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Crisis Comm

by Gerald Baron: Crisis and emergency communication strategies

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When news gets social and social is news
February 08, 2012
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Here is a guest post on the evolving role of social media on news by Patrice Cloutier, one of the most active and insightful observers of social media and emergency and crisis communication:

It's been quite a week. The Facebook IPO made hundreds of instant millionaires, revealing again the growing importance of social media in all our lives. In a way, we've come full circle ... in fact, we've been through many revolutions in the last few months.

 Another piece of news that caught my attention this week was the launch of a new “social news aggregator” by Reuters. The wire agency is keeping up with the times and its Social Pulse is a new way to feature the social distribution of news stories, the way companies and key executives are perceived and what is trending on social netwoks.

 In other words, in addition to getting inspiration and tips to produce news stories, social media has now become intrinsic to the storytelling itself. I believe we are now in an era of symbiotic relationships between legacy media and users of social media, between “professional” reporters and bloggers and everyday people who make news in all sorts of ways.

 The definition of who is a journalist is even being challenged everyday by new ways of telling stories and who makes contribution to the collective dialogue. Some news outlet are even “officializing” this crowdsourcing of news gathering. If anyone is your audience ... now everyone is also your beat reporter depending on what their interests and experiences are. And why not? The crowd can become a valuable resource for media outlets with diminishing staff and budgets.

 How does this affect crisis communications and emergency management? Well, the cycle is now a continuous, self-sustaining process that can mortally wound any organization's reputation if not identified, properly assessed and then adjusted. The recent outcry after a decision by a charitable foundation to stop funding Planned Parenthood, showed how this alliance of the “crowd and media” can become overwhelming.

 This paragraph from a recent post by Marcia Stepanek illustrates this phenomenon:

“ ... there are also the kinds of swarms that can form when an organization's most influential fans and followers on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking platforms start feeling that the organizations they support are ignoring them -- or betraying their trust by doing something controversial without their input or prior knowledge.

 Social networks can help quickly galvanize public opinion against, or in some cases, for, any organization. Simply put, that perception takes shape literally minutes after a crisis erupts or an incident occurs. This means a crisis communications plan must be part of any response planning effort.

 Your response cannot take place in a vacuum. What the public and your audiences thinks about what you're doing is essential to the very success of this response.  Stats now indicate that sales of  smartphones have overtaken sales of PCs. This means that mobile devices, allow anyone to help shape public perception from anywhere with pictures, videos, tweets, SMS texts and more.

 Mobile access to social networks is a game changer in the sense that while you may be busy strategizing your response ... the people you're actually trying to reach are already bombarded by opinions, facts, rumours ... all channelled through legacy media on mobile devices ...or social networks such as Twitter or Facebook.

 Then what to do?

  • Monitor in real-time
  • Engage in real-time as soon as necessary
  • Delegate authority to start the process within minutes
  • Bombard all platforms with your own messages if you want to compete.

 All of this can only work if you're already a trusted source amongst your audiences ... and if you're using the tools they use ... and move at the speed they move ... Are you there yet?


Patrice Cloutier is currently a government communications strategist in Canada. As such, he plays a key role in the planning and delivery of emergency information at the provincial level and in crisis communications coordination.

 Patrice spent close to 10 years as a reporter and broadcaster with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. For the last 10 years, he’s been involved in strategic communications, media relations and emergency management.

 He’s an avid blogger and social media enthusiast. Patrice is a member of various groups sharing crisis communications and emergency management expertise and best practices. He’s a guest instructor at the Canadian Emergency Management College and at the Ontario Provincial Police.



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