Tag Archives: social media

At EMI-SIG conference and realities of connected world

So I just get done speaking at the EMI-SIG conference (that’s the Emergency Management Institute-Special Interest Group part of DOE and NNSA) on how our world is changing related to social media news, Deepwater Horizon and the like. I check my email and get an email from a friend saying he’s been following my talk on Twitter. Seems someone was live tweeting (#EMISIG) from the audience.

Sometimes its scary how connected we all are.

A Fire Chief's advice for social media "newbies"

Bill Boyd, Fire Chief for Bellingham, WA, is becoming a well-known friend to crisisblogger readers. I’ve included several guest posts from him, particularly appreciating his perspective on crisis and emergency communications from an Incident Commander’s perspective. But Bill is eager to jump in and learn about the emerging communication technologies, if anyone who is a friend of his tweets will know. He considers himself a bit of a newbie on social media, but it’s not true. He’s pretty advanced in his use (puts me to shame, that’s for sure) but more than that, his insights into common sense approaches for public officials as well as private communicators are exceptionally valuable. I gratefully publish his thoughts:

“Newbie” Social Media tips for emergency response folks

Like many other of my middle aged emergency response colleagues, I am still trying to get a grip on how this whole social media (SM) thing works, and how to use it to communicate inside and outside my organization.  But, it is like trying to pick up a jellyfish with one hand.  It slips through your fingers and plops back down onto the beach coming to rest in a different shape.  Navigating the morass of evolving SM tools, self proclaimed experts (which I am clearly not!), skeptics and snake oil vendors can be pretty frustrating. My first emergency responder media blog posting generated a lot of interest and questions about how SM works and how it can enhance communications.  Truthfully, I am still trying to figure it out too.  But, I thought I would share a few things that may help others in the emergency response world take the first steps in enhancing their communications strategies.

Use today’s most popular SM sites. Twitter and Facebook seem to be the rage right now, and major news organizations have integrated them into their operations, exponentially increasing their visibility and reach.  But, stay agile.  It wasn’t too may years ago that MySpace was “it”. But, its popularity is plummeting like the glide path of a toolbox.  While I predict Facebook and Twitter will be around for quite a while, social media tools will come and go.  Don’t become entrenched.

Download a SM aggregator. A SM aggregator is program (typically free) that allows you to manage your various social media subscriptions, favorites, bookmarks, posts, etc..  This is important to do if you have more than one active SM account.  Although there are dozens of similar applications out there,  I use TweetDeck, a tool that allows me to set up columns of individual tweeters I follow. Each column tracks a tweeters message thread.  I can easily edit/comment and retweet to my followers.  HootSuite is another tool, which appears to have more organizational capabilities, and doesn’t require downloading client software onto your computer. But, given my unsophisticated and newbie status I have yet to try it out. Be careful if you use a SM aggregator to post messages.  If you set up your account to tap into a wide range of SM sites that mix business and social uses, your messages may be misunderstood, or worse, appear inappropriate for posting on the site you link to.  Allowing a post that says “Man, did I tie one on last night” on your LinkedIn profile as you are in the middle of job search will make you look like an idiot.

Don’t get sucked in. SM tools are great for enhancing gathering an dissemination of information during an emergency.  But, they should not be the focus of your information distribution.  You need to have a wide range of tools available, including web sites, 3rd party emergency notification systems that contact the public via phone, email lists, sirens, procedures for door to door “knock and blocks” and emergency alert system access.  SM is simply another way to get the message out.  The great thing about SM is it allows you to evaluate how well the message has been understood and if was effectively communicated and distributed.

Determine your SM identity.  I must admit, I am struggling with this one. SM gurus are preaching about the need to identify your “brand” before launching into the SM world.  I took the “ready, fire, aim” approach.  I am slowly migrating my messaging towards my main interests and personality traits; Connecting with the community I serve on a personal level, sharing important safety and incident information, promoting my college Alma mater, and disseminating crisis communications and fire service information. Determining your brand can be difficult, unless you already work for a company that has a defined brand and values system.  If you work for an organization that has mission/value statements or a defined strategic vision, evaluate these statements and how your personal interests and passion can help sustain your SM messaging efforts.

Don’t be afraid to steal followers.  By this I mean find someone interesting on a SM site, then take a look at the profiles of those who are linked to the same person.  Chances are they share similar interests, professional contacts and information links.  Start linking and following those folks too.  It’s a great way to quickly build your list of contacts.  Also, share their posts if they have something interesting to say.  They, and others who learn from the post will appreciate it.

