Digital Crisis Strategy

Graphic: Vertical Response Blog

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 31, 2017) – In a rapidly evolving world of digital communications, the combination of social media and smart devices is changing the way we manage information, resources and even our personal relationships. It’s also requiring organizations to rethink their approach to crisis management.

Eric Stern, a professor in UAlbany’s College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity, details some of the major opportunities and challenges these technologies present during a crisis in his latest article published last month in Homeland Security Affairs.

The article is titled “Unpacking and Exploring the Relationship between Crisis Management and Social Media in the Era of ‘Smart Devices.’”

“The rapid evolution of social media, combined with advances in smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices creates a moving target for organizations seeking to incorporate these technologies into their preparedness and crisis management strategy,” Stern said. “My article unpacks a set of key tasks to consider during a crisis and identifies how social media can enhance or challenge each of those tasks.”

In the article, Stern breaks down social media’s relevance to crisis management into seven simple metaphors, including:

  • Channel: Social media has become yet another way of pushing information out to an organization’s target audience.
  • Megaphone: Social media can be seen as a megaphone, giving voice to persons or groups that might traditionally have been denied or had great difficulty in getting access to traditional media or the national stage.
  • Arena: Public, private, and non-profit actors alike are competing for attention on social media. This metaphor serves as a reminder that communication does not take place in a vacuum, but rather against a backdrop of past, simultaneous, and anticipated future communications by rivals.
  • Mirror: Rapid feedback regarding how an organization, its spokespeople, and its message are being perceived is invaluable. Social media can help to provide answers.
  • Bank: Social media can also be used for crowdsourcing resources—such as financial, material, expertise, and labor (both skilled and unskilled) — in crises.
  • Radar: Monitoring social media feeds can provide invaluable information and “intelligence” (broadly defined) for warning, prevention, response, and recovery.
  • Learning tool: The rise of social media and personal communications devices has resulted in new forms of crisis documentation which can be exploited for post-crisis analysis, evaluation and learning.

Stern argues in the article that social media is not merely another channel for pushing out information. Instead, he believes its large reach, multi-level character (including citizen-to-citizen communication) and ability to correct misinformation needs to be taken seriously and included in the crisis strategy conversation.

“Overall, social media and smart devices are having profound implications on various elements of crisis management,” Stern said. “Despite significant progress in recent years, understanding and analyzing these implications remains an urgent task for leaders and crisis managers.”

Stern has published work extensively in the fields of crisis and emergency management, crisis communication, resilience, security studies, executive leadership, foreign policy analysis and political psychology. He is also affiliated with the Swedish National Center for Crisis Management Research and Training at the Swedish Defense University (where he served as Director from 2004-2011) and the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware.

You can read more of his research and expertise here.

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