Tag Archives: crisis communication

Another great example of "toxic talk"

Just back from a wonderful cruise with extended family to Mexico–in case you were wondering why I’ve been silent lately.

I’ve been noticing an increasing number of comments about the nasty side of social media. Might be just because I’ve been focusing somewhat on the topic–sort of like when you are thinking about buying a particular model of car you suddenly see so many more of them on the road.

Here is a great article in Media Bullseye by Chip Griffin about nastiness of social media as expressed by one of the leaders in the whole area of social media technology.

I’m hoping to do some more writing and analysis around this issue of Toxic Talk so if you have any further examples to provide, I’ll use this blog as one way of tracking and organizing them. Also, we’ve done a little theorizing here already but if you have ideas to add as to why there is so much nastiness let me know.

Also, I’m thinking at some point there is going to be some counter reaction to this–some effort by someone or a group to try to return some civility and politeness into our global conversation. If any of you know of any such movement, I’d be very interested in hearing about it.

Should we expect "twitter-speed" from mainstream media?

This is the intriguing question of this post from Bill Salvin of Signal Bridge Communications. It is clear that the twitterers are shocked that it takes as long as 2 hours for the likes of CNN to get the story like the Continental crash on the air. But as Salvin points out, they need to be concerned about accuracy and that means they have to do a little more than just blast out there what the latest tweet is.

Yet, there are some nagging questions in my mind about this. It has become clear to me that speed has become more important than accuracy for most mainstream media–the 2000 elections still come to mind. And as the speed of information distribution through social media heats up, this need for speed is even more critical. As I have stated in numerous presentations the past few years, the competition within media is intense and the competition is based primarily on immediacy. Accuracy, balance, comprehensiveness, depth, context–all these are important and of varying importance depending on the outlet, but in this hyperspeed information world, you lose if you are not fast enough. That’s why I kind of doubt that the point about accuracy will continue to hold up. CNN needs to be concerned about that 2 hour delay because the audience they crave–those twitterers (hey better than saying twits) simply cannot and will not understand that bit about waiting to make sure the facts are right.

It’s one of the reasons why CNN like all other MSM have resorted to i-reporter or some other form of instant citizen journalism to support their traditional coverage. It is fast, it accommodates the mass of those involved in sharing instant information, and it also it seems somewhat absolves them of the heavy responsibility of accuracy and objectivity. Note the debacle of an i-reporter on CNN falsely reporting Steve Job’s death with the resulting short term stock crash. I don’t recall seeing any apologies from CNN on this false report. These incidences it seem to me don’t result in a call for more accuracy as much as they continue to press even more demands for speed.

Why is trust in business at an all time low?

The annual Edelman Trust Barometer is out and, like the economic news overall, this year the bad news just keeps getting worse. 77% of respondents in the US trust business less than year, internationally trust was down with 62% of the respondents.

Well, sure, it has to do with the economy. And that in itself is an important lesson. Are US corporations to blame for the mess we are in? No, but certainly there are individuals and selected companies and even some industries who have played an important role in our current situation. But when things go bad, blame gets spread broadly. When people are feeling negative, fearful, uncertain–it is more likely that they will think negative thoughts about just about anyone and everything. So some of this can be attributed to the general negative attitude in our world today and some to people painting all business with a very broad brush.

But I think there is something else, more serious and more insidious. I am preparing some comments for my presentation at the Ragan Communications and PRSA conference next month in Las Vegas. It’s about social media and crisis communication but I am finding myself focusing on what I am calling “toxic talk.” It’s the hair trigger outrage that is so obvious in so many blogs and comments. It’s the bitchiness and anger feeding on each other on sites like Digg and Newsvine. It’s the trashing and name calling of anyone and everyone with whom the commenter disagrees. It’s the eagerness to turn the bitterness into a viral attack. I used to say that social media was like the Cheers bar–a gathering of friends to discuss things of mutual interest. But it’s not, not overall. It’s seems more like a saloon from the cowboy movies where surly men in black hats peek out from under the broad brims and the camera focuses on the proximity of their itchy fingers to the six-shooter in their worn holster. There a sense of tension and danger and instant tragedy hidden only slightly by the tinkling of the honky tonk piano.

