Quickly Noted: Google Response Tools

Recently, a friend forwarded me information about this site from Google about crisis response. Google has, as you may have heard, played a role in disaster response and recovery recently. Probably the best known example is their effort to help reunite families and track the missing after the Tohoku earthquake using a version of their PeopleFinder tool.

If only to ensure that everyone sees the scope and variety of free tools out, there I point you to this page. Intended to serve as a “where to start” for responders interested in incorporating some of the tools Google has developed, it’s actually not a bad place to start. The following tools (and associated case studies) are featured:

If you’re interested in learning more, Google has also developed a page to help you talk with your IT staff about how best to share information with the public in an emergency.

While this post is very Google-heavy, they are far from the only players in this field out there–especially in the crisis mapping field. This post serves only to let you know about all of the cool things that are possible these days, and should not be seen as a soup-to-nuts accounting. Start here and dream big.

Social Media Timing

Because I mess around on these here interwebs, folks like to ask me what’s the best way to do, well, anything. How should we manage such-and-such, how often should we, should our postings do this-and-that, and on and on. The thing is, at least for us government folks, there is very little research out there for what works best. (And truthfully, as much research that exists, it’s assuredly in the rarified air of corporate PR, and not for us peons.) And even more depressingly (for my academic friends), what was de rigeur two years ago is outmoded, outdated (and yet still ahead of the curve for many government communicators) and useless.

So when I come across data, real data, it’s intensely interesting. Given that it’s from bit.ly, a service I often recommend and that deals with oodles of click-through and engagement stats, I think it’s probably pretty good. Mashable, using that data, recently posted on timing, that is go say: when is the best time to post, how often should you post, and being aware of over-posting.

Some selected quotes:

  • [Post] links to Twitter between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. ET (or 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. PT) [for] the highest click rank, especially on days earlier in the week.
  • [Facebook] links sent between 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. get the most traction, with Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. being the best time to post on Facebook all week.
  • The half-life of a link posted to Twitter is about 2.8 hours, according to bit.ly.

Definitely check the whole piece out, but t’s important to note that these are the generalized stats, and may not be relevant to your publics. My Twitterfeed, for example, gets the highest levels of engagement and interaction at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, while one of my work accounts hits around 9 a.m., and again at 4. You can find your personalized “best times to post” using tools like Crowdbooster and SocialBro.

Media Relations Training

I’ve taken a few media relations trainings in my (short) time in these parts. And I do enjoy them. I love the criticism that I get from seasoned veterans (especially those in the media) about how I do in front of the cameras. All practice is good practice, they say.

I recently came across a great repository of videos from Columbia Southern University about PIO best practices and things to consider. While not truly media training, I really enjoyed the breezy nature of the videos, sound advice and solid pace. And the price. (Free, on YouTube.) A total of six videos on subjects like Building Relationships with the Media, Social Media and Qualities of a Good PIO are freely available and ready to be digested. If you’ve got some time on the train tonight, take a look at this playlist of videos (all six videos in one place).

Big thanks to CSU for a great resource! (And I’d never heard of CSU before I saw these videos, so take this just as a link not an endorsement.)

PIO Accountability

There’s an extremely interesting series of articles on BoingBoing.net from Cory Doctorow and journalist Heather Brooke (one of the posts is an excerpt of her book, The Silent State: Secrets, Surveillance and the Myth of British Democracy) about anonymity, specifically for PR folks, this week. The posts in question are as follows:

(For my tl;dr [too long; didn’t read] friends, the above posts are essentially complaints about PR folks in the UK and how they, acting as duly appointed and approved spokespeople for their organization, agency, official or corporation, refuse to be named in stories. “A source close to the investigation,” and, “well-placed sources,” and, “someone from the election camp,” and, “an official speaking off-the-record” are all examples of how this plays out. Mr. Doctorow and Ms. Brooke say the practice allows officials and representatives to soil the official record, potentially forcing the media to look left while they move right, so to speak. One tragic example quoted is the shooting of an unarmed man in east London in 2006, and unsourced rumors that came out about the man after the shooting, none of which were true, but could’ve been used to justify the shooting.)

