This week, I had the great pleasure to plan and lead #NCRsmem, the National Capital Region’s Social Media in Emergencies summit. One of my biggest successes was keeping the day on time as the emcee!
More than 150 local, state, federal and partner public information officers, fire chiefs, police staff, nonprofits and more soaked in a day full of lessons, stories and clear visions forward for social media.
One of our speakers, Jim Garrow, already brilliantly captured one of my similar takeaways about social media surge capacity on his blog.
Another presenter was Boston Police Department Deputy Commissioner John Daley. He described in evocative ways that police department’s web and social media growth through the years that led to the social infrastructure to sufficiently respond to the Boston Marathon bombings. They were ready for the “big one.” It was a remarkable presentation filled with insight that nailed so many topics in a perfect tenor.
Most notably, he reaffirmed with candor and firmness (with a touch of a Boston accent!) that we are publishers today. I’ve stated this before, as have many other people, but think about this particular chain of events:
- Boston PD saw that a suspect had been identified, would be arrested, was apparently arrested, then was on the way to the courthouse. CNN was saying this and AP confirmed it. A crowd gathered at courthouse.
- “We began to doubt ourselves,” Daley deadpanned, as the conference crowd chuckled.
- Things were getting out of hand. They had to stop the irresponsible media frenzy.
- So Daley tweeted that there was not an arrest and it was retweeted 10,000+ times. CNN reporters were live on air looking at Twitter as Daley changed the narrative in a heartbeat. This was an important moment demonstrating how to cut through false information.
- At that moment, Daley said, Boston PD fully realized they were an important source of direct information that was playing out for the world.
This point further summarized:
We closed our day with this video from crisis communications expert Gerald Baron (who then he joined us live via Google Hangout). He asks in which world do we (as PIOs) live? An era of Walter Cronkite or of jpdeathblade, who was a source of news on Reddit during the Boston bombings?
It’s an evocative question that’s at the heart of Gerald’s well-coined “nano news” phrase.
As I continue to reflect on the whole summit and all the great insight shared (and there’s a boatload of wisdom from all speakers, for sure), something caught my attention last night that propels the “government-as-publisher” story even further. The Denver Police Department, no slouches on the social media front, recently had an interesting exchange with journalists, which you should read summarized here: “Denver Police Twitter Account Riles Up Media With Plagiarism Question.”
This is where provocative comes in.
Read that exchange and notice how truly exasperated some members of the Denver media appear with the notion that a government organization would ask such a question about plagiarism — or even any question at all. The subtext appears to be, “How dare a police department or government agency ask questions, especially of the media?!”
It degraded to a point where some members of the media started questioning the age of the Denver Police Twitter staff, which is completely irrelevant.
Perhaps some media members were shocked that a government agency was not talking like a walking press release. Perhaps they were stunned that Denver and many other government agencies are taking the lessons of the “Cluetrain Manifesto” by talking, asking and conversing like a human.
As public information officers and government staff, our ability to directly influence the community grows every day with social and non-social tools. Boston, Denver, New York City Emergency Management, FEMA, American Red Cross, Philadelphia Health Department and many National Capital Region local governments all stand as examples of understanding the move to a jpdeathblade news economy.
We’ve always been part of the community, but now:
- We can publish.
- We can cut through millions of dollars of traditional media infrastructure.
- We can be evocative.
- We can be provocative.