Now I’m getting negative about social media. Certainly there is more to it that this. But the toxic talk is pervasive and provides an overall mood and atmosphere that I find disturbing. It’s not just the uncensored language and raw emotion–as unacceptable as I personally find that. It’s the bitterness to almost anyone or anything that is seen to have too much power. While the demographics of social media are quickly changing, it is the young who have dominated it so far and the young who have set this tone. Why are so many young people so ticked off at so many–particularly at business?

Is there a connection between the rapid growth and widespread use of social media–the incredible expansion of the online conversation–and the sharp decline in trust in business?

What do you think?

Are public agencies adopting Twitter faster than private organizations?

Frequent Crisisblogger contributor Neil Chapman raises this interesting point:
‘When it comes to using social media in a crisis – the public sector has blazed a trail that appears to have left the richer, private sector in their wake.

Los Angeles Fire Department (@lafd) and Public Services of New Hampshire (@psnh) both used Twitter to enhance their response capability.

Now some boys in blue are following suit – Calgary Police (@calgarypolice) in Canada, the FBI press office (@fbipressoffice) in the US and now the UK’s West Midlands Police (@WMPolice) all have Twitter accounts.

Full marks to them for using every means, including social media, for going after criminals.’

Neil Chapman

The moral (and economic) value of saying you're sorry

I’ve always believed when you screw up you should say you’re sorry. Forgiveness is usually generously given in light of a completely sincere acceptance of responsibility and repentance. When I ran for state senate in 2004 one of my key goals was to improve access to doctors in our state by working to change the medical malpractice legal system, and one policy I wanted to work hard to implement was the ability for doctors and hospitals to say they are sorry without such a statement being held against them legally. Such measures are in place in states like Colorado I believe and have been proven to be effective in reducing lawsuits and associated costs.

This article from New York Times suggests that this message is getting around–slowly and over the objections of trial attorneys. Here is strong evidence of the economic value of saying your sorry. Trial lawyers as a group would be well advised to change their tune and support this effort if they do not want to be perceived as caring only about their ability to take cases to court and win big settlements.

But there is more than economic value at stake here–there is moral value as well. How would you feel as a doctor knowing you had made a big mistake and caused a lot of pain and cost to the patient. Your sorrow in making that mistake would be compounded many times over by having to follow the policy of denial and defense. Yet that is the position we have put doctors and hospital administrators in. Repentance is cathartic, healing and restorative–especially when accompanied by forgiveness on the other end. We have been preventing those in the caring professions from experiencing this because–sorry I have to say this, because of trial lawyers’ greed.

The lesson for CEOs and crisis communicators ought to be clear. Your lawyer’s understandable first instinct when something seriously has gone wrong and your organization is responsible is to deny and defend. But if people or the public good has been harmed, the very best approach is to admit responsibility, communicate sorrow and regret, demonstrate you are painfully aware of the pain this has caused others, explain how you will do better, and ask for forgiveness. It’s good for your soul. It’s the best thing for your organization’s reputation and trust level. And, as this article demonstrates, it’s likely to best for your bottom line too.

Crisis Planning seems to be big–but how do you know if they are any good?

I found it very interesting that just today I got two invitations to participate in webinars on crisis planning. One put on by PRSA, and the other by PR University from Bulldog Reporter. Both of these look like worthwhile presentations by expert presenters.

My question is this: how can anyone determine whether a crisis plan will be effective?

I think this question is coming out of the work I have been doing lately in creating a JIC Evaluation Tool and also reviewing the draft of the National Response Team JIC Model. If those putting plans in place and training participants don’t have an adequate understanding of rapidly changing demands of today’s audiences, how can those plans and models be effective. I suspect–more than suspect since I have seen a lot of evidence of it lately–that a lot of crisis plans are being put in place that would work in yesterday’s world but not in todays. Yes, things have changed that much.

Crisis plans developed today need to meet the expectations of today’s audiences–and, as much as possible, anticipate future demands. If not, they will be outdated before the big red notebooks get distributed.

Here are a few suggestions aimed at helping you evaluate whether your current plans (or brand new ones you are creating) are outdated:

— are they media centric? -in other words do they anticipate that the primary if not exclusive means of getting information out to key audiences is through the media?

— do they anticipate getting initial messages out in the first half hour? Impossible, you huff. Maybe, but essential. The determining factor for speed used to be “how soon will the news helicopters arrive?” Now it is “how soon will someone with a cellphone and cell camera convey it to the news media?” Instant news is now instant news.

