About a month ago, there were a couple of posts that I came across that really resonated with me. I know that the majority of my posts here deal with crisis communications and emergency public information, but this post kind of turns that whole thread on its head. Or reinforces my thinking. It’s not very straightforward, which is why this post has sat so long without being published.
On March 8th, Gerald Baron asked his readers if they thought crisis communication was, “going the way of the dodo.” Was it becoming obsolete? A quick scan of the internet shows that as a career, there are few specialties as hot as crisis communication right now. And there are a million people (myself included) who spout off on who did what right and (more likely of the two) wrong in response to a crisis. Self-proclaimed “experts” and “gurus” and even “ninjas.” So, one has to wonder, why the disconnect? Why does someone whose made a sawbuck or two in this field think it might be over?
Because as companies and organizations shift from a mass mediated engagement with their audiences, to a far more direct engagement, crisis communication becomes simply a part of the on-going, direct conversation that they have established with the people important to them.
Organizational communication is becoming more and more like an on-going conversation. In a crisis, the event that occurs becomes the dominant topic of conversation. But it is just seen as a continuation of the conversation—faster, more intense, more important—but not substantially different from the day to day conversation you have been having.
The thing is, I think I agree with him. Granted, this is a ways down the road. Crisis communication will continue to be a hot thing to have on your resume or LinkedIn profile. But as day-to-day communication gets better and easier (see the slowly blossoming field of Community Managers) and the public begins to realize, en masse, that communicating directly with companies and agencies is more effective than anything else out there, the need for crisis communicators will start to fade away.
The biggest reason that I think this might be happening is because of single, disparate tests and efforts and beta tests and rogue bloggers (points at self) trying this stuff out. Take, for example, the work done by the Walsall Council, a dot in the middle of the English island. (West Midlands? Apologies for my poor understanding of English geography, but I’m on a bus here.) They recently held an event dubbed, “Walsall24.” The idea was that local government employees would take 24 hours, beginning at 6am March 4th, and tweet everything they did. And they did, 1,400 times. On police deployments, on noise complaint investigation, on classes being held, on meetings, on materials being made available to the public, on what’s going right (and I hope what could be done better), you name it, they tweeted it.
The idea behind the effort was to give the folks who live in Walsall an idea of what local government does for them. (On a side note, I LOVE this project for that single reason. The vast, vast majority of people have no clue what their government does for them. They think we just sit around and play Solitaire all day, when the truth is that we work harder and do more to protect and support them than they could possibly imagine. We should all strive to tell those good stories about the great work we do.) They’ve established that local government can be open as possible and still get stuff done. The next time something like this happens, perhaps the tweeters will be allowed to engage in discussions with the public. Why they’re doing something, why they’re not doing it differently, what can be done better or faster or cheaper, and on and on. (We’re already seeing some of that in Cory Booker’s snowstorm tweets.) Combine Walsall24 with Mayor Booker, and well, you can see where things are heading in government. It’ll take a while, no doubt, but I totally see the dodo-esque nature of what we’re all doing.