely getting it from the many tweets or posts on the internet.

–       The initial reports are virtually certain to be wrong—that is the nature of the internet and witnesses commenting from their perspective and speculating. But it is quite amazing to see how the online community sorts things out and gets to the facts faster than you would imagine.

–       Where it used to be that official sources would be the primary focus of the media’s interest a quick review of the media coverage will show that a primary interest of the media is to talk to eyewitnesses—often those same people who are reporting what they see or know (or speculations) via the internet.

–       PIOs and public officials have to scramble very, very hard to keep up with, let alone try to get ahead of, this kind of instant information coming from so many sources. As the official source of the news about the event, their primary role becomes rumor management—correct false information as it emerges—rather than focusing on being the first with the news.

Congratulations are due to Candice Wade and the team at Austin for a job well done in very difficult circumstances.

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A Fire Chief asks: Does ICS stand for “Information Communications Standstill”?

March 1, 2010

I’ve know Bellingham Fire Chief Bill Boyd for almost ten years–ever since we worked together on the Olympic Pipeline explosion, the event that got me into this crisis communication business. Since then I’ve not only come to respect him for his leadership skills and Incident Command capabilities, but for his deep and personal experience with managing information in this instant news/social media world. Bill was a Public Information Officer before he became chief, but more than that as Chief he has set some high standards for effective public information management including during the H1N1 crisis and the massive floods last year in the Pacific Northwest.

I asked Bill to speak Incident Commander to Incident Commander about the realities of today’s information environment. I hope advice, earned through hard experience, will be passed on to every Incident Commander, executive, fire chief, police chief and anyone else who will make decisions during a major event. (By the way, for those not familiar with ICS, it stands for Incident Command System, otherwise now known as NIMS or National Incident Management System. It requires Command approval of all information before release and consequently can substantially slow information distribution without taking Bill’s advice.)
Chief Bill Boyd:

Does ICS stand for “Information Communications Standstill”?

As I am typing this my Twitter monitoring site is logging messages by the second about the huge earthquake off the coast of Chile.  I am looking at pictures and comments from earthquake survivors, their relatives and others monitoring this disaster within seconds of being posted.  The speed and amount of information being disseminated right now is staggering, and I am contributing to this situation by relaying pertinent information to my followers through Facebook, Twitter and PIER Systems (which also posts immediately to my city’s internet news web site).

This unfolding and widespread crisis highlights the importance of strategic agility, speed and accuracy in disseminating information during a high visibility emergency event.  As a Fire Chief and Incident Commander for a regional incident management team, I recognize the need to immediately implement and use all available information tools and resources to push accurate information out to the public. How many of you with Incident Commander responsibility understand this?

The days of  a Public Information Officer (PIO) sitting down at a computer and generating a two paragraph media release a couple of times a day, and an interview here and there are gone.   If you still think this is all the PIO really has to do then you might as well give them an old typewriter and carbon paper. As an IC, I “define the box” the PIO will operate within (giving them the flexibility and boundaries to immediately release information without me having to approve it).  The IC needs to immediately set policy, validate key real time message concepts and then do the most important thing- let the PIO loose to do their job.  As an IC in this day and age, I can ill afford to get further behind the information dissemination curve (assuming we are already behind thanks to social media, camera cell phones, etc…).

This also means PIOs must be skilled in creating short messages, and relaying them in the most succinct way (how would you relay an evacuation order on Twitter?).  In the major events I have been involved with over the years, this type of messaging was not available.  Now, it is the preferred method of communication by many.  Yet, it remains foreign to many in the emergency response community.

IC’s need to wake up and realize the impact of the explosive growth of social media and the resulting expectation for immediate and accurate information.  If the public does not get it from Incident Command they will get it from somewhere else, relay inaccurate information and/or undermine your authority by venting their frustrations about lack of information.

Hey PIOs! How prepared are you in quickly shaping and distributing messages during a dynamic crisis event?  If you are still using the “media release” tool as your primary method of distributing information, I suggest signing up for a free social media site and see how people are really communicating news and information.  It is time for those of us with incident command authority to not only recognize the power of these tools and the resulting culture change, but more importantly take the steps to establish policy, secure training, and prepare to quickly deploy these tools during a crisis event.

Can social media help in a crisis? Hospital shows how in Fort Hood shooting.

