NEW YORK: The Boston Police Department has used social media both cautiously and effectively to get information to the public since the bombing at the Boston Marathon on Monday, its former communications chief told PRWeek.
Elaine Driscoll, the director of communications for the Boston PD from 2006 to 2012, said social media helped authorities quickly give information while cell-phone service was down on Monday. Early Tuesday, the department used Twitter to tell broadcast media where to park their trucks for interviews and coverage.
“The Boston Police Department…was able to very effectively use social media to communicate with the public to provide public-safety instructions with necessary immediacy when they might not have had the opportunity to hold a press conference or get that message to the media,” said Driscoll, now director of communications for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
Two bombs, which were fewer than 100 yards apart, detonated at about 2:50 pm Monday near the finish line of the race, killing three people and wounding more than 170. Monday was a civic holiday, known as Patriots Day, in Massachusetts.
Driscoll added that while Twitter enables the police to release information directly to the public and the press, it has drawbacks.
“Unfortunately, Twitter goes both ways in a crisis. It can be an absolute advantage, and it can also be the hub of misinformation,” she explained. “Yes, the city and the police can use it to correct facts, but the thing that can be difficult in an unfolding situation is that the police have to be cautious also to not put out information too quickly.”
While false information made the rounds on Twitter following the explosions, Driscoll said it can be challenging to respond to erroneous facts posted quickly online. Police and other officials urged social media users on Monday to post responsibly because the incident was still under investigation. The Boston PD’s Twitter account has more than 100,000 followers.
In addition to social media, which allowed police to quickly communicate with the press rather than make dozens of calls, Driscoll said traditional press conferences and media availability are “critically important” in crisis situations.
The police concluded its press availability at 8:30 pm on Monday and told reporters where to go for additional information at 9:30 am on Tuesday. Driscoll said that type of definite update is key in communicating with the media.
The FBI has taken over the investigation, but Driscoll said it’s likely that the Boston Police Department will continue to provide information on social and traditional media on public safety issues.
In 2011, Driscoll’s internal communications team at the police department won the PRWeek Award for In-House PR Team of the Year.
*** FROM THE BLOGGER: On a personal note, I welcomed the opportunity to acknowledge the remarkable challenges that public safety communications personnel face when a crisis of this magnitude spontaneously strikes. The advent of social media adds layers of advantage and complexity that are notable. The extraordinary intensity of managing traditional media outlets is difficult to describe and not tangible to viewers/readers who are consuming the news at home. I extend my appreciation to the public safety communications staff including police, fire and ems who worked hard to keep us informed in an unfolding and chaotic situation, providing us important public safety instruction while also sadly tasked with being the bearers of heart-breaking news. ****