From emergence to emergency, don't be caught with your Tweets down.
Using social media is key to effective issues management. I used the recent holiday weekend to labor over long put-off chores around the house. These included tackling that eye-level stack of boxes that contain the paper record my career since 1976. (My grand scheme is to digitize anything of enduring importance and take advantage of my financial adviser's annual Shredder Day at the end of this month.) When I came across my well-worn presentation, How to Manage Issues before They Manage You: the Lifecycle of an Issue, I marveled at the key change that has occurred since the early 90's when I first began delivering this talk: the speed with which issues emerge and turn into full-blown crises. Then, I'd say that an issue can go from emergence to emergency in a matter of months. Today, the same cycle occurs in hours.
It all changed in 1992 when the U.S. government began pulling out of network management and allowed commercial entities to provide Internet access to the rest of us. At one time, corporate executives and managers charged with issues management could build their opinion-leader networks and databases, and prepare their position papers and communication plans in a timeframe that now seems leisurely. Today, that pace would be deadly. When I started delivering that talk, I would shock the audience members into realizing how behind the times they were by describing how I developed the lifecycle of an issue charts in one program and then converted it into another! Those were the days in which executives wrote on yellow legal pads and had secretaries who "typed it up."
Today, while some companies are still struggling with whether or not to blog, micro blogging has eclipsed blogging to become a critical tool in both issues and crisis management, not to mention marketing. While some PR folks are debating over the perfect CEO quote for a good-news release that will start with "We are pleased …," others have come to realize that news releases are fast becoming a search engine optimization tool, not a reliable method for attracting news or blog coverage.
As I say in every presentation to peers of my generation of college-educated communication professionals, we have to break the habit of "writing it up and sending it out" en masse, on paper. Along with the crazy idea that there is such a thing as "the general public" that needs to be "educated," this kind of thinking and behavior and dinosaurs have much in common.
Take a look at the requirements and baked-in assumptions of a PR course at Georgia Southern University. Here's the age-old assignment to interview a professional in the business — "and then write about it at your blog." Or this one, "Creating a profile in LinkedIn is a requirement in my PR Practicum class and is recommended for ALL my PR students." Or read this advice from the Philadelphia Inquirer's OpEd page on how to communicate with college freshman: "warm up your thumbs and start texting." Or ponder the fact that, in May, America's paper of record, the New York Times, appointed a social media editor, whose first acts included a 100-character introductory Tweet. The newspaper's Twitter feed (@nytimes) now was 1.7 million followers. If you're a professional communicator and you want to provide wise and useful counsel to your employer or clients, you simply can't afford to be heard in public saying any these phrases:
"I just don't get Twitter. Who wants to hear about what people had for lunch?"
"There's no good reason for our organization to have a Facebook page."
"I don't participate in social networks because our IT department has all of that stuff blocked."
"Video, schmideo. YouTube is for stupid pet tricks."
Any organization can be damaged by a poorly managed issue that explodes, in minutes or hours into a full-blown crisis. Don't be caught with your Tweets down.