November 17, 2009

Since I talk a lot about social media and crisis communication these days, I’m often asked for specific examples of how social media works in a major crisis. Here’s a great example, thanks to Kitty Allen at Harris County Hospital District I was pointed to how Scott and White hospital, the closest Level 1 trauma center to Killeen, TX and Fort Hood, used social media during this event.

I hope you read the article but those skimmers, here are a few key lessons learned:

– the hospital launched its Twitter account on September 11 (one of more than 300 hospitals now using Twitter). The fact that it was launched before they really needed it and had 225 followers before the shooting occurred was very helpful in making it useful during the event.

– the first thing Aaron Hughling, the hospital web guy behind this, did was to look at Twitter to see what people were saying. Smart. Listen–because you will find out the issues and how you need to fit in and participate. He found that blood donation was a big deal.

– he posted 43 tweets in three days–jumping his followers to 400. But I’m guessing some of those followers were pretty significant–media, gov offices, maybe White House, etc. It’s not necessarily the numbers–it’s who is following that is important.

– he used his tweets to drive people to additional info: He then sent three tweets within 30 minutes with a link to a statement from the hospital, a phone number for the media, and a note that the ER was closed to all but patients from Fort Hood. That is very smart. 140 characters lets you tell the minimum but tell where else to go. This guy was also managing several websites and two blogs–very busy guy but it shows if you have your act together one communicator with the right tools can do an awful lot.

– he used more than Twitter. Hughling had set up several social media outlets including YouTube, Facebook, etc. (the article provides details) and posting videos such as this one to YouTube helped carry the message.

Great job, Aaron and for those of you looking for case studies on the new crisis management, look at Scott and White.

 

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.

More examples of news via Twitter, plus: Is Social Media a fad?

October 28, 2009

I’ve been talking in my presentations quite a bit about how Twitter is how the mainstream is getting more of its news and how increasingly Twitter itself is spreading the news. Here’s another great example–the debris on the Bay bridge that snarled traffic for hours or more.

Thanks to Gabe, I was alerted to this YouTube video (nearly a million views so obviously I’m not the first to see it) that seeks to answer the question of whether or not Social Media is a fad. I think it is a great video, very well done and interesting accumulation of facts, but one thing keeps bothering me.

Why Social Media? Why not call it the internet, or even Web 2.0 like social media used to be called. After all, what is called social media today is really internet applications that have been very widely adopted and adopted in particular to help people do what they’ve been doing since hiding out in caves: connecting with each other talking about things that interest them. The internet as a series of related technologies makes that connecting possible in ways never dreamt of before. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube are all just examples of some of those related technologies that have gotten tremendous interest and public play. I can virtually guarantee that all things hot now in social media are already well on the way to becoming dodo birds (even Facebook growth has tailed off significantly and Twitters’ precipitously). That doesn’t mean that social media will go away. The real question ought to be is the internet a fad? But the answer to that is so obvious that obviously if someone did that they wouldn’t get a million views.

Comments on Peter Shankman’s Comments

October 8, 2009

Peter Shankman is a “rockstar” in the social media world. By that I mean he is one of the few celebrity speakers to emerge (and I’m tweaking him because he begged not to be called a rockstar anymore). I’m in Houston speaking at the PRSA Houston conference and this is the second time in a year my presentation has immediately followed Mr. Shankman’s. The first was in Las Vegas last March at the Ragan/PRSA Social Media conference.

First, I want to say that he was a keynoter on both of these and I was a lowly breakout speaker–so I don’t want anyone to interpret my comments as bitterness, not one little bit, well, maybe. Fact is, Peter is a very entertaining, highly energetic speaker with some serious social media pioneering chops (one of first to work for AOL for example) and he says some important and intriguing things about social media and where things are going.

(By the way, I’m a fan of HARO and think he did a brilliant and good thing for reporters and PR people alike.)

The fundamental things he talks about (I think, since he talks so fast that a lot of older people like me have a hard time following even though in this case I was only a few feet away from him) I agree with when it comes to analysis of social media and where it is going. But on almost everything else of importance I disagree.

For example, social media is not mostly about getting dates, nor is life mostly about searching for your next girlfriend. It’s hard not to come to the conclusion listening to him (and I’ve heard him twice now give essentially the same presentation) that his life revolves around sitting on airplanes (320,000 air miles this year? Yikes, I agree with your then girlfriend Peter who said get a life!) and finding his next conquest. And its hard not to conclude that for him that’s where social media is largely focused–the examples he provided whether defining advertising vs, public relations or how the emerging “one network” idea all lend credence to this focus.

