Managing A Multi Channel Crisis Response

MMU Business School hosted this recent CIPR North West event which attracted senior practitioners from across the region and students enrolled on the MSc Public Relations programme.

So what is a multi channel crisis response? Amanda Coleman, Head of Communications for Greater Manchester Police (GMP) was happy to translate this into Plain English – a multi channel crisis response quite simply involves the integrated use of social media. ‘Quite simply’ however comes with a caveat. Although the GMP’s use of digital communications may appear to be seamless, their position today reflects three years of work to achieve the organisational buy-in to liberate staff throughout the organisation to engage in online conversations. Over 300 frontline staff across GMP now use Twitter and Facebook to plug into local communities. Officers are expected to communicate through these mediums in the same way they would any other. Transgressions therefore reflect problems with recruitment rather than the channel itself.

In 2011 during the London Riots, the first questions about whether these would extend to Manchester were posted on Twitter. The GMP was keen to establish themselves as a trusted voice which meant they had to be transparent and engage honestly and openly in online conversations.  The payback was immense – GMP could access what Coleman describes succintly as a Virtual Homewatch  – 24/7/nanosecond – as people in Manchester posted images and reported incidents online. GMP attracted over 100,000 twitter followers during the disorder which they have since worked hard to maintain.

Coleman suggests that PR practitioners should:

  1. Understand the channels they are using and why
  2. Not wait for a crisis to prompt the use of social media
  3. Invest in time, a team and technology
  4. Keep in touch
  5. Evaluate – don’t just monitor

The advice from the session is stark – organisations need to be networked ahead of any crisis so that they are already engaged when an emergency is triggered.