The Importance of Establishing online Authority BEFORE an emergency
In times of non-emergency and “normal” daily operations of your municipality, where do your audiences go for sources of truth? Do they check the website for updates, follow the police department’s Twitter account, or look to the Mayor’s Facebook page for all the latest? Perhaps it’s the local online chat group, fraught with misinformation and gossip no doubt, or maybe it’s a combination of many channels. Either way, the next question you need to ask yourself is, “is it where I want people to go in times of an emergency?”
If you need to announce an evacuation order, or implement a safety protocol, where are your audiences going to go first for this information? Where can they be sure the information is truthful, accurate, and timely? Who holds the voice of authority for your municipality?
Who’s the Boss
With the onslaught of fake news, imitation accounts of people, and social media enabling gossip to explode in virility, it’s become more and more difficult for people to discern whether the information they are receiving is actually from the source itself, and even if that source is honest.
Knowing this, it’s up to your organization to establish who the voice of authority is for your municipality, where they will consistently deliver messages, what they will say, and how they will say it.
If your org has a Facebook page and the mayor does too (highly likely) – which account has more followers? What about engagement? When something goes wrong, where do these audiences flock to for information? Is it the Mayor’s page? If it is, do you know how you will employ this account when you need to get the word out, and fast, during an emergency situation? Who will access it? How will it be updated? What’s the contingency plan?
It’s a bad idea to allow another account to, “run the show” during any type of event. Not only because you’ll want to establish authority very quickly during an emergency event, but also because you’ll lose out on the residual opportunities to grow your audience long term, making it easier for recovery and the subsequent preparedness communications you conduct in times of day-to-day operations.
The best advice is to establish a holding message for any site where you think people will go for information, to direct them to the place you want them to go. By doing this, you’ll establish a voice of truth, and reduce the number of places you need to provide ongoing updates, which can sometimes be every couple of minutes in an emergency, a couple of minutes that you won’t have time to waste.
When you’re not in a time of crisis or emergency, it’s important to practice this procedure and to periodically remind your audiences where they are to go in case of such an event. A crisis communications policy should clearly outline these roles and responsibilities and it should also be referenced in your municipality’s emergency preparedness/crisis communications plan. If you have a social media policy, it should be referenced there as well.
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