Don’t type stupid stuff. As soon as you hit send, your message is out there and can be spread around the world in a heartbeat.  Public officials (me included) must be strategic and careful in how we share our emotions, opinions and perspectives.  SM messaging is almost too easy.  At times I have wished they had a pop up “nag box” that would remind me – “Hey Dim Bulb! Do you really want to say that?”  Some no-brainer topics to avoid;  slamming your employers-including the citizens you serve, sexual/ discriminatory statements or jokes, confidential business information (including information that can be tracked back to help identify a medical patient).

Let them know you are human.  Some of the largest Twitter accounts belong to individuals who not only share important and relevant business information, but also provide insight into their personal lives; their family triumphs, tragedies, milestones and personal interests. Along with fire and emergency services related content,  I sprinkle in my feelings and activities unrelated to my work.  Followers seem to enjoy the levity and insight, and it often results in two way exchanges about life in general.

I will continue to share my lessons learned in this ever changing environment.  Given what I have learned so far, I do not ever think I will be a SM expert.  But, I’m going to have a heck of a lot of fun trying to get there!

Online Socializing–is it good or bad?

When you are as old as I am and look back on the changes in how communication is done it is completely unreal. OK, I can remember black rotary dial phones (touch tone was a big deal back then) and my first job was at a newspaper company that still occasionally used a hot lead linotype–setting up a newspaper with photo typesetters was really cool technology. Without doubt the movement of interpersonal communication from letter writing, phone calling and personal visits to email, blogging, Twitter, Facebook and all kinds of social media has transformed lives, changed how we interact, revolutionized our culture, and modified our values.

But, is that a good thing? There are some whom I respect immensely who are convinced that it is about 85-90% bad. Others seem to accept any “progress” in technology as an inherent good. I am of the firm opinion that like almost all other ideas and inventions of humankind, it is neither good nor bad apart from the heart and intention of those who use it.

Pew, the authority on all things opinion-related on the Internet, has done a study of what you and millions like you think about online socializing, including what you think it will mean for the future. Here’s their new study.

But, the topline is 85% say the Internet has been a positive force in their social lives and will only become more so in the future. 14% disagree, saying it is negative.

Why negative:

Among the negatives noted by both groups of respondents: time spent online robs time from important face-to-face relationships; the internet fosters mostly shallow relationships; the act of leveraging the internet to engage in social connection exposes private information; the internet allows people to silo themselves, limiting their exposure to new ideas; and the internet is being used to engender intolerance.
Why positive:

Many of the people who said the internet is a positive force noted that it “costs” people less now to communicate — some noted that it costs less money and others noted that it costs less in time spent, allowing them to cultivate many more relationships, including those with both strong and weak ties. They said “geography” is no longer an obstacle to making and maintaining connections; some noted that internet]based communications removes previously perceived constraints of “space” and not just “place.”

So we can now make more friends and acquaintances faster, at less cost, and without regard to geographic location. Yeah, sure, I can see the advantages. But I get tired just thinking about it. Maybe I’ll use my old black rotary and dial a few friends and family members for an old fashioned picnic. We can take the time to look each other in the eye and actually talk.

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

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.

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

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.

The smartphone–the most disruptive technology?

In discussing or contemplating the future of crisis communication, the focus inevitably turns to the mobile phone. Sort of what Bill Gates said a few years ago about technology. If you look ahead the next year won’t look like a lot of change, but in five years it will hardly be recognizable. Of course, that’s a probably inaccurate paraphrase. But it is clear that the smart phone has resulted in more change than almost anything else, certainly since the introduction of the PC and the internet.

Thanks to frequent crisisblogger reader William, here’s a great summary of the changes brought about by the smartphone. It has already transformed crisis communication. Here’s one quick example. The question often posed for us involved in web-based communication was, what happens in large scale events where power and infrastructure is destroyed. In Hurricane Ike, Houston and region was without power for a long time–some areas for 2 weeks. Yet, during this time and especially during the worst of the storm, internet use was extremely high. The crisis sites we hosted for 12 different organizations took over 14 million hits in a few days. Why? Smartphones. Our staff in Houston, like many others, were using smartphones as their primary communication device. Certainly calling when cell service was available. But texting, and accessing the internet continuously. When the batteries died, they went to their cars and charged them up.

For crisis communicators it is essential to understand that if it is not true already it will soon be true that most will get the info you want to get to them by their smartphones. That’s why text messaging and text-to-voice automated calling have become so important today. Audiences will also interact with you by phone–not just by email, but by text and especially by their preferred social media platforms which are now the most popular apps on smartphones. That’s how they want to communicate with you and they don’t really give a rat’s behind about how you prefer to communicate with them–it’s the nature of audiences and customers. As Burger King taught us, they want it their way.

As important as communicating via smartphones is the need to be able to control your communications via smartphone. Can you access all your contacts via your smartphone? Can you track who is asking questions? Can you develop and send releases? Can you manage your web content and your social media channels via your smart phone? These technologies are now available or soon to be available and if you are not using them, you will find once again that Now is too late.

