Scrolling through Twitter a question struck me. From a PR perspective who wins when the national government’s riot police storm the local government’s polling stations?
At the weekend, footage was posted from Catalonia of police looking to seize ballots from an independence referendum. You can see it here:
— Clara Vera (@ClaraVera14) October 1, 2017
There was much more disturbing footage online. But it was the prosaic backdrop of an election centre that caught my eye.
Elsewhere, the internet was full of stories. Firefighters acted as human shields to protect voters. A girl getting her fingers broken by the police. All of these were told through video posted to the internet.
In law, the regional poll was declared illegal so the national government held the high ground.
But in PR terms, sending in the police to act aggressively feels like a monumental own goal. Why? Because it plugs into a narrative that even small children can grasp. In the story of the Big Man versus the Little Man, it is the instinct of the passer-by to side with the Little Man. It is the instinct of the tribe under attack to be politicized.
Any independence campaign would need the majority of the population from the area looking to break away in support. From the wider Spanish population it would need grudging acceptance.
As a student of history, this weekend may yet prove to be an even bigger own goal. I’m reminded of the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin. History shows that a population filled with revulsion at acts carried out by the country’s government moved to side with the revolutionaries.
At an event at Reuters earlier this year it was mentioned that people trust words only a little, pictures a little more and video most of all.
In Catalonia and Spain, history isn’t defined by video clips as the 19th century was by war and diplomacy. But the campaign for independence is being shaped by the 30-second clips on the internet.
There’s always moments when a new digital platform comes into its own.
In 2011, it was Twitter that really came into the mainstream during the London riots. It was where middle managers in the organisation and the public could find out what was happening.
Twitter and Hurricane Irma
In 2017, Twitter is the bread and butter of emergency communications. The US Government department FEMA have been using it and have been using this and the web to shoot down rumour.
— FEMA (@fema) September 8, 2017
In 2017, live video and Hurricane Irma seems to have made a similar transition.
Both platforms allow you to use your phone as an outside broadcast unit and stream to the internet.
Both platforms end up feeding in the media by providing eye-witness reporting from the scene. In an environment where fake news has undermined trust in text, video is hugely important for communications people.
Case study #1: Behind the scenes news room tour
A journalist takes a tour of the TV news room that is keeping people informed of what is taking place.
Case study #2: The calm before the storm
Residents took to walking around deserted streets to show what was happening.
Case study #3: The eye witness
Views from the balcony showing the hurricane as it is striking.
Case study #4: The professional storm chaser
In the US, storm season is met with enthusiasts chasing down tornados and extreme weather. People like Jeff Piotrowski have been using Periscope to connect with people and give a realtime sense of the storm.
Late Saturday night just as I was going to bed somethingremarkable happened.
Shortly after midnight, my timeline was filled with people sharing live streams from US airports. Pop-up protests were taking place. People angry about a ban on people from hand-picked Muslim countries were making their voice heard.
As a former journalist and as someone is interested in the changing media landscape this was fascinating. Protest has made Facebook Live come of age just as protest in Iran eight years ago helped embed Twitter.
An unscientific snapshot at the time showed short clips and commentary on Twitter and live streaming on Facebook.
For previous generations the route for moving images was TV news. Now, protestors as well as online media were just filming what was going on. In this case, they look like they were using their own web-enabled devices rather than an outside broadcast truck.
This one stream from Rewire News recieved 1.2 million viewers within 24-hours. You can watch here:
The live experience is different
While the footage viewing back on Facebook Live above looks clean and straight forward the livestream on mobile was also showing a feisty battle in the comments box between those in support and those against. You can watch here:
Mainstream media picked-up the footage
Channel 4 news in the UK picked-up the footage and repackaged it in an edited short news video. You can see it here:
- It’s ephemeral. A day after the live footage was hard to track down on Facebook and on the Periscope Live. Once it’s gone, it’s pretty much gone.
- Your smartphone is like an outside broadcast truck in your pocket. Live streaming is powerful and an instant way to beam pictures so long as you have a good WiFi connection.
- It can spread the word quickly. By plugging into the networks of social media the link with the video can be widely shared.
- The experience live and later is quite different. With live viewing you get the cascade of likes and comments. Looking back later once the broadcast is over you don’t.
- The role for mainstream media is as aggregaters. With dozens of streams and lengthy broadcasts the role of the journalist is to spot, share then aggregate and explain.
- The quality of the footage doesn’t matter... the value is to see what is happening at that particular moment in time.
- The echo chamber still exists. As widely shared as it is it is still likely to be shared within a network of like-minded people.
- The corporate comm, policy maker and emergency planner needs to keep man eye on what is going on. Live insight is needed to help shape decisions.
- There’s a lesson from history. Public mood turned against the Vietnam war after protests at Kent State University saw protestors killed. What happens next will be interesting to see.
- Crisis comms and emergency comms need to take account of Facebook Live – and Twitter’s Periscope in their forward planning.
Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.
There’s been a trend for story telling by video that packs an emotional punch.
There’s been a second trend of students making ads in the style of these. The lad who made the pastiche John Lewis ad which was so good it was taken for the real think springs to mind.
Another one has dropped into my timeline. It’s beautiful. It’s an old man in a home whose yearning to break free is awoken when he re-discovers his old trainers. You can see it here:
It’s lovely. It’s emotional. But stop. Adidas don’t need the extra help.
So much of what I do is in the public sector.
So, what story telling can be made of things in the public sector?
The child whose imagination comes to life through a trip to the library?
The widower who has discovered a new lease of life through a regular visit?
So many potential stories.
What stories could you tell if you tried harder? And communicated differently?