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New thinking for new media

Business continuity managers have traditionally seen the media as something of a threat; but a different approach can bring big benefits.

By Abdullah Al Hour, MBCI.

Introduction
Business continuity management practitioners have always given serious consideration to the impact of media coverage during disasters. Many consider the media to be a threat to the organization during times of crisis, especially to the organizational image and brands. Therefore, it is normal and, indeed, essential for business continuity managers to put protective and counter plans in place to mitigate the expected negative impact of the media. This is usually included within the overall crisis management plans and procedures.

What contributed to the building of such a negative understanding is the way that media has been seen to operate. Being tightly controlled and non-interactive, media denied external parties, such as business continuity managers, the opportunity to involve themselves with media systems and people. Thus, instead of proactively providing positive information to the media, business continuity managers naturally moved to being reactive. This position has been strengthened by the fact that mainstream media knows little about business continuity management and its specific roles.

What is needed is a different approach to the way that business continuity managers and the media relate to each other. This shift can build on the huge transition we witness today from old media to new media. Instead of looking to the media as a threat, it should be seen as a stakeholder; and therefore its interests should be considered within the business continuity management system.

Media: moving from reactivity to interactivity
Perhaps it would be useful to understand the shift that media has taken from what is called the old media to what is known today as the new media.

When moving from old to new, media have shifted from the previous analogue, non-interactive, one-way media to the digital, interactive, and two-way features that we see today. Media space has moved from the airwaves and printing press to the Internet and the cyber world, which are accessible from almost anywhere and at any time from all sorts of devices; mobile and fixed.

Control over this new media is almost impossible. The concepts of citizen-journalism and the user-generated content published online tears apart all sorts of controls that old media used to practice. Editing rooms, broadcast schedules, and censorships have no place in the new media. Users can access virtually any published content at their convenience. Not only this, they have the capability to rate, comment, share, and object. Such features, although simple, allow the users to interact and, to some extent, direct the process of publishing.

Whereas old media was considered more of a threat than a friend by business continuity managers, the features of the new media leverage it to a high-potential partner and stakeholder.

Business continuity management: moving from internal awareness to external interaction

Business continuity standards and lifecycles have always stressed the importance of raising the ‘internal’ awareness levels of BCM within organizations. This activity is considered important as it enables BCM to be more embedded and integrated within the organization.

However, internal awareness raising may not always be enough to effectively get the message across. If business continuity managers manage to get the media to understand business continuity management in general, and the specifics of how it is managed within their own organization, it could prove helpful in a number of ways:

  • Internal stakeholders would get to understand the need for BCM from external media. Such visibility and exposure would help strengthen and prepare the ground for internal awareness raising.
  • External stakeholders would gain more knowledge of the internal dynamics of the organization and, consequently, could better understand that their interests are being considered and managed by it.
  • The reputational capital of the organization could be considerably increased by building up external confidence in its management and processes; thus giving the organization the edge in building its image and brand.

Establishing the media footprint
Having a considered strategy is vital for success in this area; and various points need to be considered:

  • Despite the increasing adoption of new media, old media is still a reliable channel for the older generations, decision-makers, and to some extent, the government. This means that the media footprint should allow for some space for old media as a valid communication channel. On the other hand, don’t forget that new media is becoming the main space for public opinion forming and interaction.
  • Many organizations are using the new tools of new media, like social networks, with the same mentality of the old media. Such an approach does not give the required results. Organizations, for example, create Twitter and Facebook accounts that go in one direction only: posting new entries. Even when there is activity on their accounts, it rarely goes anywhere beyond being an online post. When using the tools of the new media, the organization needs to understand the true concepts of visibility and interactivity. Allowing the public to comment is different from taking their comments as inputs. Allowing them to see the results of their inputs is different again.
  • As the organization brands itself and its products and services, it should also brand its media presence. Again, it should follow a different approach than the one followed with the old media. New media branding is achieved through constant presence and mutual interaction with the public, or the stakeholders. In a way, the organization needs to let the external stakeholders partially drive its internal BCM implementation.

BCM and media: together
BCM and media collaboration and interaction should be ongoing at all times. In times of normality, BCM can utilize media (especially new media) to open interactive, two way communication channels with external stakeholders. As a result the external stakeholders have more visibility into the organizational BCM implementation. Additionally, their expectations may become more realistic and they may better understand the different challenges and difficulties that the organization faces. At the same time, the organization is building up its reputational capital. This capital is of high value when disasters strike.

By opening the interactive communication channels during normal times, the organization can allow the external stakeholders to be part of the business recovery process and activities during incidents. Stakeholders may then be more appreciative of the recovery efforts that the organization is undertaking, since they have a better understanding of what is happening.

Disasters are negative, at most times, yet there can be opportunities hidden within them. Disasters are the best time to show to the external world how mature the organization is in terms of preparedness and readiness.

Author: Abdullah Al Hour, MBCI, is a business continuity manager at Alinma Bank.

•Date: 27th April 2012 • Middle East/World •Type: Article • Topic: Crisis communications

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