Category Archives: Crisis Communication

Egypt Social Media Activity Unexpectedly Small

I have been digging into the background story on the 2011 revolution in Egypt. Follow that last link for a good recap of how the police beating of Khaled Said created a maelstrom that has turned into massive protests and labor strikes in Egypt. A man named Wael Ghonim has emerged as a symbol of the revolution in Egypt after his CNN Interview as a rebuttal of Omar Suleiman, the General now promoted to a VP, did an interview with ABC News.

Regarding the politics of Mubarak’s autocracy, I think we can agree on some fundamentals:

  1. The killing of Khaled Said was unjustified and horrible.
  2. The government response to these allegations in Egypt was insufficient.
  3. The protests are right to object to 30 years of “Emergency Rule
  4. Mubarak should step down immediately
  5. The US historical support for Mubarak, while unlike the situation with the Shah in Iran, will likely not win us many friends in post-Mubarak Egypt.
  6. Social media has played a key role in the protests as evidenced by the Internet blackout implemented by the government.

Wait. I’m not so sure about number 6. The role of social media is unclear.

Working in social media I was curious and looked up the facebook group and the twitter accounts. What struck me was that for a country with a population of 77 Million, the page and the twitter account have relatively few followers. Right now Wael Ghonim on twitter has 46,035 followers

and the Khalid Said page on Facebook has 61,687 fans

Both of those numbers seem small to me given the scope of the protests. My first thought was “you must be looking at the wrong page. Surely there is an arabic page that is the real FB connector. I emailed a politically active Egyptian friend (Fayza!) and her response was:

I think that’s probably as good as you’re going to get. It’s a very active page, so my guess is that it’s the best resource for his supporters that Facebook has to offer. Lots of Egyptians speak fluent English because of the prevalence of tourism. It doesn’t surprise me that the primary FB presence is in English at all.

Perhaps Gladwell is right that the Revolution will not be tweeted. When Gladwell in his post talks about networks he says:

The drawbacks of networks scarcely matter if the network isn’t interested in systemic change—if it just wants to frighten or humiliate or make a splash—or if it doesn’t need to think strategically. But if you’re taking on a powerful and organized establishment you have to be a hierarchy.

So either social media isn’t the huge driver for change, or it is a very small subset of the population communicating through social media that is facilitating the action. But you certainly can’t say that hundreds of thousands are responding to direct tweets with a central call to action.

So to me the role of social media in the revolution is still a conundrum. And as I type this, it looks like the rumors of him stepping down tonight on 2/10/2011 were false.

More to follow….

students were four times as likely

Social networks were apparently a more significant means of transmission than seating arrangements. Students were four times as likely to play with children of the same sex as with those of the opposite sex, and following this pattern, boys were more likely to catch the flu from other boys, and girls from other girls.

and

“Our social networks shape disease spread,” said Simon Cauchemez, the lead author. “And we can quantify the role of social networks.”

(source and the full report is here.

PR 2.0 New Media Communications Model

New Media Communications Model from PR 2.0. An evolved version of Lasswell’s model per the book:

Who
Says what
In which channel
To whom
To what effect
Then who
Hears what
Who shares what
With what intent
To what effect

Explained in greater detail in PR 2.0, Solis, Breakenridge. pg 190. This is mostly a note to myself as I wonder about how to measure such things in the Personal Brand Era.

Technology and Crisis Communication Panel at SXSW. Vote?

SHORT VERSION:

Please vote for my panel at SXSW DON’T PANIC – The Geek’s Guide to the Next Big Crisis

LONG VERSION:

A little more than four years ago I wrote my first blog post. It was about the need for a form of Emergency RSS. We can share celebrity gossip headlines through feed readers faster than we could use technology to respond to a crisis. And this was an important point as I started blogging in 2005 right after and in response to a need to share after Hurricane Katrina. Katrina Lower 9th Ward PhotoCrisis response and crisis communication has always been a passion of mine, and seeing our government’s mostly failed response in New Orleans compelled me to start blogging and contributing where I could.

Running the company I chose to stay in town during the Hurricane Rita evacuation. While Rita did not hit Houston, instead crushing the gulf coast near Beaumont with little news coverage in the wake of Katrina, we did learn from the Rita evacuation. We used a wiki page on Tendenci (our software) to track down all employees. Employees on the road, which for some of them was 10 to 20 hours during the evacuation, would text their manager’s who then updated the wiki to account for everyone. We quickly knew everyone was OK.

