Crisis Communications: Takeaways from SMC-DC

Tonight I attended an interesting panel sponsored by Social Media Club-DC about crisis communications. The panelists:
Andy Carvin, NPR
Dallas Lawrence, Levick Strategic Communications
Jon Eick, New Media Strategies
Gayle Weiswasser, TMG Strategies

Part of my job and my team’s job is to lead crisis communications efforts for EPA. I mean for things like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the Columbia crash. We’re not always directly driving, but we’re in the loop.

The first thing I learned was that businesses don’t mean the same thing I do when the use the phrase “crisis communications.” They mean “our brand is in serious trouble.” There were several good examples, like a video some Domino’s Pizza employees made showing themselves doing unsavory things, and discussion of how to respond. One tip I came up with after coming home and finding Domino’s response video where their president tries to convey emotional commitments: look at the camera. You’ll come across as more sincere.

However, once I understood the difference in the definitions of “crisis,” I also saw that everything the panelists and audience members were saying applied just as well to EPA and government agencies in general. We have a brand, we have a reputation, and both come under attack.

The second thing I learned, or rather had confirmed, was that government agencies badly need to get going with listening strategies. if we don’t at least know what’s being said in social media channels, we can’t possibly respond. This goes far beyond traditional newspaper clips. One of my goals for the near term is to set something up so we know what’s being said about EPA online.

One thing I think gov’t agencies have to be careful of is to ensure that our messages are truthful. We can’t ever be seen as creating propaganda. But that doesn’t mean we can’t respond to inaccuracies and tell our story.

Beyond those two points, here are my raw notes. I apologize in advance for not getting who said what, but it’s all good stuff:

Crisis comms meaning brand crisis

Bulletproof your brand in advance
Actively listen to pick up early signals
Socmed offers power to push back on media to put out our own msg
Volunteers can help spread word
Companies who try to use socmed get credit for trying

Know who’s covering you
Be a part of the community
Use a wide range of tools (not just blogs)
Engage in conversation
Use socmed to communicate internally to break down barriers
Put socmed plan in place before crisis hits

How to convince people to invest in a response strategy?
Check competition
Find case studies

Apparently, Sun microsystems has a good employee socmed policy. They’re building a cadre of savvy employees as brand ambassadors by telling staff how to use social media, not what to avoid. Sounds like good advice to me.

P.S. I also found this wiki article by Charlene Li, which links to a bunch of different social media policies. I hope to have one to add from EPA at some point.

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