Rounding Up Rumors

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    Social media has changed how we do crisis management

    When I say as I have repeatedly in presentations recently, that the role of the JIC (ed. note: Journalist in Charge) has shifted to being the first and best source of information about the event to one of rumor management, this is what I mean. The official source of information, that is the response itself, has to be impeccably accurate and completely truthful. It must be seen as the final word, the participant in the conversation that has the best and most complete information. Not necessarily the first, but the best and most complete. It must play that role, and this is where I have seen most of these efforts fail in the recent past. They pump out their information as if it is still “Before” but they refuse to counter the plenty of false information out there. Aggressive rumor management is not only the only significant role left for the the official source, it is in my mind a serious obligation. “A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth,” and it doesn’t have to be a lie. It can be media reporting that is seriously off-base, it may be agenda-driven untruths perpetuated on the internet, it may be simple fear-driven inaccuracies. These must be quickly identified and corrected with impeccably accurate information.

    This image and quote, from Gerald Baron’s Emergency Management blog, does an excellent job of representing the way the role of crisis managers has shifted due to the advent of social media.

    “Aggressive rumor management” is the perfect term for what we do using Twitter, Facebook, and press releases (yes, they’re still around). Whereas before the company was usually the one to bring the story to the press, now it’s not uncommon for an organization’s leadership to be completely unaware of a crisis before it’s plastered all over their computer monitors.

    Today, good crisis management involves a LOT of monitoring on the Web. This means not only setting programs to search for specific keywords popping up, but actively checking out conversations regarding your organization wherever they occur, and taking action to setting straight any rumor, speculation, or downright untruths.

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    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
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    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. , an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training.]