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@Luis - the era of the dark site that goes live only in a crisis is quickly disappearing. Not having established relationships before a time of need is a major issue when a crisis takes hold in social networks. You said it best: you need a community of supporters. If you don't have audience, develop one. Build relationships, attract evangelists and advocates.

@Ike - we are always on, isn't that the truth. An there is probably no amount of fire drills that will help a reluctant executive team to give some power to the communications troops. However, having a framework in place with decisions made ahead of time on the tone and extent of response, is very helpful. It takes some of the emotion and lizard brain out of the equation. Excellent suggestion on the "public triage". The other side of the PR coin, knowing what mainstream and social media stories may take a bite out of your reputation or involve your company in some way. We're passed just saying we're sorry. The other side of that is knowing what skeletons are in your closet. The time of reckoning with your communications people. Combining work in brain development and risk management, with being keenly aware of the psychology of group behavior, gives you some interesting insights into conversations and how they develop and escalate. It will be a great cup of coffee. Hope we can meet at an upcoming event.

Valeria --

I am in the middle of an overhaul of our crisis plan, and there has been no better wake-up call to get executives on board with the changes we need to make now.

The first major change is the realization that there's no "news cycle" anymore... and crisis means being on the clock all the time. With that understanding, you have to sell your C-Suite on having a strategic communications team, empowered to approve messages and directions in real time.

The second big change involves "public triage." Recognizing the areas of public concern, and tracking them quantitatively and qualitatively. Those making the strategic decisions need to know what rumors and public concerns are most threatening, and which ones are most prevalent.

Finally, I am giddy that you bring Risk Communication into this -- because quite frankly few communicators understand the effects of hazard on the very people you most need to reach. Brain chemistry is different, and you must tailor your messages to persuade the parts of the brain you can engage.

We'll talk it out over coffee one afternoon.

Excellent, and very thorough, post. I really feel that more companies should definitely embrace social media, even if on a small scale. So many companies limit their scope of social media to thinking that it's only Twitter and Facebook. Little do they know that there is a lot of interactions that can be housed on their very sites without the need to turn to outside sources to provide that sense of community.

What few seem to realize is, when a PR nightmare strikes it looks worse when you scramble to create an online presence in order to handle the situation and there's no community to support you. It simply looks like a poor attempt for damage control.

Having an already established presence online seems to temper some of that immediate backlash by allowing the company to respond to situations to an already existing community. When something happens, it's not like they are scrambling to find people who will listen, because they've already made an earlier attempt to reach out.

Better to have it when you need it, then need it when you don't have it. Just my two cents!

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