Tag Archives: twitter

Twitter takes one more step toward news

As of now, 2013 we still have an Internet world which includes a social media world, and we have a TV world. Sure, there are crossovers–like Netflix and Hulu and all the stuff that now comes with your Apple TV (enjoyed a terrific documentary last night on the Smithsonian Channel on Apple TV).

Those different worlds are quickly colliding, and Comcast’s announcement of a strategic partnership with Twitter adds momentum to the collision. Starting next month, when you get a Tweet referencing one of Comcast’s NBCUniversal TV shows, a little icon will appear on the bottom that says “See It.” Click on that and you will automatically be taken via your device (presumably smartphone) to the TV show in question.

Sure, right now it is a clever way for Comcast to grab some of Twitter’s users and get them on their shows. But these things are incremental changes that lead to big changes.

Already Twitter is the primary media management tool for crisis communication. Huh? Say what? Yes, Twitter is the number one, most important, most efficient, most effective, best practice way to get important content to the media when it is hitting the fan. Why? If it isn’t obvious to you, one look at Fox News’ new “News Deck” newsroom ought to convince you that Twitter is the most important news gathering device since the notebook was invented (I’m referring to the paper one you digital natives). News starts, grows, expands, amplifies on Twitter. So if you have news, or you want the news first, you need to be on Twitter.

Twitter, starting out as a way for those digital natives to share what Starbucks they happen to be sitting at and what kind of latte they were sipping, has become a most critical news discovery and sharing device. But Twitter is hardly the point. As my good friend and colleague Patrice Cloutier repeatedly points out, it is all about social convergence. That is, the bringing together of powerful mobile devices with powerful sharing technologies with the vast interconnectedness that the world now experiences. Add to that social convergence one more element: TV. It all becomes blurred, mish-mashed. But what emerges is critical clear: news happens at nano-speed and in stunning visuality and comprehensiveness. And that’s exactly what crisis communication needs to be.


Stormpins, or at least the tweeter for Stormpins, sent me this link following my post here. The recent PEW research on generational differences in news does not bode well for traditional news. All the more reason why the kind of convergence evidenced by this Twitter-Comcast partnership portends the future of news.

Will Twitter outlast New York Times?

Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder said in a recent press conference that Twitter would outlast the New York Times. Gil Rudawsky of GroundFloor Media reported on this and asked the question in a recent blog post.

I’d hate to make that prediction as I, a very long time ago, boldly predicted that Twitter would soon be gone. I thought people would tire of sharing the particular Starbucks drink they were enjoying which seemed to be the primary point of Twitter at the time (see, the name suggested to me a bunch of meaningless bird-like tweeting). How wrong I was as Twitter has become the driver in today’s news coverage, and one of the most significant news channels currently available. If Mr. Thiel is right, even more significant than the mighty New York Times.

It fascinates me no end that so many in crisis communication seem to have trouble grasping the significance of this change. But I would suggest, as Boston Police showed in their excellent use of Twitter during the bomber manhunt, that Twitter has made public information and media relations a much, much simpler game:

If you do nothing else in a major event other than providing near continuous tweets about what you know and what you don’t know, in 140 character bites, you will still be the communication champ. 


How Twitter became the biggest thing in news–and is getting even bigger

Twitter started as a way for the always-connected crowd to share with their friends the kind of latte they were having and just what Starbucks location they were at. Who gives a rat’s behind? So I fearlessly predicted that Twitter would soon tweet into the sunset.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Four years ago, January 2009, a tourist from Florida on a ferry in the Hudson sent a tweet heard around the news world. And the rest is history. News history, and therefore crisis communication history.

Twitter, and I others soon started preaching, was the new police scanner. It was how the news media got the news and tried to beat everyone else to the punch. More than that, it became a broadcast channel in its own right, with millions using it to find the absolutely latest and virtually any and all subjects.

From a media relations and crisis communication standpoint, Twitter has become essential. ESSENTIAL. While many still pooh-pooh the direct communication aspect with citizens, who can argue that with the media using it for searching and reporting the latest that it is essential even if all your focus is on the media? I’ve long promoted the importance of Twitter over Facebook this way, and Jim Garrow and I recently have been having a bit of discussion about that.

