J Term in New Orleans

During January 2011, 12 J-Term students in the course “Environmental Communications: Lessons Learned from the BP Oil Spill” will travel with Nina Flournoy, senior lecturer of communication studies in Meadows School of the Arts, on a 10-day journey to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to examine the communication strategies surrounding the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history

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Treading in deep water

Taylor.jpg An update from Taylor, a sophomore communication studies major:

NewOrleans.jpg I am in love with New Orleans! The French colonial-style homes are warm and inviting. Braving the rainy weather, we piled into our white van and headed to the Federal Building for our first meeting with Lt. Sue Kerver.

Lt. Sue Kerver provided a unique look toward the Coast Guards communications efforts, in response to the British Petroleum oil spill. From the start of her lecture Lt. Kerver stressed the importance of three key communication techniques all organizations have to do to create relationships with the public, before and during a crisis.

1. Relationship Building. It’s important to have open and honest relationships in place before a crisis arises.

2. Transparency is a must. If you don’t tell the story, someone else will tell it for you.

3. Put a face on the response, early in the crisis. Get upper-level advisers speaking to the public as quickly as possible.

Following these simple steps allowed Lt. Kerver to guide the United States Coast Guard through numerous communication missteps. Having relationships in place with the media before the oil spill allowed the Coast Guard to know how and whom to contact on the local, state and national level.

By updating the media as quickly as possible and having daily press conferences, the Coast Guard maintained its transparency. According to Lt. Kerver this allowed the media to ask questions and be heard. Finally the Coast Guard put one face on the response as quickly as possible. Doing this allowed their message to be consistent and have a sense of authority.

The social media techniques used by the Coast Guard provided an outlet to spread information that wasn’t available in the past. Approximately four days after the spill, the Coast Guard and others’ joint efforts tapped into this new technology and created their own Facebook, Twitter and Flicker accounts to communicate a single message to the public. Within two weeks the Facebook account had over 1 million friends, with round-the-clock response teams sifting through the countless concerns and questions, creating optimal two-way communication. This created trust and consistency.

Looking back on the meeting, I am surprised how big of a role social media actually had. I know social media plays a huge role in organizations today. I just didn’t realize the potential to use it during crises.

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