President-Elect Donald Trump is right…about one thing… Twitter, kicks ass when it comes to getting a message out. Folks in emergency services better take heed, for more reasons than The Donald’s methods.
First, a disclaimer. I didn’t vote for him. Don’t agree with the way he ran his business, campaign and personal attacks on his detractors. Don’t agree with his proposals either. But, I was fascinated watching his non-stop use of Twitter to get his message out, bypassing mainstream media and other talking heads. This wasn’t lost on ‘ol Orange Dome; “I won…I think that social media has more power than the money they spent, and I think maybe to a certain extent, I proved that.”
Obviously, this wasn’t the only reason he got elected. But, his shrewd and often caustic tweets blasting his enemies went straight from his late night finger tips to his followers, and then blasted out via mainstream media and other social media “power users” early the next morning. If there is one thing The Donald is good at it’s grabbing headlines without using anyone else (or money) to do it.
So, what lessons can emergency managers, incident commanders and crisis communicators learn from the turbulent last few months?
- You better be real – There seemed to be no doubt when The Donald was the one typing on the keyboard. Even if he had one of his lackeys doing the actual typing, the language and intent of each messaged oozed his genuine intent. Simple words, conveying emotion and genuine intent have an impact.
- Stay on top of it – Negative tweets are much “sexier” than mundane informational tweets. I think it is because they are often emotional, playing upon human emotions of vulnerability and anger. So, they get retweeted and repeated much faster and continuously. Crisis communicators need to be constantly monitoring these feeds to identify negative tweets, respond with measured and accurate information (with hopefully positive emotion), and then monitor to see how much traction the original message and the response garner.
- Avoid getting in the mud – Unless you and your agency have an ironclad relationship with your customers and the media, getting into a “Twattle” (Twitter battle) with a troll likely won’t turn out in your favor. Trolls thrive on attention, goading and spreading of misinformation. Quickly tweeting an accurate, simple and positive response (not in an embedded retweet of the troll’s message) is critical to setting the stage for squashing to troll’s intent.
- When the boss tweets, people listen – The Donald’s tweets, especially the ones at 3 a.m., reeked of authenticity. Obviously he was the one typing and as a result the mainstream media immediately relayed what he was saying. You can’t buy that kind of coverage, yet he got it for free. The lesson for public safety agencies? The public is most interested in what leaders say during crisis, and Twitter messages are an excellent way to quickly get these messages out.
The Donald’s and Secretary Clinton’s use of Twitter and other social media platforms will likely be studied for quite some time (along with the historic failures in polling). But, as a caution to fire and police chiefs, sheriffs and emergency managers, don’t wait for the results. Get online, get your message out, share your successes and failures, and do it in a genuine way. Here endth the lesson.