Crisis Communications: UF's "Don't Tase Me Bro'" Incident


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This is Joe Hice's presentation to the November educational conference of the Florida Court Public Information Officers, Inc., in Clearwater, Florida.

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  • And when you thought crises couldn’t get worse… now with Web 2.0, they can become even bigger and scarier. Thanks to the advent of web 2.0 technologies, everybody with a blog, an email account, a cell phone camera and a YouTube account, has become a potential journalist. If a big crisis hits your institution, Video and photos could end up on the Web within minutes. And with Social networking websites, things can spread even more easily via electronic word of mouth. Whether you like or not, this is the age of invasive and pervasive transparency and nobody can’t hide.
  • Well, you can’t hide, but you can and Should plan
  • In the networked world, we live, planning is definitely not an elective News travels at light speed – even faster then it’s bad… so identify potential problems and issues before they become ones. And, the good news is – Web 2.0 technologies can help you with this. As we advised you in our presentation this morning, you should put Technorati and Google News Alert to good use. By setting Technorati watches or Google news alert for specific keywords such as the name of your institution or your president’s name, you will know if and when the blogosphere is about to feed on or even create a crisis situation. Former University of Colorado President Elizabeth Hoffman said she wished she would have assigned one of her staffers to read political blogs every day. Hoffman resigned in March 2005 in the wake of two major scandals caused by the institution's football recruiting practices and Professor Ward Churchill's essay comparing some victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks to "Little Eichmanns," referencing a known Nazi official. Influential bloggers played a major role in exposing (and fueling?) these scandals. Hoffman saif that "one of the first mentions of Churchill's essay appeared on a blog called 'little green footballs' after the professor was invited to speak at Hamilton College (N.Y.)." Within 10 minutes of the posting, people were asking Gov. Bill Owens to tell her to fire Churchill. Policies and procedures must be in place – so you and everybody on your team knows how To deal with traditional media To deal with “new media” Advanced planning enables better decision making during a crisis and reduces confusion
  • So, what should be in the plan? Trigger points for activation Response team members and alternates as well as 24/7 contact information – obviously, crises are not on a 9-5 schedule – and with Murphy’s law helping will happen most of the time in the evening or on weekends. Templates for news releases, fact sheets, bios – those will make you save time when you don’t have any. Consider having a hidden crisis response Web site or Web pages ready – if certain types of crises are part of your campus culture – such as hurricanes and big storms at the University of Florida – you can definitely create a page or a website including all the necessary evergreen information. So, when the crisis breaks – you’ll just have to fill in the blanks. List of trained spokespeople – you need to know who will go in front of the mikes and the cameras – but also to find and train team members to handle the blogosphere. Bloggers are not journalists, but they can do a lot of damage – and the rules of engagement are different. Off-the-record doesn’t belong to most bloggers’ vocabulary. As a result, anything emailed to a blogger can – and most of the time will – be published verbatim or creatively quoted. But, time taken to really answer questions raised in blog posts or via email from bloggers will be well spent – as the blogosphere really appreciates the courtesy. Ignoring them – however – could end up in an even bigger mess. Required resources – you should also address those in your plan. Response facility and back up location Multiple communication methods – cell phones, blackberries, land lines, web site, extra batteries Materials available in hard copy as well as electronically (various mediums & locations)
  • Quickly assess situation and outline options Express concern and sympathy If appropriate to the situation, stress that there will be a complete investigation with the organization’s complete cooperation  Never speculate Don’t address hypotheticals
  • Crisis Communications: UF's "Don't Tase Me Bro'" Incident

