Breaking with tradition
Those of more mature years grew up with the ‘traditional’ news media – radio, TV and newspapers. We knew who the main players were and, whilst we might not have liked some of the reporting, the media’s behaviour was, by and large, relatively predictable and followed, to a greater or lesser degree, a code of conduct.
But times have changed and the previously accepted norms no longer apply. One of the most fundamental changes is that the media landscape is no longer owned by the aforementioned traditional, once mainstream, media; it’s now owned by the public. The prevalence of social media, coupled with smart devices that can record events and instantly upload or live-stream them, means we can now all be ‘citizen journalists’ and anyone with an opinion or an axe to grind can be heard, pretty much immediately and say pretty much anything they want, often without corroboration. And the resulting ‘news reports’ can spread at an alarming rate, often before the traditional media have even begun reporting. Indeed, the traditional media now often get much of their information on an unfolding event via social media.
Unfortunately, many crisis communications plans haven’t kept pace with these changes, still focusing mainly on the traditional media channels, and the traditional methods of dealing with them, which severely hampers their ability to respond quickly enough in today’s world. The excuse usually given is that they “don’t really do social media”, which may be ok from a day-to-day business point of view, but it doesn’t stop those who do using it to report on, highlight or add fuel to a crisis.
It’s been suggested that it takes organisations an average of 21 hours to make any meaningful external communications after a crisis, whereas a social media storm can occur within minutes. The potential implications of this should be obvious – if they’re not, some up-to-date media training should be seriously considered.
Whether we like it or not, and whether or not we use it in a day-to-day business context, social media, in its various forms, is now the mainstream for news reporting and consumption, so from a crisis management point of view, we absolutely need to acknowledge and learn about it and develop strategies and plans for dealing with the issues it can bring.