‘Course when it happens, no one tells you that you and your community will be landing in the middle of a social communications revolution.
Nope. Instead … You sip your morning coffee, all relaxed cuz everyone else in the house is asleep, and it’s just you and your coffee and Twitter. You look at your TweetDeck column that searches for all references to “Lakewood WA.”
And you can’t believe what you read. You just do’t want to believe it. And then you find out it’s true.
And then you just go numb. And tear up. And go numb again.
For hours and hours and hours.
So that was my Sunday last. It’s probably not wise to write definitive blog posts when you’ve been going to bed late and waking up at 5 early every morning since then. But one thing I do know: elected officials HAVE to learn social media and new tools of communication.
Why is very clear. It’s not just that you will be one of the first people to learn about a problem or disaster, though of course that’s helpful too. More importantly, the city of Lakewood seized up and focused during this horrific tragedy. The focus was on a crime, on four families, on those who remain, on emergency operations, and on daily operations. As a city council member, I can say nearly everything I learned about the incident, and shared with constituents, came via media. As just one example, the next day, the only way I found out that our city was having a news conference at a particular time and place was from radio, 90 minutes before the event.
I was the only other council member besides the mayor who was able to attend the conference, standing among the media reporters whose pack I once belonged to. I was able to look out officers in the eye as they stood proudly in front of their station. I suspect they had other things on their mind, but it was an important moment for me.
True, radio is an older form of media, but the vast majority of the information I got came from Twitter. I was able to inform my constituents and answer their questions via Twitter, Facebook and my blog only because of new media. The first time I learned that I would be in a memorial service Tuesday at a certain time and place was by way of Twitter.
I’m sure that will be true for your city as well if you get caught up in something like this, unless you’ve got a huge communications staff sitting around. Lakewood has one city manager and one communications director, and they had more to do than worry about keeping their city council informed. This event was a tsunami. Nothing was normal. Nothing about it should be normal. Something like this should NEVER happen again.
There are probably newer links on this topic – how social media informed this breaking news event – but the one I know about is well-written and found on John Cook’s TechFlash blog. If you are an elected official, it is worth reading this post closely. Think about where and how in your particular community both old media, new media and all of your citizens will participate in the communications revolution.
As it is, Lakewood is catching its breath and is communicating very effectively, including a powerful website. By the way, we welcome suggestions for it.
So that’s all for now. If you are another elected official, the message is clear: learn the tools. You need those tools today to be effective. The lesson here is that someday you may someday REALLY need them.
Update, Saturday morning: Another good link about how some Seattle media used new communication tools to be the first to find, announce news: http://crosscut.com/2009/12/03/media/19419/