press Last month riots and chaos erupted in the UK with people taking to the streets to loot buildings and shops. I contacted Amanda Coleman, Head of Corporate Communications for Greater Manchester Police, where she has worked for the past 10 years, and asked her to write a guest article for Diary of an internal communicator about the events in Manchester and Salford (in the north of England), from a professional communicator’s perspective. Here she looks at the role of social networks, how communication plans were developed and how the force reacted and responded.

Over to you Amanda…

When disorder hit the streets of Manchester and Salford in early August, it signified a change in the way communication in an emergency is carried out. From that day it became clear that now more than ever effective conversations needed to be at the heart of an organisation and its plans.

Often organisations see communication as an add-on to an operation or activity. They set the plan and then later worry about how it will be communicated both to staff and to customers or the public. It was clear that this was a position that was no longer tenable, and to attempt to look at it that way would be folly.

An altered landscape

The role of social media has fundamentally altered the landscape. Never has it been easier to find out what people think about events, a product or an organisation. It is available instantly through the likes of Twitter and Facebook. It was this instant feedback that became critical to the policing operation throughout the disorder.

Hourly update meetings took place during the night of the disturbances and the information and feedback provided by people through social media became a central element of the communication and considerations. Not only did it require continuous monitoring to ensure that conversations could take place but social media needed to be used to share information about what people should do.

The information that came in to Greater Manchester Police through social networks was able to help the investigation and the intelligence gathering. People were using it to highlight people who were either trying to cause trouble or boasting about what they had done. During a major incident this is the sort of direct support that can provide another dimension to what is being developed. Greater Manchester Police are on Twitter @gmpolice.

For the first time we were also able to share the feedback from the public with officers internally through the intranet. We used the messages on Twitter and Facebook to help keep the morale of officers high at a time when they were working very long shifts and had been under attack from a small group of individuals. This was really well received and helped police officers to realise that the vast majority of people were behind them and were grateful for the dangerous job they were doing.

Putting conversations at the heart of business

This all put communication and more importantly conversations at the heart of the policing operation. I see this as an important lesson for any business or organisation, and not just at a time of crisis. Use social media and communication to help to set the strategy and plan. Listen to what is being said, learn from it, and more than just engage with it use it to help you devise what you should be doing.

Gaining the support of senior management so that they recognise the valuable contribution that social media can make is always going to be a challenge, and getting them to use communication when setting strategy is a tough nut to crack. My hope is that the disorder and the learning from it will signify a new way of working that makes communication even more central to everything we do.  Changing the way we work is hard but ultimately essential for life in 2011.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts Amanda, it’s fascinating to have an insight into activities behind the scenes of what happened last month. If you’d like to comment on what Amanda has written, feel free to do so below.

If you’d like to read even more information, Amanda was the guest moderator of last week’s CommsChat. The questions posed by comms professionals and the answers she gave are all on the commschat website and you can see the transcript here.

Post Author: Amanda Coleman @amandacomms

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