Crisis communications has one overriding mantra, one foundational principle that drives every emergency they respond to: “Be first. Be right. Be credible.”
If you’re not first, you’ll spend your time playing catch up for hours, days, or even weeks.
If you’re not right, your mistake will be repeated, or worse, cited as the truth.
And if you’re not first or right, you will never, ever be credible.
Crisis communication — also called CERC, or Crisis Emergency and Risk Communication — is what emergency first responders use to communicate with the media and the general public. It’s how the health department communicates warnings and updates during a public health emergency. It’s how Homeland Security communicates with the public during a terrorist attack.
CERC, compared to corporate crisis communications, is all about getting the right information out as soon as possible, and being seen as the source for news and information about an incident.
But it’s not happening anymore.
Five years ago, it was enough to just email a press release — which had been approved by a committee — to the mainstream media. Then you answered media calls and arranged interviews. You didn’t communicate with the public, you communicated with TV and newspapers.
But the definition of “the media” has changed. Today, anyone with a smartphone and YouTube is a TV journalist. Anyone with a smartphone and Facebook is a photojournalist. Anyone with a laptop and a blog is a newspaper reporter. The citizen journalist is the person with news to share and a way to share it. Quickly.
This makes the mainstream media crazy.
Not only are the citizen journalists breaking news before the media, they are becoming the first, right, credible sources of information, not CERC.
These days, news is coming from the people who are on the ground. They’re repeating everything they hear and see, and everyone else is passing it on.
CERC communicators need up-to-date technology if they’re going to stay up to speed. They need access to the various social networks if they want to reach the public. Using 4-year-old Blackberries and laptops is not enough anymore. And letting IT block all access to social media networks only makes the problem worse.
(I’ll save the discussion about why IT should not be involved in communication issues for another time.)
If CERC communicators want to stay on top of a situation, rather than being third in the race, they need to remember their roots. They need to use the technology that will make them first. They need to learn how to be right without committee approval.
Because until that happens, they’re not going to be credible.