Now comes some interesting news that suggests that Twitter is starting to really get that they are a news channel, and not mostly a latte-sharing channel. Twitter is beefing up its algorithm for search by adding an unusual element: humans. Yes, real live people using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service, are supplementing the algorithms to provide context. The ReadWrite story tells the details and just what this means.

Here’s the relevance for those of us in the crisis and emergency communication business:

– Monitoring using Twitter just got easier. Those humans are going to make it considerably easier to find the needles in the haystack.

– Growing use for situation awareness. The primary problem for using UGC (user generated content) is the noise to signal ratio. So much noise, so little of value, and how do you separate them?

– Primary media management. The enhanced search will likely mean the media will find Twitter an even more useful tool for reporting.

– Media Schmedia. On other hand, if they don’t will the world care? That’s the real point. This step by Twitter is a big step forward in making traditional media even more obsolete. The ReadWrite headline “”Watch Out CNN” may be overstating it, but perhaps not. I’ve long used Breaking News on Twitter as a primary way of keeping up. I’m suspecting this change will mean Twitter itself is the way to keep up.

Now that I’ve admitted to being so wrong about Twitter and declaring how essential it is to today’s communications, I’ve probably put in motion their demise. Who knows what comes tomorrow. But how can instant be faster?


Why some in news love Twitter and some apparently don’t

I tend to think (despite my initially dissing it) that Twitter has transformed how news is done almost as much as the telegraph did–and that was big. A conversation with a client the other day highlighted why some in the news business love Twitter and some don’t seem to like it too much.

While on the phone with this client he said, hold on a minute, I’m getting a question via Twitter from a reporter over the city in a helicopter. I chuckled while holding. Talk about monitoring! In less than 30 seconds my client was back on the phone. He had answered the reporters question, and since his Twitter messages are fed to his newsroom website, he also informed anyone else who might be asking a similar question. I said, “that’s pretty slick and easy media management.”

He went on to explain that reporters like the guy in the helicopter love using Twitter and use it extensively, but a number of news producers do not. That stunned me for a moment. Why would anyone not like using Twitter? Why would these producers prefer to pick up the old phone, try to get a hold of someone who is chronically very busy, and wait to get an answer? At first I thought the only answer was age and the related phenomenon of ludditism. But, in discussing this with the client, I think there is a better answer than refusal to adapt.

News competition used to largely about scoops, about covering something significant that no one else had. Being the first with a big story. Or, if you can’t be first, then getting a little gem that no one else has. I remember in one of my first big events that I was involved in, one newspaper reporter hung around after the press conference was over to ask his questions. He never asked questions during the press conference. Turns out, he didn’t want to tip off the other reporters to what angle he was going after and he kept probing until he thought he had something unique.

News competition today is more about speed, which is why the guy in the helicopter wants the answers right now. But those producers (age may indeed have something to do with this) are looking for the angle. They don’t like the idea that if the communicator answers his/her questions with a tweet everyone is going to get the same info. He/she doesn’t like to ask questions on Twitter where everyone else can see the question. They’d rather probe for the unique angle.

I can understand that. But, my answer to that is, unless there is compelling reason to give someone an exclusive, their hesitance to use Twitter for this reason is all the more reason to use it. Start training the reporters covering your beat that if they call you, probe and poke they can get something no one else can, and you will find that everyone will be probing and poking and taking up precious time with phone calls. Twitter, like the news website itself, is a great equalizer and contributor to transparency.

New study on Twitter and Bin Laden death shows how news is done today

The death of Osama bin Laden is considered the biggest story told on Twitter. Now a new study by Georgia Tech and reported in Homeland Security Newswire provides insight into how news is done today, particularly the interplay of Twitter and mainstream media, in informing the world.

The study confirms the understanding the story broke on Twitter with tweets from Keith Urbahn, an aide to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. I don’t know why the study did not include the tweets from the next door neighbor of bin Laden in Abottabad who complained about the helicopters overhead and saying he was going to get out his giant fly swatter. Even though these were undoubtedly the first tweets about the incident, they did not inform of his death.

