Social Media During A Crisis: Is Your Strategy In Place?

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When a crisis slams your agency like a battering ram, here are two realities of today’s law enforcement world which, as an administrator, you ignore at your peril:

• Social media may already be spreading a viral anti-police narrative before you even hear of what’s happened. Time is not on your side.

• Stiffing reporters and your public with “No comment” is archaic and self-sabotaging, regardless of how unfavorable the facts may seem.

So, what to do…?

Melissa Agnes, an internationally recognized expert in emergency communication, recently shared insights on that formidable challenge.

President and cofounder of Agnes + Day Inc., a Montreal-based crisis management firm, she was among the featured speakers at the debut WINx training event [see FSN #293 — Click here to read it.], produced by Force Science graduates Brian Willis and Roy Bethge last month in the Chicago area.

Energized by the event’s format of 18 minutes per presentation, Agnes wasted no time in getting the meat of her message across.


The digital landscape–and especially social media–has transformed the demands of crisis communication, she explained.

“All it takes now,” she said, “is one person on the sidelines with a smart phone to take a picture or video and share it on social media with their truth of what happened attached, not your truth. Before you even get back to your department, that can be going viral, with the community demanding answers.

“If you want to get ahead of the cycle, you barely have 48 minutes to respond. Whether you like it or not, this is reality. If you don’t respond, things can quickly spiral out of control with someone else’s narrative.

“How are you supposed to get ahead of the story when the story is instantaneously ahead of you? How can you rise above the noise and become the source of trust? Just saying ‘No comment’ isn’t going to cut it.”


Agnes cited three things that need attention now, to build an operational foundation before a crisis strikes.

1. “It’s time to change the culture law enforcement has developed, because it’s not working,” she declared. “This begins with a change of mind-set.”

You can choose to see a potential crisis as an overwhelming challenge and look away from it. “Or you can see that challenges present unprecedented opportunities to make changes. Change your mind-set and see opportunities through the challenges.”

For example, “powerful voices in the community” might be viewed as people who “care enough to voice concerns” and explored as potential collaborators in making constructive change, rather than being dismissed, demonized, and ignored.

2. “Work every day to find opportunities to build trust with your community.”

She offered that announcing on Twitter where officers will be assigned to run radar each day is one small gesture that can help departments demonstrate that police are devoted to making the community safer, not just to bagging citations and arrests.

There are limitless other “simple, proactive steps that can build a base of trust over time,” Agnes said. “The community won’t trust you in a crisis if they don’t trust now.”

3. “Start right away to embed community communication as part of your agency culture and your crisis preparedness,” Agnes urged.

Find out what social media your community uses on a daily basis–Twitter, Yik Yak, WhatsApp–and create a presence there with information and dialog. “Then you’ll know how to streamline right to them in a crisis.”

Boston PD did this superbly when the Marathon bombers struck, Agnes said, using social media to promptly correct misinformation, provide public updates, and solicit photos, videos, and leads to aid the search for the terrorists.

“They became the credible source of information by embracing the communication platforms of their community,” Agnes said. “That’s how you get through the noise and above the noise in a crisis.”

She posed this question in parting: “Can you say what your community expects of you in a crisis without a shadow of doubt?

“If not, you need to ask them so you can meet their expectations. Social media allows you to ask questions and get feedback in real time,” and used creatively it can help you “become the voice of leadership in a crisis.”

Melissa Agnes can be reached at: Melissa@melissaagnes.com

Note: Video of Agnes’ presentation and others at the WINx event is expected to be available shortly. Another WINx training day has been scheduled for Nov. 16 next year. For more information, contact Brian Willis of Winning Mind Training at: winningmind@mac.com.

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