    1. 1. This is a story about how an incident captured on video goes global in a matter of hours thanks to new technology and the Internet
    2. 2. And how we used that technology and a little bit of planning to deal with the situation
    3. 5. And I wasn’t even there!
    4. 6. “ Say Hice, isn’t that your Gators on CNN?”
    5. 7. Flagstaff to San Francisco
    6. 8. 1 p.m. Sept. 17, 2007 <ul><li>UF student Andrew Meyer was Tasered after disrupting an event for Sen. John Kerry. He uttered those now famous words: “Don’t Tase me, bro!” </li></ul>
    7. 9. By 3 p.m…. <ul><li>Gainesville Sun posts the first video and a student posts it to YouTube </li></ul><ul><li>The deluge had begun </li></ul><ul><li>UF crisis plan is activated </li></ul><ul><ul><li>staff convenes and calls for a quick response and total access to all parties </li></ul></ul>
    8. 10. By 6 a.m. the next day… <ul><li>Story is picked up by nearly every TV news channel in the country </li></ul><ul><ul><li>They play the video non-stop </li></ul></ul><ul><li>CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS and others begin playing portions of the video all day long </li></ul>
    9. 12. By noon on day 2…. <ul><li>UF was fully mobilized </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Email from President to 224,000 faculty, staff, students, friends and family </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Messages posted on UF Home Page and President’s Web page </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Calls for an independent review </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Places officers on leave </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Suggests formation of faculty-student committee to review event practices </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Bloggers from Student Government </li></ul></ul>
    10. 13. Outside the university… <ul><li>People were upset </li></ul><ul><li>They had watched :15 seconds of the video and determined the university was guilty </li></ul><ul><ul><li>More than 10,000 emails poured in </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Blogs, blogs and more blogs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Non-stop phone calls </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Most wanted our heads, or at least the heads of the police officers involved </li></ul>
    11. 17. Responding to the situation <ul><li>Activate all channels of communications </li></ul><ul><li>Clear & concise messaging w/ UF President as spokesman </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Timely response </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Public review of everything that happened </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Active web postings & updates </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Free and open discourse becomes the focus </li></ul>
    12. 18. Strategy of Openness <ul><li>Inform everyone that we understood their concerns and gaining a full understanding of the events was a top priority </li></ul><ul><li>However, the administration would make no rash judgments </li></ul><ul><li>Regular updates provided on investigations through emails, Web sites and blogs </li></ul>
    13. 19. You can only change one mind at a time <ul><li>Important not to appear defensive, but rather determined to get to the bottom of the situation. That meant we had to talk to people </li></ul><ul><li>UREL solicited help from the UF communications network to respond </li></ul><ul><li>Key points distributed to everyone </li></ul><ul><li>Every phone call was fielded or returned </li></ul><ul><li>Every email was returned </li></ul>
    14. 20. One mind at a time <ul><li>Six emails were sent from the president to faculty, staff and students during the next three weeks. We didn’t want anyone reading breaking news in the local paper or online </li></ul><ul><li>Our restrained, but consistent approach was well received by all, even some of the university’s initial critics </li></ul><ul><li>On October 20, Andrew Meyer apologized on The Today Show </li></ul>
    15. 22. What we learned <ul><li>Open and Honest discourse is critical to your success </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Think fast </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>React fast </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Write faster </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Over communicate with everyone </li></ul><ul><li>Understand and utilize available communications technology </li></ul>
    16. 23. What we messed up, or What we learned <ul><li>Train your event moderators </li></ul><ul><li>Web cast the press conference </li></ul><ul><ul><li>It had been off limits to everyone but the media. Faculty and students were turned away causing some unnecessary friction </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Invest in email management system </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The deluge was almost more than our system, or our people could handle </li></ul></ul>
    17. 24. But now, lets talk Crisis 2.0 In today’s world. What can you do? <ul><li>Millions of “citizen journalists” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Blogs (185.6 million in US & China)) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Cell phones (w/ cameras) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Email and text messaging </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Social networks (Facebook, MySpace) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>YouTube </li></ul></ul><ul><li>With this age of invasive and pervasive transparency, you can’t hide! </li></ul>
    18. 25. You can’t hide, but you can plan…
    19. 26. Planning is critical <ul><li>News travels at light speed </li></ul><ul><li>Identify potential problems & issues before they are problems & issues </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Set watches </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Google News Alerts </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Policies and procedures must be in place </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Dealing with traditional media </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Dealing with “new media” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Advanced planning enables better decision making during a crisis and reduces confusion </li></ul>
    20. 27. What should be in the plan <ul><li>Trigger points for activation </li></ul><ul><li>Response team members and alternates </li></ul><ul><li>24/7 contact information </li></ul><ul><li>Templates for news releases, fact sheets, bios, crisis website </li></ul><ul><li>List of trained spokespeople </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Traditional and New media focus </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Required resources (location, hardware...) </li></ul>
    21. 28. Responding <ul><li>Assess the situation and outline options </li></ul><ul><li>Define the story </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Make a statement as quickly as possible so you define the story </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Address all media outlets and channels </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Blogs are media too </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Stick to the facts </li></ul><ul><li>Always tell the truth </li></ul>
    22. 29. Keeping up as things unfold <ul><li>Monitor the media … all media </li></ul><ul><li>Correct misinformation quickly </li></ul><ul><li>Repeat key messages often, repeat key messages often, repeat key messages often </li></ul><ul><ul><li>All spokespeople must speak with “one voice” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Expect the unexpected . . . Like a kid getting Tasered on national television </li></ul>
    23. 30. How do you know the crisis is over? Well, we know UF is part of history <ul><li>“ To Tase ” is Runner-Up for word of the year New Oxford American Dictionary </li></ul><ul><li>“ Don’t Tase me, bro ,” is voted most memorable quote of 2007 </li></ul><ul><li>MC Hammer’s remix of “Can’t Touch This,” which is cut with the screams of Andrew Meyer when he was Tased, makes the list of top viral videos of the year. </li></ul>
    24. 32. University Lore <ul><li>To date, there have been more than 350 videos related to the incident posted on YouTube </li></ul><ul><li>More than 6 million hits </li></ul><ul><li>Almost 50,000 comments </li></ul><ul><li>People still watching, commenting </li></ul>
    25. 33. And buying
    26. 34. But how do you know when it’s really over? How about this, a story on the nation’s most popular television show, CSI
    27. 35. Proprietary Eponym
    28. 36. Questions?