Top PR Blunders Involve Social Media and the Internet

Fineman PR out of San Francisco has published its top ten list of PR blunders for 2009. I did some analysis of some of the items on the list at emergencymgmt.com, but I just read this interview with Fineman PR head Michael Fineman and his advice is definitely worth passing on.

Here are a couple of gems: “Social media and the whole online space have changed the dynamics of communications. In our society today, you have to understand that anything you say on the record can go out millions instantly. You can’t underestimate the power of that—and you have to understand that you need your own communications to help offset any negativity you experience on the Internet.”

On the importance of Googling: Fineman says that, too often, “The only way people look for your business is by Googling you. If they come up with negative links, it’s not good.” This is the exact reason, Fineman says, that “organizations have to tell their story well on the Web.”

What’s the biggest mistake in social media use in crises?

“Slow response time. In the case of Dominoes, for example, you can’t allow a video that ugly to go on for two days without responding. Ultimately, Dominoes eventually handled it effectively. But the images they allowed to run online for two days without any response did a lot of damage. They underestimated the power and impact of YouTube.”

The only area I disagreed with Fineman was in his reference to having a webmaster as part of your crisis team. The webmasters for the most part come from IT and respond only to IT managers. For the most part in my experience they do not have the sense of urgency, the chain of command, or the mentality to truly be part of a crisis response team that has minutes to respond, not weeks. Communication technologies are very available today to give non-tech savvy communicators the full power of the internet, including managing content instantly, distribution of content in multiple modes, managing interactions and inquiries, and monitoring everything out there in traditional and social media. Communicators should demand nothing less because it is essential to meet the demands that Fineman so eloquently expresses.

Dominos is one company that learned its lesson

Dominos Pizza is one company that has appeared in the presentations of many of us so-called experts in social media and crisis communication. But in a bad way. It was one of the most vivid examples of how companies can be caught flat-footed in a major reputation crisis that is driven primarily by social media. In this case it was dim-witted Dominos employees posting disgusting food preparation videos on YouTube–which of course went viral with millions of views in hours. Dominos did a good job of crisis management–for the old world. They simply were not prepared to deal with a crisis in the social media world, but were well prepared to deal with it in the traditional media world. Result–they failed.

This story about Dominos engaging food bloggers on an area of great vulnerability to them (the fact that their pizzas rank near the bottom in taste tests) is an example of understanding the new world of social media. Imagine a few years a PR executive proposing this strategy: “Our product is ranked really low in taste so I’d like to go to the people who are the taste arbiters for most of the rest of the world and who seem to really disparage us and open ourselves up to them, encouraging them to comment to all their followers about what we are doing.”  “What!? Are you nuts? Let’s buy some ads and emphasize how fast we deliver.”

We keep saying today communication is about engagement, transparency, responsiveness to the interaction with customers. That’s true of marketing and true of crisis communication. Congrats, Dominos. In my view anyway, you’ve gone from an organization that doesn’t get it to one that does.

Old Media Minds meet New Media Model–it doesn't work

Some communicators clearly don’t understand it is not just about the technology and new media channels. It is even more about how we do our business of communications. Here is a classic example. When the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) added social media to its communication effort, it seems they approached it from an old media mindset: control the message, broadcast, propagandize, spin, and all that one-way communication stuff. What they didn’t realize is that social media is, well, more social than that. It is about engagement, participation, dialogue, building relationships.

Here’s a great summary of the problem from the article linked above: In the BCS example, I think their problem is that they are not fostering conversation,” said Jeff Ma, co-founder and VP-research for the popular website Citizen Sports and the author of one of the most popular sports apps for iPhone, Sportacular. “Instead, they are trying to deliver a message.”

Here’s a little test–if you’re reaction to the last sentence is, hey, isn’t that what communication is all about, delivering a message? Then you probably have a hint that you will have some problems with social media. Well sure, it is about delivering a message, but like at a cocktail party you don’t enter the room to deliver a message. You may deliver a message as part of a mutually enjoyable conversation but as soon as the people you are talking to believe that all you care about is your agenda and delivering your message, the conversation is essentially over. That’s why communicators need above all to understand that social media is more about listening than anything else. It is by listening that we learn what the issues are, the concerns, and the reasonable opportunities to convey our message. Or, as may be the case with the BCS, maybe they should be listening to their constituents a little more rather than preaching to them about what is best.

This also raises a side question: is a PR firm headed by a former White House press secretary the best model for engaging audiences. You  might think so, but if ever there was an example of operating in an old media-only mindset and delivering the message as a one-way process, it is in the now old-fashioned, out-dated and anachronistic White House press conference.