I also fundamentally and strongly disagree with him that if you are not tweeting a thousand times during his presentation you obviously don’t give a crap about building your brand, or if you don’t have 15,000 fans on your facebook page and you’re not spending the early hours of every morning sending happy birthday messages to everyone you know, you have no clue what social media is all about. Peter, not everyone is a worldclass connector like you are, not everyone has time for this kind of activity and some of us treasure quality time with a few longtime friends rather than trying to build connections with strangers all over the planet.

And I most clearly disagree with him about David Letterman and Governor Sanford. His view, and he professes to speak for all of New York on this, is that no one will think ill of Mr. Letterman’s or Mr. Sanford’s behavior and since Letterman did such an admirable job of honestly and transparently dealing with his creepiness (Letterman’s words, not mine) that the world will rush to forgive him. Also that the entire public relations community should look at this as a wonderful example of crisis communication.

I blogged on this on emergencymgmt.com and I couldn’t disagree more. There are some like Peter whose moral values include the view that it is not only not wrong to sleep with anyone who consents, that there is something honorable about it. And that includes those who have made promises to their spouses in an ancient and clearly outdated institution called marriage. As I recall, the wedding vows still state that faithfulness and commitment are a pretty normal part of this arrangement. It also appears in New York or in Shankman’s view of it, that it perfectly appropriate for a superior in an organization to use that position to influence the “consent.” Even if you take a different view of morality than me, it is hard in this age where sexual harassment is illegal and broadly defined, that Mr. Letterman is going to escape some very reasonable accusations here. But to Shankman, all this is normal, reasonable, expected and I sense even honorable.

I asked the group I presented to right after Mr. Shankman finished what they thought of his presentation. They were enthralled–such is his attraction as a presenter (and why he gets the keynote invitations). But when I mentioned that I didn’t see eye to eye with him on the issues I just raised and mentioned that I have been gratefully married to the same beautiful woman for 36 years and hope to continue on the rest of my life, I received warm applause.

So I suspect there are more than a few fuddy duddies like me who think that Letterman is a very funny and talented creep. And that social media has more to offer society than the fast hookup.

Note–after posting this I noted the pingback on my earlier blog about Letterman’s future. I agree and wish I could have said it so creatively.

Three more examples of social media policies–Kodak, Intel, IBM

October 6, 2009

Social media policies are a big issue today. They are fraught with danger. One, because the culture of the internet demands transparency and openness to incredible degrees, but the culture also seems to celebrate anger, rudeness, crudeness, vulgarity and general disrespect. I blogged earlier here about Walmart’s Twitter policy. From Mashable, here are three examples of other major organizations with social media policies around transparency, moderation of comments, and the value of social media.

Now mainstream breaks the big stories on Twitter–first

August 25, 2009

I’m getting ready for the webinar I’m doing Sept 1 for Government Educator on Twitter in Government Communications. I just keep pace with the rapid changes in how Twitter is being used for public information and news. Here’s the latest from mashable.com–now this is where at least some mainstream news organizations are breaking their big stories.

Why? Mashable’s Josh Catone posits three possible reasons: to avoid being scooped, to build their awareness and to create new audiences. I agree with all of these but number one is number one. When the competition for news is all around immediacy, you are either fast or you lose. Fast is now measured in seconds, now hours or minutes. I commented here earlier noting how Breaking News On was consistently beating New York Times with their news alerts via Twitter and email. Since then, and that was just a couple of weeks ago, I’ve noticed NYT beating Breaking News more often. I’m not suggesting because I pointed it out, but I suspect they discovered that the 15 to 30 minutes they were behind typically was enough for some news junkies to say why should I stay with them?

It’s all about immediacy–this is happening right now. I just wish I could do a better job of convincing those having to deal with this stuff in major crisis events that this is true and very real. A conversation today in planning a big drill highlights the fact the most continue to be stuck in an old world that just won’t work any more.

Bike riding mom turns drive-in policy around with Twitter

August 21, 2009

First, thanks to Doug Walton for pointing me at this story. I’m sure that Burgerville employee who told the mom on a bike  that should couldn’t use up the drive-in window had no idea her story would end up in USA Today. She rolled up on her bike in bike-friendly Portland, OR and was told no go. As she rode away she tweeted her unhappiness with this strange policy. It was not difficult for the USA Today reporter to find the irony in a chain that prides itself (and invests heavily) in eco-friendliness to have such a policy. It is afterall a big part of their website.

