By Gerard Braud
Watch the news coverage as winter storms move across the United States, leaving many people without power in the cold for up to two weeks. Much of this story is being told through the eyes of the so-called, “citizen journalists.”
Citizen journalism is one of the reasons breaking news got broken. While corporate communicators, corporate executives and corporate lawyers haggle over every word and comma in a news release, eye witnesses to news events are posting their pictures and videos online with astounding speed.
Corporations around the world need to wake up. They need to rethink their approach to media relations and crisis communications. They need to think and act like citizen journalists. They need to post fast to the web.
When I hear a corporate communicator tell me, “Our people will never let us do that,” my first instinct is to channel my inner Ron Burgundy because, “I’d like to punch you in the spleen.” Trust me, in 1994 I heard these same people telling us that we couldn’t use e-mail and websites. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.
But seriously – stop saying you can’t. Here are 5 things to consider.
When U.S. Airways had a jet full of people land in the Hudson River in the media capitol of the world, all of the world’s media used the same image taken by a guy with a smart phone who posted the image to Twitter. I’d wager that U.S. Airways might have not even known they had lost a plane when those first images hit Twitter. You must be that fast to post images of your own news events.
#2 The Virginia Tech Massacre
On that sad day when 32 people died at Virginia Tech, University officials were slow to meet, slow to make decisions, and slow to issue both news releases and emergency communications to their student body. Instead, an engineering student used his smart phone to capture video of police officers on campus as 26 gunshots from the gunman are heard on the video. There was no national news media on the campus at that moment, yet when the students uploaded his video to CNN iReports, the media had all they needed to tell the story from a location where no media would have been allowed. You must be that fast to post video of your own news events.
#3 Stop Analyzing Words and Commas
After more than 30 years in communications, I still don’t understand why corporations spend so much time scrutinizing a written news release, only to have the spokesperson say dumb, un-vetted comments in an interview. If the interview isn’t going to match the written news release then stop spending so much time on the news release and spend that time in media training with the spokesperson.
#4 Stop Writing News Releases from Scratch
Every crisis communications plan should have a huge library of pre-written and pre-approved news releases that can be easily modified through strategically placed fill-in-the-blanks and multiple-choice options. If 100 things could go wrong in your organization, you should have 100 pre-written news releases. The pre-approval process will allow them to be posted to the web and read to the media in less than one hour of the onset of your news event or crisis.
To be as good as a citizen journalist you must have the necessary Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts set up. You must set up accounts with CNN iReports and other media uploading profiles. You need the right phone or tablet device and it must be configured to interface with your social media accounts. You need Skype for live reports. Here is the big one – you must practice your performance on camera as well as your ability to share and publish online from your smart device. This isn’t easy to do, yet you must do it and make it look easy.
The bottom line is someone will be telling your story. It can be an uninformed, yet technologically advanced eye-witness, or it can be an official source who understands the technology, as well as good media relations and crisis communications.
Who will tell your next story?
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