Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Transparency and Technology: Are you ready to live-stream your crisis?

Transparency is a key tenet of crisis communications. Crisis PR experts advise companies to tell as much as possible as soon as possible in order to maintain credibility during bad times. Technology drives expectations. The public expects to be able to log in and see what’s happening in real time. In the last year we’ve had an epic example of the public’s demand to see a crisis as it unfolds: The BP Oil Spill.
At the height of the spill, BP had 16 remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) working 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico to stop the leak. Thanks to some neat work by the oil field service company Oceaneering, all 16 cameras were able to stream live on BP’s public website. The function of the cameras was to give the ROV operators and engineers eyes on the well so they could stop the flow of oil. The communications/PR value was that the world could watch those efforts live. And watch they did.
This technology created challenges for the BP PR team (of which I was a member). The team was called upon to explain what people were seeing. BP’s press office in Houston and London took many phone calls from people wanting to know what a specific ROV was showing at a specific time. It is safe to say that the public watched those ROV feeds closer than the BP PR team. (This isn’t a slight; there were a thousand things to do every day during that crisis and BP’s communicators worked their tails off.)
NASA Mission commentator
Rob Navias at the console
There were even suggestions to have live commentary similar to what NASA provides during Space Shuttle launches. This isn’t something many corporate PR teams are capable of pulling off (we all can’t be Rob Navias).  
You could even make a case for (get ready to use the defibrillator on the lawyer …) having a communicator live blog during a crisis from the company crisis center (… CLEAR!).
Twitter and Facebook have already brought a lot of crisis communications into the realm of real-time. Most of this real-time coverage is being done by others instead of the companies involved. One of my mentors in this business says, “The story is always better with you than without you.”
I’m interested in your thoughts about how to pull this off. Let me know if you think this is a capability companies need to develop and how you think it can be done. 
Unless companies figure a way to adapt to and anticipate these changes, real-time crisis communications will leave businesses without a voice when they need it most.

Bill Salvin

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