Then last year we prepared for Hurricane Ike which went over our town. When the storm hit the ONLY thing that worked was SMS messaging. No power, no water, no data, no TV. Just radio and text messaging. Hurricane Ike hits at nightLuckily we had set up a product called Yammer, which is like Twitter for your company (and they have a business model) and we were able to keep in touch. Data services, which is what your cell phone depends on to get to web pages, went down. Voice went down. The only thing that allowed us to keep in touch with all of our employees and their families was text messaging sent directly and through Yammer.

We learned a lot about the role of tech in a crisis combined with human behavior. Example – an employee’s cell phone would die. They would use someone else’s cell to text a message to their manager saying “we are OK and staying near College Station”. Except that is ALL they would say. We didn’t recognize the number and had no idea WHO sent it! The solution was to train all of our people to put their NAMES at the end of each text message. Seems like a small thing. It is. But it makes it possible to do a head count!

Since 2005 our firm now does the web site for the Houston Red Cross and Reliant Park, both of which are key for Houston Emergency Response planning. We have the privilege of working with Firestorm Crisis Communications and Preparedness and long time clients like crisis communicator Dan Keeney. I have attended Netsquared Houston meetings when David Geilhufe taught us about People Finder Information Format. And I work with people like Jonti and Katie who have helped all of us set up our ICE cards for our families.

Now I need your help. I’d like to continue the dialog on Social Media and Emergency Response. What IS the role of twitter beyond updates? What are the alternatives for Yammer? Is there a cost effective solution for businesses and families? We have come a long way, so let’s talk about it.

PLEASE VOTE AND COMMENT on this SXSW Panel I hope to moderate. Without your vote and your comments the panel might not make. And I believe in this topic too much to see that happen. Spare a minute? Please VOTE!

DON’T PANIC – The Geek’s Guide to the Next Big Crisis

Are you and the people you care about prepared? Our panelists will share their crisis stories and tell you how to be ready, both online and offline. PFIF, Yammer, Facebook and iPhones – the technology and strategy is there and getting better, so let’s take it to the next level.

  1. How does emergency response and communication relate to the Web? Do developers and small business owners really need to care about Crisis Communication?
  2. How can our emergency teams (fire, ambulance, police, etc.) benefit from standardized data sharing? What can I do about it?
  3. What does the rise of Mobile Web mean for the next natural disaster or other catastrophe?
  4. What tools (Web, mobile and otherwise) are out there right now that my family, friends and company should be using now?
  5. As a geek, what are 5 things you should do TODAY to keep your family safe and your business running when disaster strikes?
  6. If practice makes perfect, what kind of drills and regular training should your business be doing right now that won’t break the bank or kill your billable hours?
  7. What are some of the technical lessons we learned from Hurricane Katrina?
  8. Tech and communication stories and lessons from Virginia Tech, Hurricane Ike and beyond…
  9. What is a crisis to you and how do you strategically and technologically deal with it internally and for the rest of the world to see?
  10. How can you best identify your strongest and most reliable communicators and rock stars during times of crisis? How do you deal with employees that book it and vendors that disappear?

Why am I doing this?

Well, it isn’t for business as I have no financial ties to yammer or twitter or any other messaging services. Tendenci is a content management system that powers associations and sites like the Houston Red Cross, but they are already customers. And ANY emergency response technology must be open source for maximum adoption long term. I just believe passionately in our need to share information and I think technology can help with crisis communication. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter bring a lot to the table. If you, like me, are passionate about this, please vote for the panel “DON’T PANIC – The Geek’s Guide to the Next Big Crisis” and I hope to see you in Austin next March!

Chron Post: The roaming chainsaw gangs of Houston

Recent post on the Chron: The roaming chainsaw gangs of Houston.

Hurricanes bring about unexpected responses in us humans. It’s like the first time you see your dog or cat catch a squirrel and they go all primal on it. And you are looking at your little FeFe thinking “WHERE the $#(@ did they learn how to do THAT!?” And of course the answer is instinct.

And the morning after Hurricane Ike went over our house, once we accounted for our loved ones, our instinct was twofold.

  1. Clean up!
  2. Stay put

This makes little sense to me why these desires were so strong, but they were. Arguably a third response was “find a way to make coffee” but coffee is probably more an addiction than an instinct (and YES, you CAN make coffee on a gas grill). I’ll talk about the “stay put” instinct in a future blog post, but for now, let’s talk about that “clean up!” stuff.