Now, as a student of the art of the PIO, I found these posts to be extremely interesting. And they expose my relative new-ness in the field. So I lean on you, my friends, to help hash things out. I know that these posts are very focused on the British press and government (hi, friends from Walsall!), but I also know that I’ve been in papers here in the US as a “spokesperson.” Boy, does this lead me to questions.

How prevalent is this practice? Why do we do it? Are the reasons that corporate folks do this (some examples are in the posts) different than why government communicators do it? Are Mr. Doctorow’s and Ms. Brooke’s complaints valid? Should we, as communicators, be named when speaking as official sources of approved information?

Here’s my best stab at those answers. First, we speak for our organizations. It isn’t me that’s giving this update, it’s the Health Department, or 10 Downing Street, or BP. By tying my name to this report, the next guy that comes up here to talk with you has to re-establish credit with the media and public. Speak with one voice and all that.

Second, we are PIOs who live in reality. When things go sideways, it’s OUR names in the paper, and when the mob comes looking for someone–right or wrong–again, it’s OUR names in the paper. (A great example is BP’s Neil Chapman.) In reality, we catch the flack when operations fail. Sure, some folks do it to be shady, and we all suffer for that.

Neither of those answers lead to an answer, though. They’re good arguments for why we should be allowed to be anonymized, but I don’t know if they’ve got the juice to fulfill the absolute need (and critical goal) of 100% transparency. So I ask you, dear reader, what are your thoughts?

Social Media is like a Lawyer on a Train

One of the most justifiable worries that I hear about social media is that due to the social part of the tools, messages meant for just a few people can easily spread widely and be seen by tens of thousands. While many acolytes will say that social media is just another tool, like the phone, it’s really not: a phone conversation is between two people.


Not always.

Brad Phillips from Mr. Media Training passed along an article from the New York Times that shows that while we may have legitimate concerns about social media conversations spinning out of control through the media, that’s not the only place we should be concerned.

I’m constantly amazed by what I observe in public – lawyers on packed Amtrak cars discussing sensitive cases loudly on their cell phones, businessmen working on documents marked “confidential” in plain sight on airplanes, and politicos hashing out controversial strategy over lunch within earshot of fellow diners.

Those people have no idea who I am. I could be their opposing counsel, or their direct business competitor, or a political reporter. And if I can use the information I learn against them, I will.

Media interviews don’t end when you hang up the phone or leave the studio. So it’s a good idea to treat any conversation in populated public space as an on-the-record interview.

The common thread through these two situations, social media and loud talkers, is lack of care when handling a tool, not an inherent fault in the tool. A screwdriver can be as dangerous as a chainsaw if used (really) incorrectly. An ill-advised and loudly-spoken public phone call can be just as damaging as an errant tweet. Lessons learned? Be smart. Use common sense, no matter the tool. If you’re worried about others seeing a tweet, don’t send it. If you’re worried about others listening to your phone call, don’t do it in public.

On Communication

I had the amazing pleasure this week of being invited to what I’m calling a “secret squirrel” meeting. It was a federal government advisory committee that was interested in learning more about how social media is affecting emergencies. The “secret squirrel” bit is because they’ve asked us not to talk about it.

So I’m not.

Except for this. Because it’s too perfect.

One of the Committee members, during one of the discussions that day, said this:

We have all of this stuff we think you should know; but that’s the illusion of communication.

Basically, communication is NOT me telling you something. It’s a process that encompasses many steps, including me telling you something. It’s akin to saying golf is just putting the ball in the hole, or fishing is putting a fish on your hook. It’s slightly more complicated than that.

The quote brought to mind a blog post I’ve been meaning to pass along by Dave Fleet. The key quote from that post?

Everyone has their own background and context that they overlay on top of what they hear. It’s our jobs as communicators to consider that perspective and to adjust the way we communicate accordingly. If we do, we stand a better chance of persuading them to agree with our point of view.

“Persuading them to agree with our point of view.” Isn’t that what we as emergency risk communicators are trying to do? Convince people of a danger and then convince them to take the course of action we’ve recommended as protection? Why hamstring your efforts by not ensuring that the entire communications process has taken place and instead only focusing on one of the steps?

(Quick reminder)
Communications Theory

That “Signal” part above? I know all of our funders want to make sure that part is in our plans, but don’t ever forget that it’s just one TINY part of a much larger process. A process that can ensure success if done fully.