Further advances in instant news–iphone apps and iamnews

As an intent observer of the phenomenon of instant news, I continually am amazed at the acceleration occuring. How can things get any faster? When does “instant” become “faster than instant”. Maybe we need to talk about warpspeed news, or nanonews or something.

Here are a couple of more examples of this acceleration. I mentioned Twitter being used as a reporting device during Hurricane Ike. Since then I have seen one company using Twitter as kind of bulletin board for Ike information–for marketing purposes.

Most of the networks and cable shows now are actively enlisting citizen journalists as part of their journalist staff. ireport on CNN and ureport on FOX are two examples. CBS also has CBSEyemobile now they have provided an app for the outrageously popular iphone (popular with me too I might add). Add one more–the most popular new application at Techcrunch’s Demopit was something called iamnews.com. As a news site for citizen journalists it has ambitions of taking on AP and Reuters.

I’ve spoken at many conferences on the emergence of citizen journalists. I still get scoffed at to some degree with the common (over 45 anyway) notion that this is kids stuff, a bunch of pajama wearing angry political pundit wannabes, and trouble makers who spend their days making up lies and posting them on websites. Yes, that is all true. But the power and impact of these tens of millions speaking up–some more loudly than others–has a combined effect of transforming the public information environment.

The consequences for organizations looking to operate successfully in this environment are huge. I keep coming back to the same mantra in dealing with these issues: speed, direct communication and transparency. If your organization is not prepared to engage in the public sphere with these three things driving it, somebody’s iphone may just get you.

Why SMS is NOT effective for emergency notification

Here is a definitive statement from a highly credible source about the problems of relying on SMS text messaging for life-saving messages. The US trade group 3G Americas researched use of text messages for emergency notification and came up with a pretty sober assessment.

A great many organizations, led by Universities, jumped on the text message emergency notification band wagon following the Virginia Tech tragedy and the outcry from students about not being notified. This rush has now spread to many Departments of Emergency Management, school districts, and a wide range of government agencies who have vital information for citizens in an emergency.

Being in this business myself, I see this trend as very healthy, but the focus on text messaging as unhealthy. What is healthy is the growing realization of what I have long called the “post-media” world. We no longer expect to get vital and urgent information from the mainstream media. That day is past. We don’t wait for school closure information by watching the crawl on the tv screen. We don’t expect to hear news about evacuations in front of large storms from our radio stations. We don’t expect to get the news about a deranged killer in our neighborhood from the newspaper. More and more, we expect those responsible for our safety to be able to communicate with us directly.

But our answer always has been multi-modal communication. Text messaging is one important element. But only one and it has limitations–some very significant limitations. Right now the only correct answer that we can see to meet the increasing demand for instant information is to provide it in multiple modes–text, phone, website, RSS feeds, email, fax, digital sign boards, desktop alerts–and of course, through the media as well. To rely on one way is an all but sure way to leave some out. Even with all this, there is no guarantee that everyone who needs to hear from you will get the message when they most need it. But using a simple platform that provides integrated delivery of messages in multiple modes is the best way of getting the messages out and demonstrating you are very serious about communicating.

Twitter, PIER and communication technologies during Hurricane Ike

Thanks to Neil Chapman, a crisisblogger reader and comms manager for a global company out of London, the use of twitter as a reporting tool during Hurricane Ike came to my attention. Reporter Leigh Jones of a Galveston newspaper is using twitter to post on-going mini-reports from the front line. It is fascinating and I strongly believe gives a very clear idea of the kind of reporting that will soon be standard. Note, each report is really a headline. Simple reason–tweets are text messages limited by many carriers to 140 characters are less. But a constant flow of headlines with the very latest is what today’s audiences want most. The details can wait and only for those interested in diving into the details. What is immediate–happening right now–is ultimately the only thing relevant for most audiences.

What that means is that communicators who need to communicate with internal and external audiences in an event such as Ike need to think like a reporter and do the same. Mini-reports of what is happening right now are the order of the day.