So that morning we all wandered out of our houses, the wind from Ike still blowing, and began to assess the damage and clean up our yards. Yup, first response after a hurricane was yard work. Really. Dog instincts are much more interesting if you ask me. In instinct-heaven dogs are throwing squirrels 20 feet up into the air waiting for the bounce while I’m raking the yard. Baroo?

Anyway, there we were cleaning up the yard. Stacking branches by the curb. And cutting up the bigger ones with an axe left over from my Totin’ Chip days. Because I didn’t own a chain saw.

Then from elsewhere in our neighborhood emerged a strange phenomenon. The men who had the forethought to purchase chainsaws, once they finished cutting up their yards, moved to the neighbors’ yards. A small group of three of four would go in and cut up the tree limbs. And another larger group of men and teenagers followed and stacked the wood by the curb. What I observed was they did this for all comers responding to both requests and simply walking to a neighbor’s yard and getting started if they were in town or not! With no money changing hands.

Definitely the first self-organizing philanthropic chainsaw gangs I had ever encountered.

Read complete post here. And of course comments are encouraged on the Chron site!

Mitigated Speech and Business Communication

DudeRecently finishing Outliers, I was really struck by the section on mitigated speech and airplane crashes. Gladwell‘s definition of mitigated speech on page 194 is:

Mitigated speech – any attempt to downplay or sugarcoat the meaning of what is being said.

In short, co-pilots may not communicate clearly with captains out of deference. They hint at things instead of speaking directly. Which leads to crashes and death. From page 193 of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book:

Fischer and Orasanu found that captains overwhelmingly said they would issue a command in that situation: “Turn thirty degrees right.” They were talking to a subordinate. They had no fear of being blunt. The first officers, on the other hand, were talking to their boss, and so they overwhelmingly chose the most mitigated alternative. They hinted.

…a hint is the hardest kind of request to decode and the easiest to refuse.

Gladwell goes on to explain this is more of a problem in cultures with, using Hofstede’s Dimensions, have what is called a higher “Power Distance Index“.

Power distance is concerned with attitudes towards hierarchy, specifically with how much a particular culture values and respects authority. (pg 204)

A culture with a larger power distance index will have more hints. The west, and I’d agree speaking as an American, is “what linguists call a “transmitter orientation” – that is, it is considered the responsibility of the speaker to communicate ideas clearly and unambiguously.” (pg 216)

Working at a small company we have to train people how to write a decent email. The biggest part is helping people understand the burden of communication is ON YOU! Our email help file is linked  and the short version is:

  1. Subject Lines – all emails need a well articulated and relevant Subject Line.
  2. Links - ease of use changes behavior. (link it!)
  3. Numbered Lists – organize YOUR information. Bullets are evil.
  4. Short Paragraphs – with rare exceptions
  5. Nickel words – save them for scrabble

Going back to Gladwell, part of the solution for one airline was to switch to speaking English. By using a different language their learned subtleties of their native tongue were reduced thereby reducing accidents. Inter company email isn’t anywhere near as dangerous as piloting a jet. But nonetheless in a recession who has time for coworkers burning money with lazy communication skills?

And Gladwell isn’t alone. In the book The Influencer there is a case study on positive deviance for villages that did NOT suffer from Guinea Worm in Africa and Asia. The two “vital behaviors” that prevented the outbreak were:

  1. “In the worm-free village, the women … took a second pot, covered it with their skirts, and poured the water through their skirt into the pot, effectively straining out the problem-causing larvae.” (pg 360
  2. “The vital recovery behavior, then, was that friends and neighbors had to speak up when the Guinea worm sufferer was unwilling to do so. Only when the community took responsibility for compliance could the entire village protect itself from the failure of a single villager.” (pg 38)

Again we see the second critical issue is speaking up with candor. And basically turning your neighbor in for the good of the community. Communication is so critical airplanes crash and villages live in a painful cycle of disease without people who are willing to speak up.

And the importance of communication is more grave than ever. From The Rise of the Network Society pg 357.

Because culture is mediated and enacted through communication, cultures themselves – that is, our historically produced systems of beliefs and codes – become fundamentally transformed, and will be more so over time, by the new technological system.

Communication matters. And culture is part of that communication. I am unaware of any evidence that supports “hinting”, “deference” and other weak forms of communication as good for anything. Maybe in a medieval court, but it clearly has no place in modern society. Speak up, take care of the people you care about.