If there was one overwhelming theme at the Nov 3 Risk and Crisis Communications conference in DC it was that the world of information has changed and that those involved in communicating with the public have to change with it. So obvious, but so desperately unresolved. Here’s a new study from the University of Kansas which quite plainly says the people most responsible for communicating in major events don’t get it. This study comes from the Firestorm Inc newsletter–worth getting.
One thing I and others I talked to were stunned about at this conference in DC and that was the very old and outdated thinking about the media. There was much talk including from some very respectable media folks speaking about the need to partner with the media–by which they mean the old media. Now, I agree that building relationships with the diminishing breed of old style journalists is still very important and that you have to communicate your information and messages to the media in an event. But partner? I tried to point out in my session that the media’s overwhelming concern, understandable in the crisis they are in, is to build an audience. They do this by fault finding, placing blame, and heightening the public’s sense of fear. That is their job. Yes, they can convey important messages. But in this era of instant news, social media, Web 2.0 and all that stuff, most people expect to get critical information directly–via website, emails, social media sites, blogs, YouTube, text messages, phone messages, alert devices, etc.
As Neil Chapman points out in his comment about his participation in this conference–an outstanding contributor I might add–is that we who are in communication have an urgent task. We have to educate those who will make the critical decisions about what is going on. They can’t live under a rock any more. They have to wake up to the realities of Twitter, Facebook, instant news, media infotainment and all the rest. After a major event they will understand it much better. But by then, it will be too late to build trust.