The interesting thing about this study applies to rumor management–the task that is now the number one priority of crisis communications. The team analyzed 400,000 tweets (using software, of course) and categorized them as “certain” or “uncertain.” That was a way of determining how confident the tweeter was of passing on info that considered to be true. They found that almost immediately 50% of the tweets were certain, meaning the tweeters had high confidence in the accuracy. This was well before there was any TV reports confirming the news.

Why? How could people be so certain of something so important and so subject to rumor? The researcher concluded this:

“We believe Twitter was so quick to trust the rumors because of who sent the first few tweets,” said Hu. “They came from reputable sources. It’s unlikely that a CBS News producer or New York Times reporter would spread rumors of something so important and risk jeopardizing their reputation. Twitter saw their credentials and quickly believed the news was true.”

So, it comes down to the credibility of the tweeter. Aristotle is still on target (he said of the three proofs in rhetoric, logic, emotion and credibility, the most important was credibility (ethos)).

It’s hard for me to believe, but it is clear that many in crisis communications continue to discount the role of Twitter in this field and in the news world overall. Technology is changing far faster than our minds can adapt to the changes. But this study makes it clear how important Twitter, and for that matter, other social media are in informing the world of important events. Yes, as in my previous post, new ways must be found to verify facts. But despite the technology and sea change, some important things never change and being completely believable is one of those.


Journalistic handwringing over Twitter

This article in Poynter asks a very good question: is Twitter ruining journalism, and a related question: are journalists ruining Twitter.

How might either be happening? One, everyone is giving all the information–journalists using Twitter are giving their best stuff away for free, so the concern might be that journalism is weakened or ruined by it.

The second concern is that journalists, like the rest of us, put a lot of junk out on Twitter: “favors the trivial over the substantive … the immediate over the consequential … and events over ideas.”

Yeah, that’s right. But, the San Francisco Guardian responded to the criticism this way:

“… You can’t blame technology or the applications it creates for turning us in the news business into a bunch of attention-starved maniacs who put stuff out there without checking the facts. That’s happened for years.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. There’s a lot wrong with news today. But Twitter isn’t what’s wrong. The operating assumption of most in professional journalism is that the attention span of audiences is that of a hummingbird, and they only thing that matters is what is happening right NOW. Immediacy is everything. In this understanding, I don’t think they are necessarily wrong, and because they die without an audience, why take a chance? On the other hand, the Economist continues to grow at a rate of about 5%. The weekly news magazine specializes in depth, intelligent analysis and topics that matter.

With Twitter and the Economist we have a wide choice–do we want info on what is happening right now, knowing that it is filled with mundane, ridiculous and usually incorrect information? Or do we want depth, analysis, insight? Like us audience, journalists can choose, too. And they are doing so.


Qantas, Rolls Royce, BBC and is Twitter all that important?

Interesting discussion about Qantas and their communication lapses relating to the engine failure. Interesting in part because BBC London just called asking me to participate in their evening news show tonight by satellite uplink to comment on Qantas and more specifically, Rolls Royce and their quickly emerging reputation challenges. (Unfortunately, a speaking engagement and lack of satellite uplink equipped studios in the backwater where I live look to prevent me from participating tonight.)

However, I can still express my opinion about Rolls Royce as well as comment back on the pushback I got on my comments about Twitter. Let’s start with that.

The rather firm rebuttal I got, from such esteemed crisis comms folks like J.D, have to do with the role that Twitter plays. The comments back were in essence that Twitter is not that significant given the relatively small audience and particularly globally. My comment about it being the “fastest and more relevant” was particularly dismissed. Here’s why I think it is: the news media. If the Twitter audience consisted only of people wanting to know who’s drinking what kind of latte at what Starbucks stand, I would agree. But Twitter is the new global police scanner. I was redundant when I said “fastest and most relevant” because in an instant news world where immediacy is everything, fast is only thing that is relevant. You can’t get faster than people sitting on airplane tweeting, or shooting pictures from the hole in the wing why they are still trying to land, or people tweeting images of debris that just landed on their heads on an island. This is where the news media will get their news and they will run with it.

