Social Media for Crisis Communications: Combining Technology & Social Media for Crisis Communication

By Gerard Braud

With no electricity for 5 days Social Media Gerard Braudand 6 feet of water from Hurricane Isaac surrounding my house on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans, I became the go-to correspondent for CNN & The Weather Channel. Using only my iPhone, Skype and 3G, I was able to send reports first to YouTube and CNN’s iReport, then use social media, text messaging and e-mails to get noticed by the networks, which eventually led to an incredible number of live reports.

Hurricane Isaac came ashore on August 28, 2012. The Weather Channel  and CNN had dispatched their correspondent to the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown New Orleans, tethered to $65,000 HD cameras and a half-million dollar satellite trucks. Meanwhile, the anchors back in the studio were conducting a series of phone interviews with Emergency Managers and Public Information Officers (PIOs) in the area.

So why is it, with the wealth of official knowledge available, the networks suddenly cut away during storm coverage to interview a seemingly random resident 30 miles away, standing in rising flood waters at his home along Lake Pontchartrain in Mandeville, Louisiana?

The answer? Because I’m the resident, I’m in rising floodwaters, and I have an iPhone with Skype. In short, they picked me because I can offer them great visuals, first hand information, and the technology to broadcast to the world from my front porch.

The network’s reporters have much better equipment and the PIOs have official information on the phone, but the resident has added the much needed sex appeal this story has been missing; the resident offers better television coverage than any of the network’s other options.

In any crisis you face, you could easily be upstaged by an eyewitness unless you can be better than they are. That’s why I’ve been teaching workshops on this system to many of my clients and at conferences for many associations.

Gerard Braud Media Training and Crisis Communication with IPad IPhoneIn the meantime, view a quick video lesson on how to effectively communicate in a crisis using your iPhone, iPad or other smartphone and smart tablet technology.

Times are changing and both spokespeople and media trainers need to take action now to prepare for the interview of the future. I suspect we are quickly approaching the day when the media will stop sending news crews out to interview you in person. Instead, they will expect you to do interviews on the spur of the moment, especially from the scenes of unfolding, highly visual crises.

This means you should take these 3 steps:

1) Get the right technology.

2) Get training on how to use the new technology.

3) Schedule a customized Media Training class to help you better answer questions from the news anchors during your interview while you are simultaneously (and flawlessly) operating the technology.

Taking one step without the others is dangerous. You must do all three because operating and holding the technology while being a spokesperson is a daunting, multitasking event that goes beyond anything you have done before. There is no camera crew.  You are the camera crew. There is no producer. You are the producer. This isn’t Skype from your stationary desktop computer. This is Skype while you walk, talk and hold your i-Pad, i-Phone (or similar smart device). This isn’t FaceTime with your mother in which she doesn’t care how you are framed on camera. This is network news in which we clearly need to see you and see what is in the background.

What spokespeople and public relations professionals will soon discover is that:

a) The media will begin expecting you to be ready to do an i-Interview

b) If you are not prepared, they will skip over your official information and go get it from an eye witness with technology who is on the scene.

Furthermore, your readiness gives you an upper hand when you can show and tell the media something they cannot get from a lesser source.

Here’s what you need to know to get started:

Technology

iPhones, iPads and laptops, with a built in video camera, top the list of the technology you need. Many smart device will do, provided you can see yourself on camera. This feature is missing from early models of smart phones.

Using these tools for a live interview means you need to be connected to the Internet and you need the free Skype application available at skype.com. Depending upon where you are and whether you have electricity, you can use Skype via Wi-Fi or  your G3/G4 phone signal.

Many of you are Skype veterans, but if you’ve never used it, Skype works essentially like a telephone call from your computer or smart device, except it allows your voice call to become a video call through the device’s built in camera. A network producer will call you via your Skype address, you answer, switch on the video feature and you are ready for your live broadcast.

Wi-Fi, Skype and iPads can be temperamental. Occasionally the signal will freeze while you are live on the air.

Good audio is also important. When the wind started howling and drowning out the voices of the anchors, I was forced to switch to my laptop, with a built in web cam and USB Skype headphones with an attached microphone. I could hear them better and they could hear me better.

Periodically between the live interviews, I used my iPhone and iPad to take video of the flooding. I then used the Internet to upload the raw footage, making me a triple threat: I had great video; I had a great location; and I had the technology and information to communicate effectively at a critical time.

Technology Training

There are two parts to the technology training.

Part one is learning which keys to push and what applications to use.

Part two is having the talent to manage the technology, while holding the technology and conducting an intelligent interview with the news anchors. This can be tricky.

You have no margin for error when you are both managing the technology and the interview on live television. For that reason you need to practice using the equipment, while holding it yourself, while talking.

The technology training needs to also include how to shoot additional video at the scenes of your event. That means learning how to hold your camera phone or iPad perfectly still, as well as knowing when to “pan” or turn the camera to enhance the video that you provide to the network. These days, the media will use even well composed still photos from a smart phone. While pictures and videos from the untrained eyewitness are often of poor quality, you have the ability to offer more compelling images that better tell the story.

Media Training

Annual Media Training should be standard operating procedure for every spokesperson. Talking to the media is a skill much like playing sports; you must practice on a regular basis and increase the intensity each time in order to master it.

When you combine it with technology training, you will learn how to hold the iPad, iPhone or laptop at the proper distance so your arms don’t show. Next, you need to learn how to
“frame the shot” so the television network sees both you and what is going on behind you. Then, you need to learn where to look, since the web cam on these devices usually tends to be off to one side or the top or bottom. Looking good goes hand in hand with looking intelligent and sounding intelligent. Likewise, saying what is most important upfront is critical, because your live shot will likely last only 90 seconds.

In the world of crisis communications, expect live interviews on the scene via Skype to become the norm. Soon you will see television stations interviewing police officers from crime scenes and first responders being interviewed from the scene of disasters.

But this technology shouldn’t stop with just the media. It also lets you post videos and interviews to YouTube, Facebook and your own website, so your public, your employees, and the media all have access to the best, up-to-date information.

Certainly, during a crisis, powerful communications before the crisis and rapid communications during the crisis have the ability to move people out of harm’s way. But that life saving critical communications depends upon you learning to do your part.

Is the Media Ready

The media are actually slow in evolving toward i-Interviews. Likewise, many corporate spokespeople are also still fighting to get their IT departments to authorize i-Pads and similar smart technology.

As media revenues continue to fall and as layoffs continue among reporters and photographers, i-Interviews will be the media’s low cost alternative. The question is, will you be ready for the interview of the future?

Add to your to-do list the need to acquire the technology and get the training. Please call me if you would like me to be your in-house trainer or to present a training program for an upcoming conference.

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