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Listening Isn’t Good Enough

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I have to acknowledge my blog negligence lately.  Work and family obligations, compounded by an onset of “blogger block” made it tough.  I’ve been struggling to find fresh topics, and afraid of sounding like a broken record in preaching the gospel of social media crisis response. Certainly by now everyone gets it and buys into the essential role SM channels play in crisis response, right? RIGHT?

 Nope…

Gerald Baron and I recently spoke at a workshop for elected officials and staffers from around our state. We were brought in to talk about the new reality in using social media to communicate during agency crisis.  It was a great group of committed public servants, many of whom fully engaged in our presentations, nodding in the affirmative as we talked about the impact of “nano news” .

 But, during our discussions, I kept noticing one audience member shaking his head with his arms crossed as I spoke.  Finally, during my Q & A, he spoke up… “Listen, I understand that things are changing and we need to get on board with using all this stuff…  But, I just want to read what is on Twitter and Facebook… I don’t want to sign up… I don’t feel the need to tell people everything I am doing…I want my privacy.”

 “Whoah” I thought. While I appreciated his honesty, I was surprised by his perspective.  This elected commissioner works for his citizens, and is now accountable directly to them, including being subject to tremendous public scrutiny and oversight.  But, rather than point out this obvious vulnerability I focused on the positive side of what he said; he was willing use social media to read what others are saying.  I made clear the importance of monitoring social media channels, especially during crisis, but also made it clear to Mr. Commissioner that simply reading what others are saying is no longer good enough.

 I stumbled upon a blog article written by PR consultant Urlick Gartner, posted on the International Public Relations Association that reinforced my perspective. In describing the new reality of social media influence on business communications, Gartner says to remember the communication basics during crisis;

 “While social media provide a whole new set of challenges and opportunities, it should also be said that fundamentals of crisis communication management don’t change, especially when it comes to preparedness and strategy. You’ll still need to do your crisis mapping. It will still be your three-step response of showing empathy, dealing with the concrete impact of the crisis, and being transparent about it…”

 Mr. Commissioner’s background and perspective is “old school”.  Today, we publicly share more of our personnel and professional lives than ever before, either on purpose or by accident.  This double edged sword of virtual reality means we now expect more information and engagement from our elected officials.  This doesn’t mean we expect them to share what they had for lunch or why they like the San Francisco 49’ers (wait, I’m not sure anyone in Washington State likes the 49’ers do they?). But, in the grand scheme of things we do demand immediate response, conversation, accountability, honesty, transparency, authenticity and empathy. Is that too much to ask?   If I asked US Senator Cory Booker or Houston City Council Member Ed Gonzalez I think I know what their answer would be.

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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.