Nik Gowing on crises and social media

Here is some worthwhile weekend reading.  It is a report by the broadcast journalist, Nik Gowing, published this week by Oxford University’s Reuter’s Institute for the Study of Journalism.

Entitled “Skyful of Lies and Black Swans” it looks at how technological changes and the emergence of what he calls ‘information doers’ (essentially social media) is changing the balance of power between institutions and individuals, with this shift being most evident at moments of crisis.

The paper tends to focus on government and politics in terms of the examples it highlights, rather than corporations and boardrooms.  It is also more on the observational and assertive side of things and rather light on analysis, in terms of really exposing the key new dynamics of the social media space.  However, this is to be expected given that Gowing is a journalist, not an analyst or academic.

I also sense that Gowing himself has not fully grasped the implications of the social media revolution, seeing it as simply an evolution of technology rather than recognising the fundamental breakdown in the relationship between content and distribution that social media represents.  He identifies the effects, but not yet fully appreciates the cause.  He recognises instances of institutional impotence, but not the fundamental shift from institutions to processes inherent in social media.

It is also a shame that the report itself is not more social media optimised – Gowing doesn’t appear to be available to discuss this on twitter, or have a blog for example and there are no links embedded in the pdf.  The opportunity to use this to create a conversation has clearly not been identified! (Update: he is on twitter @NikGowing but not exactly active)

However, minor gripes aside, the real value in this paper is the force with which it makes the point about the level of institutional denial (in governments and boardrooms) about what is happening, together with an identification of the fact that vastly increased speed of response is what crisis management is now all about.  Gowing calls this the Tyranny of the Time Line.

Read it and think about your own crisis management preparation and/or level of institutional denial.

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