For those interested in how current communication technology is being used, might want to do a quick review of this article from PIER. (full disclosure–I’m the CEO). Twelve different organizations using PIER during Ike received over 5.7 million visits on their PIER websites in a few days. One of them nearly a million visits on their several sites with specific information. We will be providing a more detailed analysis of inquiry volume, numbers of text messages sent, etc. to help give some idea of the scale of organizational communication during a major event such as this.

Conspiracy Fail or, what our culture of activism has bred

For any of you who have been involved in public controversies and done battle against “true believer” activists, this video is for you. Having been involved in a number of them, including a battle to take “polluting” boats off a recreational lake, a hyped-up super scare about medical waste incineration, the deadly perils of siting the cleanest natural gas power plant in the region, and other such battles, this video does my heart good.

Not all activists are like this, I should point out. And the environmental movement has benefited all of us. But this little YouTube video shows the natural result of creating a culture of activism. It was bound to happen!

United stock crash and GM "fact and fiction" site provide lessons

Two things caught my eye while enjoying the Napa wine country. Both involve the rapidly changing world of reputation management and instant news. One, United Airlines stock crashed–going from $12 a share to one penny in a few hours–all because someone posted a six year old news story on a website. It bloomeranged from there (pun intended). I wish I had been on the ball and bought some of that penny stock.

The other story is not as sensational but still significant. GM launched a website aimed at confronting directly the numerous myths, attacks and accusations against the company and how it is meeting its severe business challenges. The website called GMFactsandFiction.com is simply constructed, listing a myth and the GM response. The current lead myth is whether GM is seeking a government bailout.

The point is this–life comes at you fast, as the commercial states. The instant news world seems to keep accelerating in part because more and more of the instant news world starts and lives on the internet. Devastation can be wreaked in minutes, not even hours any more. What used to take weeks to spread now is global at the speed of light. But the evidence continues to mount that most communicators and more importantly, their leaders, are not prepared to respond as quickly as this new world demands. The United story is one example. Were they monitoring the internet? Did someone not notice the old story? How soon after it was posted did United have a rebuttal very publicly posted? Did United have the capability to head off the storm before it gathered momentum by proactively releasing a notice about the false information. Did no one contact the Florida paper and inform them of their stupidity and how their irresponsibility was creating huge damage? In short, were they prepared to go to battle instantly, gather intelligence instantly, and get proactive and on the offensive instantly. Quite apparently not.

Not to say that GM is, just by this website, but it does seem to show that someone at GM understands the dynamics of internet conversation. The conversation goes on, like it or not. It cannot be stopped. And one thing is certain about this conversation–a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. That’s why it is essential for companies at the center of such internet conversations join in on them, have their own clearly identified voice, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS speak the truth and nothing but the truth, and aggressively counter the lies, attacks, myths and misinformation. This is good stuff. I think I will buy some GM stock.

A great example of twitter's impact on brand value

I’ve talked about it before conceptually, but a writer friend of mind just sent me a link to this CEO blog from the head of Thomas Nelson Publishing. He provides a compelling and personal case study of how one twitter about poor customer service from UHaul probably cost the company thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars (and now that I am spreading this story, it may cost them even more).

The old Chinese proverb needs to be updated: “It takes a lifetime to build a reputation, a single tweet to destroy it.”

Sarah Palin vs. "the media:" who's really on trial?

All of us who have media relations and public information as part of our lives have to be standing back in amazement at what is going on relating to Sarah Palin and her battle with the media.  The story has quite dramatically shifted, it seems to me, from “is Sarah qualified, and therefore is John McCain’s judgment sound” to “is the media biased, sexist and unfair.”

I just watched this morning the interview of the managing editor of US Weekly by Megan someone, a Fox News anchor. Now, whether you consider the Fox News attack “fair and balanced” or the US Weekly article on Palin (Titled: Babies, Lies and Scandal”) “fair and balanced” probably depends on your political orientation. In fact, that is one of the more fascinating aspects of the varying coverage of the political events by the news channels. An MSNBC poll about whether or not Palin helped the ticket (by far most think she did not) did not say nearly as much as Palin as it did about the orientation of those who watch Olberman and company. Contrast the polls showing on Fox which, of course, show a completely different slant of the viewers.