–do they plan for using mass-individual distribution methods–such as text, text-to-voice conversion as well as email?  Today’s audiences have an increasingly well defined expectation for direct communication–just ask any student on any campus following Virginia Tech.

–do they plan for ongoing communication well beyond the initial news media coverage?  The news media comes and goes with increasing speed. But not so interested audiences. Plans that assume communication stops when the news media’s interest wanes are simply outdated.

–do they include the buildout of comprehensive information and audience contact information in advance? You need to know whom you absolutely need to communicate with in advance and have the preparation to do that virtually immediately. And questions need to be anticipated in advance with answers ready to go or pre-posted on dark site–because you simply won’t have the time or resources to do these things when it really hits the fan. Preparation today is much much more than identifying spokespersons and giving them media training.

–does your plan anticipate team operating on a vritual communications platform–I can guarantee you the crisis you fear most won’t happen when you are sitting at your computer waiting for all hell to break loose. You will be gone, or your key leadership team, or your whole office may have floated away. Being able to operate virtually is now not a luxury, but a necessity.

–is social media engagement more than a casual after-thought? Social media serves multiple roles in a crisis, some positive, some potentially negative. But it is an essential part of today’s information environment and any current crisis plan must have blog monitoring, blog participation, social media sites as communication media, blog policies and all these sorts of things worked out in advance. No longer can you hide your head in the sand and say: well, no one pays any attention to them anyway.

These are a few of the items that I can think of to help determine if crisis plans will actually work when you need them. Would love for crisisblogger readers to add to this list (or tell me why these don’t apply).

Nationwide text alert system? That's what they say.

Breaking News!!

According to this story in CNN, the federal government is about to launch a new nationwide emergency text alerting system. It depends on the cooperation of cell phone providers which looks like they will support it, and it requires and “opt out” not an opt-in for the cellphone subscribers–which gets away from the problem that universities were having with small opt-in response.

Hmmm–wonder what this will do to the nation’s cell traffic in an event of an emergency? Will anyone be able to make a cellphone call? And who is going to sue whom if some get the message and others don’t. Welcome feds, to the wonderful world of emergency text messaging.

While I predicted that after Virginia Tech, the demand for instant notification on the part of all citizens within communities would grow rapidly, I must admit I did not anticipate any federal agency trying to take this frog type leap. Not sure it is viable or practical as most situations are localized–not immediately national. And that includes major terrorist events. It would have to take one heck of a threat to scare the bejesus out of everyone at once–even if technically you could do it. What it does show is that the demand for instant and direct communication is pressuring those with responsibility to come up with innovative ways to meet that demand. And that is the real lesson for all emergency managers and crisis communicators. How will you meet the demand for instant and direct information?

JIC Performance Standards–a little help please

I commented not long ago on the depressing performance of a JIC (Joint Information Center–part of Incident Command System and National Incident Management System) involving a large government crisis exercise. But it led to the question–is there a standard out there for JIC performance? Do PIOs (public information officers) have any resource they can go that says–here is what your JIC should be able to do, by when, and these are the standards by which you will be measured?

If anyone knows of such a standard, please let me know–because it will save me a ton of work. There being none as far as I know, I am setting about creating one. I’m convinced that perhaps the biggest problem of public information management today–both on the part of public and private communicators–is not understanding how the demands have escalated. The media, stakeholders and impacted publics have much greater expectations and demands than even 5 years ago. That means the bar keeps moving. What might have been a successful JIC ten years ago would be an abysmal failure today. But how do you show people who care about these things what is expected? I believe a JIC evaluation method which reflects current expectations of those impacted by an event is the best tool.

If I am right, the best thinking should be consolidated by some government consulting firm, then distilled into a JIC Evaluation Form and distributed to every jurisdiction in the country. After all, if DHS can mandate use of the JIC as part of NIMS, it ought to be able to publish standards of performance that the JICs it helps fund can use to determine if they are operating properly.

So, if you know of any JIC performance standards document somewhere in the bowels of bureaucracy, please let me know. If not, please contribute your thoughts about how JICs should be evaluated and what the performance criteria ought to be. And now, excuse me, I’ve got a lot of work to do.