For the past few months whenever I have been presenting to groups on crisis communication or Joint Information Center operations I have said that the most important job of crisis communication today is rumor management. It most certainly is not putting out press releases, and it may not be that important to put out information releases at all–depending on the event as we will see. The reason is simply that with social media those publics out there have access to all kinds of very fast information they didn’t have before. The emergency management community is struggling with the issue, which I blogged about recently, about how do you handle things when people out there know more than you do?
I was speaking at a state conference of emergency managers about this phenomenon and one of the attendees came up to me afterwards and said it just happened to him. He was responding to a fatality car accident and by the time he got to the hospital, the parents of the victim were already there. They knew before he did.
So in major events that are visible to the public, such as Flight 1549, the public will know more faster than the responders and probably also the media. Such is the power of those little devices we carry in our pockets and the network that makes them live and work. But, one of the truisms of crisis communication is that the initial information about an event is always wrong. And with a lot of people speaking from their perspective a lot of what is communicated about any event is going to be wrong. That’s where crisis communication comes in and why rumor management is fast becoming the biggest and most important job. You have to know what is being said and you have to be able to respond and correct misinformation very quickly. If a lie becomes the truth when it is repeated often enough, just think how often a lie can be repeated when it has gone viral. You’ve got to have the ability to stop it in its tracks before those tracks turn out to be a big honking tank bearing right down on you.
But how? Monitoring has become one of the biggest jobs in the JIC or the Crisis Command Center. I’m modifying crisis plans I’m working on to beef up the staffing for the Monitoring and Rumor Management unit. A sizeable event we were just involved in demonstrated how critically important this monitoring is and how it drives the information that is required.
Fortunately there is an increasing array of excellent tools available to do the monitoring–many or most involving online searches. And many, but not all, are free. And monitoring tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated which means that we have to keep evolving with them. Brian Solis, one of the widely recognized thought leaders in social media has an interesting post today about the evolution of search.
If anyone has any experience with monitoring services or rumor management during a crisis, please let me know. This is a very important topic and wouldn’t mind having a few guest posts on it from people who have been through the mill.