Who do you trust in a crisis?

Last week I got the chance to go on a course organised by the Whitehall & Industry Group (WIG) but run by Steph and Howard from The Social Simulator – on managing social media in a crisis.

WIG courses, like all their activities, are specifically designed to bring people from Government and industry together, which in itself is A Good Thing. Given that they’re run under Chatham House rules I can’t say anything about my fellow course members’ use of social media, but it was interesting to get a little insight into some of the issues facing comms people in other sectors.

This was a half day course so there was both theory and a nice couple of examples of crises fuelled by social media that we got the chance to work – both of which were fun and showed how the best laid comms plans can go out the window pretty quickly once real people and social media campaigns and firestorms get in the way.

But it was some of Steph’s slides on trust that really caught my eye. People who know me from my last job know that I supported the Science and Trust expert group, a group (of experts funnily enough) responsible for developing an action plan to address some of the issues raised around trust in science. That, and the public attitudes research supported by BIS, both looked at who people trusted when it came to hearing about scientific issues. One source of evidence we used was Ipsos Mori’s Trust in the professions series, which showed how scientists and academics are generally more trusted than other figures in authority.

What’s this got to do with a social media crisis I hear you ask? Well, Steph showcased some similar work to the Ipsos Mori series by Edelman. This really brought home how we tend to trust people like ourselves, and that we will tend to trust someone more at the sharp end with a voice and personality of their own, as opposed to anonymous company spokespeople. That voice can’t be dispensed with completely, of course, but that research does show the value in building up relationships – either on- or offline – before crises erupt, as well as the value of empowering others, where possible in appropriate circumstances, to have a voice.

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