The Burgerville folks may have their head in green, but not in the sand like United Airlines (see post just before this one) so quickly apologized and either changed the highly questionable policy or communicated to their drive-in window staff to not turn mothers with four cheeseburger orders away at the window.

But, for everybody in business, the real question is obvious. What bonehead, lawyer-driven policy do we have that will be tweeted and end up in USA Today? Or even more real, what careless decision or action might be taken by one of our young, inexperienced staff that will end us up being written about in about a hundred crisis communication blogs? If you are in Public Affairs, marketing or any form of communications for almost any company these days–send this blog to your CEO or just send her a link to the USA Today article and ask: what about us?

Incorporating social media into communication drills and exercises

August 19, 2009

Drills and exercises are at the core of almost anyone’s crisis response preparations–as they should be. I’ve been involved recently in preparing communication drills and exercises (usually JIC or Joint Information Center drills). I’m finding a lot of PIOs and communicators need real help in this area.

I blogged about this yesterday at my new blog on www.emergencymgmt, so you might want to check that out. But here are a few more observations about this important topic.

1) Incident commanders, communication heads (PIOs in the public world) and drill planners typically want to stay away from social media in drills and exercises. Very good reason for this–it is a strange new world and the last thing you want to do is embarrass yourself in front of a bunch of other people who are looking to you as the expert. Why throw in what is seen as an unnecessary complication when you have enough stuff to deal with that will test you and the participants to the max?

2) Social media drives communication. That’s why it must be included because no drill today will be at all realistic if it doesn’t include a strong social media element. Many will be shocked by the statement that social media drives communication. That’s because they are still living in an old world where they think the media will be waiting on them for hours to tell them what is happening so they can tell the world. The reality is, the cellphone camera eyewitnesses, tweeters, bloggers and facebook pagerers (OK I’m making up words again) will be telling the world every little detail of what they see and know or speculate. And the media will be following them avidly and reporting what they are saying because after all, they are not social media nerds, they are eyewitnesses. Why wouldn’t the media report their observations? If you have any doubt, look at media coverage of the Flight 1549 (airliner in Hudson) accident.

3) Monitoring and rumor management are now a primary if not THE primary role of the JIC. Another controversial statement I will stand behind all day long. That’s because the JIC will NEVER beat all those citizen journalists with the news. Heck, the New York Times with news alerts can’t even come close, nor can any legit news channel. Can’t be done. Add the complication of setting up a JIC, getting it operational, gathering info, getting it approved and getting it distributed. Nope, the instant news will come via cellphones and tweets. BUT, a lot of that will be wrong, or incomplete, or inaccurate (Actually turns out to surprisingly accurate but I’ll save that for another blog). That means that the JIC needs to know continuously what is being said, not just in the media, but in the social media world in order to very quickly get on top of it and correct misinformation. Fast, efficient rumor management is the real name of the game, and it starts with effective monitoring.

4) Drill injects must include social media. Since social media will undoubtedly be very involved in any major crisis or event, it simply is not realistic to plan a communication exercise without it. Drill injects need to include how the JIC will deal with phony Twitter accounts (a very real problem–see blog here about MobilExxonCorp). It needs to deal with bloggers with agendas and willing to challenge credibility of the JIC. It needs to deal with the reality of instant info that is evolving much faster than approvals within Command but that are true and verifiable. It needs to deal with innocent but incorrect and potentially harmful information–the most common real problem. That means that those planning the JIC element of the exercise must be knowledgeable about these new realities and how they play out in real events.

5) The JIC should use social media for distribution. This gets tricky because it is a drill afterall. But you want to replicate as much as possible the process of distributing instant updates via Twitter, posting videos to YouTube, images to Flickr and updating a JIC facebook page. For PIER users this is pretty easy since PIER is now set up to treat all these channels as another point of distribution–the only thing you change is not complete the last step of making the actual RSS connection–but this is getting too technical. Give me a call if you want more details on how to effectively replicate social media use in a drill with PIER or without.

No crisis preparation can be complete without a good drill. But, no drill today is complete without the social media element. I suspect some drill planners, ICs and PIOs are going to be very unhappy with me for saying this. Just the truth.