What Zombies (and others) Taught us at ICRC2014

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ICRC2014: The International Crisis & Risk Communication (ICRC) Conference

ZombieMeOn Monday of this week I had the pleasure to present a 4-hour, pre-conference workshop for the ICRC2014 Conference at the Nicholson School of Communication at the University of Central Florida. I had a wonderfully diverse group from 5 countries in my session, and 17 countries attended the conference as a whole.

In the pre-conference session I led, we looked at many social media risk situations, with specific emphasis on the water contamination issue in West Virginia; we then looked more deeply at all aspects of the response from Freedom Industries. We then had the participants work together in groups to create messaging for a scenario we created for them. Then, we hit our groups with a surprise that I can’t share here, because that would ruin the surprise. (Call me, I’ll tell you).

Interestingly, our groups had never met each other, but worked exceptionally well together to identify their 3 key messages, audiences, and methods of message distribution. Their willingness to work together to create crisis messaging was driven by their desire to serve the individuals affected by the crisis scenario; even though we all knew it was a scenario, the passion of the participants for their communication art was obvious.

coombsOn Tuesday for the conference start, we were energized and humored by the always engaging W. Timothy Coombs in his opening keynote “What Zombies Teach us About Social Media Crises: Managing Crises in the Digital Age.”

“Social media crises” have attracted a great deal of attention from practitioners and academics.  Both groups are trying to understand what they are and how best to manage this relatively new variant of crises.  Dr. Coombs’ presentation was designed to illuminate social media crises by providing insights into their origins and effective and ineffective strategies for combating them.  A parallel to zombies was used to help understand the focus, spread, and reactions to social media crises.

As explained (metaphorically) by Dr. Coombs: Modern zombies are pathogen-based rather than being created through magic.  Social media crises created a concern over a threat to reputations rather than a concern over operational disruptions the served as the foundation for traditional crises.  Modern zombies can spread like a plague and computer modeling suggests the most effective strategy to manage zombies is a direct attack on the source.  Similarly, social media crises have the potential to spread to other stakeholders and create greater reputational damage.  The most effective strategy is to confront the source of the social media crisis.”

“There are a variety of weapons that can be used to fight zombies.  The type of weapon depends in part upon the nature of the zombie attack.  Similarly, the effective and ineffective crisis response options for social media crises are a function of the nature of the social media crisis.  The various response strategies for managing social media crises are presented along with situational factors that increase or decrease the effectiveness of the various response strategies.  The yield of the presentation is a theory based approach to managing social media crises that is enlivened through a connection to zombies.”

Next, a summary of a terrific session by Scott Nethero of Disney, and an outstanding review of crisis response by Jonathan Hemus of UK-based Insignia Communications. We’ll also talk to Karen Freberg, Ph.D and Major Kristin Saling regarding their most recent research: Assess Perceptions of Crisis Among Crisis Professionals: Exploration with the Situational Q-Sort

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