On 6 August 2011 the fatal shooting of 29-year-old Mark Duggan in Tottenham, by London's Metropolitan Police, set the stage for a series of riots which have since spread to other areas like Wood Green, Enfield Town, Ponders End and Brixton.
Since the start of the riots, officials have been proactive in managing the situation by urging calm by committing to an open and transparent investigation into the shooting. Officials have essentially adopted a theme of legitimacy where they are telling stakeholders that they have a system to ensure that justice will be served. Unfortunaetly, as evidenced by the spreading of the riots, the theme of legitimacy does not seem to be working. Additionally, negative news continue to dominate main stream media and social media accounts of the riots, its devastation and its impact on London.
From a crisis communication perspective, there are 2 lessons which crisis communicators can learn from this crisis – value of a Stakeholder Analysis and the need to push positive news.
Stakeholder Analysis. As I have constantly advocated, a proper stakeholder analysis to identify the conditions, attitudes and attributes of the target audience is a necessary first step in developing an effective crisis communication plan. This is because the target audience's response to the selected theme is predicated on the “vulnerabilities” derived from the target audience's conditions, attitudes and attributes. In the case of the London Riots, current and historical mistrust of authority and recent allegations of biased police actions against the target audience make the legitimacy theme inappropriate at best and a furthing rallying point at worse. In my opinion, the authorities could have adopted an alternate theme of “bandwagoning” by getting key communicators from within the target audience to demonstrate restraint and call for others to follow suit.
Push Positive News. An Internet search of “London Riots 2011” returns endless negative postings. Anyone searching the Internet for news on the riots will get the impression that the riot are inevitably much worst than it is by protraying (a) the riots are out of control; and (b) everybody in the affected areas are against the police. What the authorities need to do is to push out positive news of their own. News of acts of heroism by police officers or stories of citizens banding together to stop the riots. Such postive news will go a long way in balancing cyberspace's portrayal of the riots and in my opinion, will go a long way in helping restore law and order.