Chris Webb is presenting this session on how media reporting of major incidents has changed in recent years. Next month is the 10th anniversary of the London bombings. At the time Chris was appointed the Strategic Communication Lead on behalf of all the blue light services to manage the media and communication response. Today he is asking the question 'How has social media impacted on the authorities ability to cope with a similar tragedy in the future?'
Chris has started by explaining how the news cycle has changed over the last few decades:
- 1980 - Daily newspapers, breakfast news, three news bulletins a day, news changing every six hours
- 1990 - 24 hours TV channels, news changing every hour
- 2010 - Social networking sites and Twitter, citizen journalists, news channels using public generated material, news changing every 20 seconds.
These changes have created significant challenges for comm's professionals. Chris believes that if there was a major national incident now, services would not currently be able to cope.
On the day of the bombings, the system followed, based on previous experience and protocols, was as follows:
- Alert system implemented
- First statement
- Conference call with partners
- Incident plans implemented
- Second conference call with partners at which one point of contact was established
- Live interviews (note the spokesperson went to the scene because previous learnings dictated that media in a crisis wouldn't be able to cut through the turmoil)
- Communication strategy written one page of A4
- Ongoing statements issued with designated spokespeople being interviewed on lunchtime news programmes
- Interviews with foreign news channels declined due to overwhelming number of enquiries; contacts were pointed to sister channels
- Joint emergency services briefing
- Statement issued
- No more interviews agreed with media overnight unless something happened.
Chris says today's ability to share updates, photos and videos (for example though Twitter and apps like Periscope and Meerkat) has now made it much easier for people to post footage as incidents occur, and in turn for media to contact those involved and their families and friends direct.
How organisations manage, facilitate and monitor this is extremely difficult, especially when families might first hear about an incident their loved one is involved in from social media. How to speed up the provision of formal information and approach key parties before media get to them is an ongoing challenge.
Chris's top tips on crisis management are as follows:
- Timing is everything - silence is not an option, give updates every 10 minutes
- Own the conversation - use a hashtag, minimise the impact/reassure/challenge inaccuracies
- Stick to a designated source - signpost people from other platforms
- Call to action - update description and what is being done and what people should do. Direct people to other reliable sources
- Don't lash out - consider creating a crisis release valve, remember the rule of three
- Debrief and learn lessons.