Crisis Communications Through Technology and Social Media: The Earthquake Video

nepalearthquake2By Gerard Braud

The day is coming when you will need to be an expert in crisis communication using smart phone technology and social media. Actually, you should already be an expert and it is just a matter of time before we discover if you are prepared.

Saturday morning I turned on the Today Show and learned of the devastating earthquake in Nepal. As I flipped through the channels to CNN, Fox, Good Morning America, and to CBS, I was disappointed to once again watch a global crisis covered by reporters stationed in places such as London. Trust me when I tell you the reporter in London knows as much about the crisis as the reporter in New Orleans or New York. Only a person on the ground in that location can provide us with real details.

Eventually, one of the networks showed a smart phone video report filed by Arjun Vajpal, from a base camp on Mt. Everest, where we learned that there were avalanches on the mountain and climbers killed in base camps one and two. The selfie style video nepal earthquakewas posted to social media, where the mainstream media found it and began using it.

How well are you prepared to do what that climber did? Are you able to pick up your phone and in one take, record a narration with video that takes television viewers directly to the scene of your crisis? My experience while teaching workshops to public relations professionals is that most are shocked to learn just how hard it is to produce an effective video. My 15 years as a television reporter doing live shots daily have prepared me to use this technology. But people without live shot experience struggle to find the words to tell a story in one minute, without messing up the narration and defaulting to 10 to 20 tries to get one good take, if they can ever get one.

Tropical Storm Lee iReportMy fascination with smart phone and social media news coverage began with my reporting for CNN and The Weather Channel during Tropical Storm Lee in 2011. I took it to a whole new level during Hurricane Isaac in 2012. I reported for both networks for five days, while living without electricity and being surrounded by seven feet of flood waters, four ten foot alligators, thousands of snakes, and more than 50 dead animals killed in the storm.

Often video of a crisis is provided by an eyewitness, who usually provides poor quality video that is often laced with f-bombs or crazy comments. Imagine how much better it would be when a crisis happens at your company if quality video and a quality narration were provided in expert fashion? Imagine if that video was narrated by a well trained spokesperson with real facts, rather than the crazy speculating eyewitness?

The report from atop Mt. Everest was better and more accurate than the on-camera narration from the reporter in London. Likewise, my reports in Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Isaac were more visual and informative than the reports being provided by network correspondents. Those reporters were much farther from the storm than I was, leading the networks to lead each newscast with my reports.

If you don’t know how to do a great video, please take time to view a free tutorial I built on the CNN iReport website. If you’d like to take your skills up a notch and do the same for your colleagues, please contact me about setting up in-person training at a future conference or workshop.

Effective communications is in your hands. The reality is that you can be the expert who provides effective crisis communication or you can take your chances by relegating your responsibility to the reporter in London or the random eyewitness with a smart phone.

Experience tells us that trying to perfect this skill in the midst of your crisis is the wrong time. The best time to prepare for your effective crisis communications is on a clear, sunny day when you have all the time in the world to practice. Practice until you can call yourself a crisis communication expert who can effectively use a smart phone to file stories to social media and with the mainstream media.

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