A few comments:

- As part of the fragmentation and segmentation of media, the old idea of “objectivity” is quickly disappearing. This should not discourage us because “mass media” in the US, dating back to Colonial days, were highly partisan. Publications were created to support political parties and positions. They only really adopted the idea of “objective, non-partisan coverage” with the growth of Associated Press in the Civil War era as a way of pooling reporters. AP reporters were supposed to simply gather the facts from the front, then the individual editorial slant would be applied by the editors. However, the publishers found that readers like the “just the facts” reporting direct from AP and heavily biased reporting lost favor. We are simply going back to those days, but in this era it is a matter of segmenting the marketing, trying to dominate segments in order to survive and profit as media businesses.

- The spectacle of one media outlet attacking another for “bias” is a little humorous and fascinating. Sort of like watching your sisters mud wrestle. Something disgusting about it, but you can’t take your eyes off it either. It’s really funny when they refer to the others as “the mainstream media” as if they are just not part of that at all. It kind of makes your head spin.

- When the public stands outside of this media scrutiny of media, I think we all benefit. One of the greatest challenges we as communicators face is the reality that while everyone says “you can’t believe what you read in the newspapers,” everyone still does. Including professional communicators (witness PRSA’s hyper reaction to the completely out of line reporting on the FEMA “fake” news conference). The more the public gains some skepticism and informed judgment about the motives, agendas and biases of those charged with providing us our news and therefore our perceptions on which we make vital judgments, the better off we all are.

- the role of blogs. I would like to know how many times in the last few days of coverage that the “left wing blogs” were mentioned. Not just on Fox either–although MSNBC and CNN are more likely to just reference “the blogs.” The blog attacks on Palin are to a large degree driving the news cycle. That’s where the mainstream outlets get their fodder, and that’s also where they make judgments about what is relevant and will drive audiences. There is a huge lesson here for those in crisis management. If you still think you should not pay attention to blogs when you are the focus of the news, you have your head in the sand or someplace else. Blogs are the drivers–increasingly every day. Not just because of their own audiences, but because of the tremendous influence over the focal points of mainstream media coverage.

Communicating about Gustav

Gustav has blown by for the most part and most are breathing a sigh of relief–even as we look warily at Hannah, Ike and beyond. Even though I write this safely ensconsed in the far reaches of the Pacific Northwest, these storms affect all of us at PIER very much because of the large number of clients we have who rely on PIER for communication–the bulk of our clients are in Houston and Atlanta areas.

A couple of quick comments:

- all the agencies came across as ready and prepared–FEMA made a strong point of demonstrating they were on the job and would not get caught like they were in Katrina.

- how do we avoid the inevitable cycle–this time the story was on how much preparation. The media reports almost had a tinge of disappointment that with all the evacuations and preparations, the actual event was a bit of a let down. How soon will it be before citizens start complaining and media reports start focusing on the inconvenience, cost and wastage of the agencies over-reacting to a threatening storm. Then we will again be lulled, and then another will hit without evacuations and sufficient preparation and the cycle will start again.

- If urgency is applied to preparing, there is less urgency in the response. By that I mean we have several clients who were just not pushing the deployment of their systems with sufficient energy and urgency. Then, when the storm comes, they realize they are not ready for prime time and quickly fall back on what is comfortable and familiar. We have to learn to put urgency into the preparation efforts but everyone who faces these now very predictable situations needs to get their ducks in a row first so when it hits, they are not caught from behind and unable to use the very tools needed to make their lives easier when it counts.

Experiencing the personal pain of "infotainment"

Pat Philbin, the former head of external affairs for FEMA, and the federal official who took the fall for the October 2007 supposed “fake news conference” has spoken out publicly about this event and his learnings from it. He will be speaking on this topic at the PRSA conference in Detroit in October and has written about it in PRSA’s new ComPRehension blog. His comments, as always, are insightful and interesting–as is the exchange on the blog. Full disclosure–Pat is Senior VP for PIER, the company I serve as CEO.