Testing our response to a social media crisis

Last week a group of DH staff took part in the social simulator organised by Steph Grey from Helpful technology

The idea was to test how we reacted in a crisis, and ready us to be able to respond well in the future should we be unfortunate enough to have to respond to a flu pandemic or the like.

The simulation took place in a private safe environment including online. A crisis broke and the team responded, mainly on (simulated) social media.

We pulled together a team consisting of press, a speechwriter, private office, comms and digital.

When we first decided we were going to run the session I was a little dubious. I wasn’t sure how we would react. I saw a 2nd world war bunker style room with dim lighting, no air and a frantic unorganised team. Luckily it wasn’t like that, the room was art deco for a start but the team taking part right from taking the very first phone call, were calm and organised.

Everybody played the part of themselves in the real world and tasks were divvied up easily. I have to say being in the same room made this process much easier. We had one player who was based back in the office and they gave feedback that they didn’t feel in the loop.

The afternoon would have run very smoothly if it wasn’t for the team playing alongside us, simulating the crisis. They played the roles of stakeholders and the public. It was their task to ask difficult questions in phone calls, not respond to the questions we asked them on email, and generally give us gip on twitter. As a result I think we were tripped up more than a few times, mainly around the consistency of our messages and people getting confused.

I think everyone taking part in the afternoon got a lot from it. For me, I found the most value in having the freedom to respond to questions that I might naturally avoid on twitter and guage how people respond. Even if this is just sending a holding message, it was better to respond than not.

I also learnt a lot from watching colleagues in action who I don’t normally sit with – watching lines to take being written and agreed in seconds, when I was still trying to get my head around the situation, was pretty impressive. Although it wasn’t our main objective, the afternoon was a great team builder.

What the afternoon really did highlight was how easy being in the same room made responding to the situation as it unfolded. In the real world this isn’t the case, the department is currently spread across three sites in London alone.

This did give us the feel of what a crisis room is like.  But the next step might be testing how a simulation works with people playing from their desks (IT permitting!).

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