Do you Facebook, Tweet or Skype? Can you even access these applications from your company computer? Does your organization have a policy on social media? Do you even need a social media policy? Do you find yourself asking “why can’t this social media stuff just go away”?
The internet, which enables email and social media applications, has revolutionized how we receive news and communicate with each other—including and especially regarding disasters and incidents.
I live near Houston, Texas, and the recent wildfires experienced across Texas this summer seemed to be marching through the pine forests of Texas headed straight for my house. How did I keep up with the fire's progress? I checked my county's office of emergency management (OEM) website, which, by the way, is a PIER site, (an O'Brien's product) and my county's OEM's Twitter site. Between these two outlets, I was able to keep up with the latest breaking news from these authoritative local sources. As long as my phone was up on the network, I had access to the type of real time information military commanders of the past would have sold their souls for.
Social media and the internet have already changed how government agencies and major corporations conduct and manage public information in major events—this was widely noted in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and other incidents since then; this summer’s fires included. Is social media here to stay or is it a momentary phenomenon? Clearly, social media is here to stay, in one form or another. Some of the same criticism one hears about social media these days echoes criticism heard hundreds of years ago when printing presses began to churn out cheap and plentiful books and mass circulation newspapers and pamphlets—information overload is not a new complaint.
By now, "Twitter" has entered into the vocabularies of most people. Some of us use it as a verb, others as a noun. Twitter, or to "tweet," of course, refers to the free micro blogging service that has powered revolutions during the so-called "Arab Spring." The power of mass communication in the hands of people should not be underestimated. Some governments, including some jurisdictions here in the US, have tried to turn off mobile phone networks in an attempt to control and defuse protests that "promised" civil disobedience and would allegedly endanger public safety. Needless to say, "work-arounds" were found by protestors.
As we become more enabled by social media, we find ourselves struggling for context and guidance on how to harness this new technology, some of which is quite disruptive. Some of the obvious uses of social media in emergency response and directing crowds to assemble for protests are, in retrospect, obvious. There are as many uses for social media as there are companies and individuals who might use social media. How about your company? How do you get your arms around this? Just because you can communicate, does that mean you should, for the sheer sake of communicating? Perhaps not…actually, certainly not.
To dip your toes into the deep water of social media management slowly, I'd suggest the following policy guidance for discussion within your organization. Appoint someone in your company to become familiar with social media applications. Make them the internal resource for these issues. If you don't have someone in your company to fill that role, please give me a call and we can discuss our services. Decide which social media application is right for your company. Most communities and companies rely upon Facebook and Twitter, so go ahead and establish a Facebook page and a Twitter account for your organization.
If you publish a press release, you can populate your Facebook page with it and then take pieces of the press release (material which has already been approved) and "Tweet" from your Twitter account. To make your communications more personal, consider congratulating employees on professional achievements in these forums.
Don't dilute your brand with the daily domestic musings of your CEO or communications manager. No one cares that your corporate Tweeters have stopped for coffee and are wowed by the sunset; worse, it makes your company look unprofessional. Don't jump in over your head.
This is a moderate approach that doesn't require you to do anything extra in the category of getting information approved. It does get you familiar with the applications in a safe and sane manner. But be careful - people who view your Tweets and Facebook postings are used to a two-way conversation, so you should be prepared for a dialogue.
For more information or to discuss how we can help your organization meet its communications requirements, please call me at +1 281.606.4744.
The latest World Disaster Report published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is out, and this year the focus is on hunger. It's a sobering thought that this annual report has been in publication since 2007 and it has yet to repeat itself on annual themes.
These reports underscore that we live in an uncertain world where there are many issues such as globalization, urbanization, population growth, climate change and environmental degradation that can have an effect on our lives and livelihoods.
Certainly these issues all seem to be conspiring to make the remainder of this century an interesting time.
Is your company resilient? Are you prepared to continue business and protect your customers and employees in the face of human-caused and natural disasters? O'Brien's can provide a gap analysis where we examine your extant plans and policies and ascertain if any gaps exist between what you have and what Best Practices recommend.
Please call Lisa Saint at +1 281.606.4741 to discuss your business continuity needs, or call me to discuss a gap analysis.
We recently held the latest O'Brien's webinar forum during which we were fortunate to have Joseph Ramallo of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power talk about "Public Engagement, LA-Size." Joe covered how the nation's largest public utility uses a wide variety of communication channels, (including PIER) from group meetings, to online surveys to social media and broadcast media to reach out to and engage customers and the public.
Our next forum will be in mid-October, date and subject to be determined. To get on the mailing list for details about next month's forum, please register here.
It's of critical importance that your preparations for a robust and complete response to an incident also include planning for communicating with the media and other important stakeholders. Government agencies involved in the response have a requirement to communicate with external stakeholders, so if you are involved in a response with government agencies, the assumption is that your company will participate in the communications effort as well. It's not enough to just do the right thing during a response; a successful response must also include an appropriate communications effort to keep news media and other external stakeholders informed and engaged.
When preparing for an incident it's beyond helpful for an organization to have already decided in advance who will be the face of the organization. Many people automatically think that the CEO should be the face of the company in the event of a serious incident. I differ on that, and would counsel organizations to instead hold their CEO in reserve and put into play instead a capable company spokesperson who occupies a less-lofty perch on the corporate totem pole.
I know the impulse and conventional wisdom is to put the "person in charge" in front of the cameras as early and often as possible but in actual practice, this all too often fails.
What usually happens in these cases is the CEO is repeatedly and unnecessarily trotted out before the media and angry stakeholders time and time again until he/she, says something regrettable regarding the response, which, actually, may have been going well until that point, but starts to get wobbly as the real issues are ignored in favor of the much more entertaining game of speculating about what the CEO really meant by his/her comments.
A CEO's time should be spent like gold. Hold top leadership in reserve for the strategic engagements. Pick (and train) a senior company representative (line managementfor most of the significant engagements who is, well, expendable, but senior enough to satisfy the need to send out a senior company officer to get beat up. If this person has a few bad days, then send someone else in, perhaps even the CEO for a specific and well-considered engagement.
Media work and public engagement opportunities are not something you can engineer to be risk-free. It is not a zero defect environment out there, so manage your risk by having as many options as possible. Keep the CEO for the prime time engagements.
Let your back benchers do the heavy lifting…makes for "good training opportunities" as we say in the Navy. Speaking of training, do you have your leadership team trained to understand the media/public engagement environment? Has your leadership team been "fire-proofed" by adequate and fit for purpose training? How about your first response folks? Is the first company person on the scene ready to answer the hard questions? You don't want to rub salt into the wound by having your first company rep on the scene seen running away with his back to the camera because he wasn't trained to provide basic information—or worse, staying put and openly speculating on what may have happened.
To discuss your training requirements, please give me a call at +1 281.606.4744.
I received my flu shot last week; a good preventative measure we should all take. Have you prepared your business for the flu? O'Brien's staff epidemiologist, Clint Ladd, is ready to consult with you on flu pandemic plans. The time to prepare is now.
Clint may be reached at +1 281.606.4709.