Look back to ancient history–USAirways ditching in the Hudson. The world knew about it via Twitter and twitpic an hour before any word came from the airline.

Qantas’ problems were: 1) news media (Reuters) reported that Qantas reported the plane had crashed. True? Who knows? 2) Qantas denied debris falling at the same time that the news media were publishing photos from yfrog showing residents of the island of Batam holding up debris from the plane. 3) Qantas did not use Twitter to address the rumors and reports. They did get a statement up on their website relatively quickly–and that’s good. But for the news media tuning in to Twitter for the latest updates, Qantas should have been there.

That being said, I also commented that I didn’t think Qantas’ reputation would be damaged by this. They immediately grounded the A380s–good thing. They also found some small oil leaks in other A380 engines. Plus, had another engine problem force a return of a flight a couple of days later, this time a 747, but also with a Rolls Royce engine.

So we turn to Rolls Royce. Tweeting or not, the impact of these engine problems is likely to be serious for Rolls Royce. Stock has already taken a beating on it, as the reports of more engine problems discovered by Qantas hit the news. When a report like this happens, the media (and the public) look for patterns. Is this an anomaly? Are there bigger problems than one engine? The news media and bloggers will dig very hard to find these patterns, a history of problems, because that is the big question the public wants to know. They are asking: am I safe if I fly in a plane with a Rolls Royce engine? Right now, every problem with a Rolls Royce engine is being researched. It is completely predictable that a series of reports will come out showing a pattern of problems, and then we will see ex-employees or “safety experts” being interviewed saying “they were warned but they put profits above safety.” This is simply the pattern. Unfortunately for Rolls Royce, there are some suggestions that problems with the Trent 900 engine are too common. Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner has been delayed, some reports suggesting, because of this same engine.

Rolls Royce appears to be aggressive in addressing this at this stage with reports this morning of “progress being made” in identifying the problem(s) behind the Qantas engine failure. But I sense a rough road ahead for them. Even if their history of engine problems is no worse or even better than competitors. It’s just the pattern of public concern fed by news media “pattern creation” that is their real risk.

What can they do? Do the right things and communicate them well. The right thing is to make double darn sure those fancy new huge engines are safe. And they better tell us everything they are doing to make sure they are safe. They also better be prepared to aggressively defend their safety record, their policies, their culture. But, prepare for the storm anyway.

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.

Can social media help in a crisis? Hospital shows how in Fort Hood shooting.

Since I talk a lot about social media and crisis communication these days, I’m often asked for specific examples of how social media works in a major crisis. Here’s a great example, thanks to Kitty Allen at Harris County Hospital District I was pointed to how Scott and White hospital, the closest Level 1 trauma center to Killeen, TX and Fort Hood, used social media during this event.

I hope you read the article but those skimmers, here are a few key lessons learned:

– the hospital launched its Twitter account on September 11 (one of more than 300 hospitals now using Twitter). The fact that it was launched before they really needed it and had 225 followers before the shooting occurred was very helpful in making it useful during the event.

– the first thing Aaron Hughling, the hospital web guy behind this, did was to look at Twitter to see what people were saying. Smart. Listen–because you will find out the issues and how you need to fit in and participate. He found that blood donation was a big deal.

– he posted 43 tweets in three days–jumping his followers to 400. But I’m guessing some of those followers were pretty significant–media, gov offices, maybe White House, etc. It’s not necessarily the numbers–it’s who is following that is important.

– he used his tweets to drive people to additional info: He then sent three tweets within 30 minutes with a link to a statement from the hospital, a phone number for the media, and a note that the ER was closed to all but patients from Fort Hood. That is very smart. 140 characters lets you tell the minimum but tell where else to go. This guy was also managing several websites and two blogs–very busy guy but it shows if you have your act together one communicator with the right tools can do an awful lot.

– he used more than Twitter. Hughling had set up several social media outlets including YouTube, Facebook, etc. (the article provides details) and posting videos such as this one to YouTube helped carry the message.

Great job, Aaron and for those of you looking for case studies on the new crisis management, look at Scott and White.