Flash Mobs

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    A new type of crisis

    Flash mobs have recently gained national attention, not for the wacky dance craze that’s been spotlighted in commercials and movies, but for groups that are coming together to cause violence or disrupt services. Services like Twitter and Blackberry messenger have evolved to act as crisis management tools in times of danger and disaster, but that very same functionality is now being used to organize some bad stuff.

    While officials are looking at solutions, including the shutdown of various services, the reality is that these types of “flash” events will still have a presence, so what can you do? A recent Dix & Eaton blog post shared some advice:

    • Create and communicate a “flash mob” policy. Define what is acceptable vs. unacceptable behavior regarding crowds and how participants will be handled if a situation is perceived as an imminent threat. Consider posting this “flash mob” policy to preclude events before they occur.
    • Partner with authorities. Decide when and how to act in alignment with applicable laws of the municipality and/or policies of the location to disperse a violent flash mob.
    • Monitor social networks. Dedicate resources to stay ahead of online flash mob organization efforts.
    • Create an “online neighborhood watch.” Engage in dialogue with customers/citizens, law enforcement agencies and city governments.

    Much of this can be accomplished by expanding existing social media activities. For example, change keyword searches to include not only your business name and address, but that of others around your location. Join that “neighborhood watch” by hooking up with neighbors and local services via Facebook, LinkedIn, and a few old fashioned phone calls.

    As with all crisis management, the effort you put out beforehand is nothing compared to the potential cost of facing a crisis unprepared.

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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.]