I recently sat in on a business webinar on crisis communications. The word “control” was used a lot. The presenters, experienced and well spoken media professionals, accurately described the light speed evolution of how news is being reported, driven by the use of social media platforms and smartphone technology. They kept referring to “control” as an asset previously obtainable when dealing with a small group of reporters or iconic news anchors. The days of Walter Cronkite signing off with “and that’s the way it is” (and people believing it) are no more. Today the crowd makes striking and immediate pronouncements of truth and fiction from their perspective.
The presenters kept hammering away on the concept of control as something to gain, keep, maintain, shape or lose, and how best to control traditional print and electronic news media organizations. In doing so they ignored the elephant in the room; social media
Control; the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events.
A pretty powerful concept. In crisis communications, collecting and exerting enough power to control perception can be a herculean task. Is this a bad thing? Only if you fail to accept there is likely not a snowball’s chance in hell of getting it. But, on the other hand planning, procedures and practice efforts can help businesses influence public perception, actions and attitudes. Let’s briefly explore the context of control in crisis communications, and what I consider simplistic and naive statements floating around:
“You need to get out in front and try and control the story”.
The intense pressure created by the speed of today’s breaking news has to be behind this comment. I agree with the underlying theme of trying to get a company message out as soon as possible. Strategic early messaging can positively influence how the public views the company, especially on high visibility events with widespread impact. But, the notion that this effort may control the story is hogwash.
“Getting to know your local and regional media reporters before something happens can help you influence the story.”
This is always a good idea, and in my previous life in the fire service I regularly connected with my local and regional mainstream media types. These relationships improved access (for both of us) reduced chances of misinterpretation and allowed for a freer exchange of information and conversation. However, today’s media also includes those with a strong local social media presence. Prolific and influential blog authors and Twitter users can exert tremendous influence, without the constraints and ethics of professional journalism. Businesses need to consider engaging them as well. BTW, the mainstream media reporters all now use social media platforms to learn, connefct and engage. This can’t be ignored.
“Practice news interview and briefing techniques so you come across as credible to the audience, and don’t lose control of the interview.”
Actually, I agree with this one. You only have to watch the painful briefing with the president of a small company that spilled enough chemical into a West Virginia river to contaminate the domestic water supply to over 300,000 users to realize the importance of preparation and appearance. As Gerald Baron aptly noted, this poor dolt was woefully unprepared and obviously naive about the situation he was in. Given the profound impact on the communities, delays in messaging, and the anemic statements made, this guy didn’t stand a chance. Again, don’t forget about social media. Practicing with social media platforms is critical to helping gain and maintain situational awareness, and provides businesses with a way to directly and continually engage with the community without having the message filtered by others (at least initially).
“With today’s instant news reporting by citizens, there is no longer any fact checking or filter to how information is shared. Much of what is touted as fact is wrong.”
Yes, rumors and factual errors spread across the internet at the speed of light. Conversely, I’m amazed at the speed these errors are corrected by the crowd. Sooner or later the truth prevails.
Business leaders and companies need to understand that an ever increasing number of citizens today no longer rely on the boob tube to get their news at 7, 12 and 5. Nor are they relying on a single iconic news anchor repeatedly telling the audience their truth. They get their information from multiple sources, in real time, and constantly monitor their sources to learn “the truth”. They are now telling the news anchors the truth, and that’s the way it is.