Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Rumor Management--a great JIC and PIO Lesson from American Airlines

Rumor management is now one of the most important jobs of the PIO and the Joint Information Center. It may indeed be the most important job. That's because the media, the public and everyone else will be getting a lot of their information from all kinds of other sources except you and the JIC. You simply can't beat Twitter, twitpic, Facebook and all those outlets--and increasingly that is where the media gets their info.

But, is that info correct? Certainly not always. So what happens is you have a lot of people, citizen journalists, communicating what they know or pooling their ignorance about the event. Much of what they say will be wrong, mistaken or in some cases, intentionally wrong. So, the PIO needs to monitor, monitor monitor and then be in a position to respond very quickly. But, you say, how do I monitor and how do I respond quickly?

Here is a terrific example of how it works. A rumor spread quickly that American Airlines was offering free flights to Haiti. One wrong tweet got retweeted in mere moments by tweeters with huge audiences. One of them, Rainn Wilson (of Office fame) has 1.8 followers, and of course they have followers who have followers. The point is at the speed of the internet the word went out about the free flights. So, how does American deal with this?

I suggest that this should serve as a model for PIOs and crisis communicators Read the article for details but the highlights are: 1) they moved fast! 2) they used social media to get their message out 3) their social media outreach included the mainstream media and when NYT retweeted their messages the rumors started to die.

It should be clear, if it isn't already, that 1: rumors may happen about your agency and your event 2) they will be spread with lightning speed, or I should say speed of light speed 3) social media will be the primary way they go viral, but the media may report them as facts 4) if you are not prepared NOW to deal with the rumors, there is no way you can react fast enough to keep them from getting firmly entrenched 5) a lie (or rumor) repeated often enough becomes the truth, and that applies to all unchallenged rumors.

So, get prepared.

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