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“Preach on Chief!”

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“You’re too late”….. a bad news phrase that signals you missed getting the last of a great deal, or worse – you arrived after someone you loved has passed away.  But, my mentor and friend Gerald Baron uses the term proactively, warning those of us in the first responder/emergency management field of the fact we are “behind the eight ball” when it comes to sharing information on high profile incidents.

This week, Gerald hosted a webinar on the new landscape of crisis communications in oil spill response.  There were some heavy hitters on the call, including crisis comms experts from BP and O’Briens  Response Management communications teams who worked the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Listening to Gerald’s presentation and the shared experiences of those who were on the front lines of the communications strategy battle of the oil spill got my internal opinion generator fired up (again).

  • In high profile unanticipated events we will be too late.  There is no way we will “control” or “manage” public information.  Citizens have more information sharing power than we do from the get go.  Those with well established networks/contacts even more so.
  • Relying on the usual news outlets and their established news cycles to get the word out just makes a crisis communicator more irrelevant faster (my late high school English teacher is rolling over in her grave). But, I still think we need to consider news cycles when disseminating information….at least for now.
  • The older you are, the less likely you are to use “get it now” information, and more likely to watch news reporters in yellow Nomex shirts standing in the path of a raging wildfire or Gortex leaning into 100 mph winds. The new generation monitors and shares real time data, makes decisions and then posts these reporter news stories on Fail.com.
  • Incident spokespersons must be credible within the sphere of their media.  You can have a commanding presence on TV, but end up looking like a loser on SM. Make sure your talent syncs to the media you use.
  • There is a big difference between SM intelligence gathering and PIO/JIC SM monitoring and engagement.  Different skill sets, experience and perspective are needed to perform these functions.  Keep them separate on large incidents.
  • Will someone in Washington please make a decision on how SM fits within ICS?  Or at least provide guidelines that make sense?  I know it is being worked on, but folks are clamoring for guidance.
  • Elected officials must be educated about the power of SM BEFORE a disaster strikes.  I think this will be a self correcting situation as more candidates embrace SM as part of their election campaigns.  Until then, we need to show them how it’s done (use Cory Booker for example).

A fellow SMEM thought leader listening in tweeted “Preach on Chief!” during the webinar.  Yep, I got on a roll for a few minutes.   I won’t have to be evangelical for long.  Our SMEM culture is changing much too quickly, and elected officials are beginning to catch on.  We have a short window to make sure it gets done right.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • http://www.BrillsonAssociates.com Sheila brillson

    Great article, Chief…it’s been funny watching politics catch up on the use of social media. The old news cycle of communication has changed-clue me in to what PIO/JIC SM and ICS stand for…I’m adding your blog to my faves.

    • http://chiefb2.wordpress.com chiefb2

      Hi Sheila! Thanks! ICS=Incident Command System PIO/JIC = Public Information Officer/Joint Information Center, SM= Social Media.

  • http://www.idc.com David Sonnen

    Good point! “There is no way we will “control” or “manage” public information. Citizens have more information sharing power than we do from the get go. Those with well established networks/contacts even more so.”

    Even small groups of people nearby any event will have orders of magnitude more information sharing capability than any single agency. And, those folks will touch networks that quickly touch all other networks. So, any information that’s alarming or even just interesting gets blasted to the ‘net in pretty much real time. There’s no gate.

    Makes day-later press releases seem pretty quaint.

  • Jim Garrow

    Hey Chief, I wish you would go on more rants. It was totally appropriate and well-received.

    Always a pleasure to hear from you,
    Jim

    • http://chiefb2.wordpress.com chiefb2

      Thanks JG!

About chiefb2

Retired fire chief,Type 3 AHIMT IC, PIO. Current industrial services safety professional, social media emergency management disciple (no, I'm not a "guru"). Crisis communications consultant. Dad with an open wallet.