PR, as in public relations, is an art. Over the last few days I have been watching Wang Yongping (王勇平) addressing the Chinese press on the bullet train crash. On one hand, I feel bad for him, for he was genuinely trying to relay facts. On the other hand, I thought he really bungled on certain issues which created controversies that shouldn’t have been in the first place. For example, his ‘I believe it’ comment on the burying of D301’s head should instead simply be that was what he was told and he would find out more. It indeed turned out to be a safety and rescue consideration. Since the rescue team would have details of the circumstances, his job should have been to set expectations and get the press to wait, not speculate, until details emerged.
I put the below diagram together because I think social media is ever more important, and false information in it has to be cleaned in order to let truthful and helpful information propagate.
In a crisis such as this train crash, the public naturally has many concerns. Information from various activities will need to be reported in a timely fashion; rescue, root-cause investigation, connecting victims with families, and so on. Such information are represented by “1” in the above diagram.
With the advent of the Internet, and especially with services like Weibo, individuals can now be a very powerful source of ‘news.’ Rumors and lies can spread equally fast. Roland Song of ESWN has recently translated some exposed rumors and lies. A CCTV panelist said the Ministry of Rail was too slow in reporting names of those died. As it turned out, the ministry was releasing names only after identified by families or relatives, and in the case of no recognizable bodies, DNA testing would have to be completed first.
Incredibly, once names were published, some scammers even tried to trick relatives of victims to wire money pretending for medical care. Wenzhou area hospitals treated those injured, and in cases like this, it is more likely the Ministry of Rail or the insurance companies will be billed some time in the future for hospital expenses.
‘News’ (truth or otherwise), where the population is the source, are represented by “2” above. Foreign media or political oppositions could be sources too. (This diagram is not mean to be complete, only to illustrate a piece of the over-all puzzle. The images are only meant to show the various parties.)
Since the Spokesperson already has the eyes and ears of the media, he can use that same route to squash false rumors, especially ones spreading fast. If the public is told by media certain rumors are false, they will first of all not share, and many will in fact help counter. “3” represents what is most popularly being discussed and shared by the Population. Concerns derived from that should be addressed at the next press conference.
Hence, “1,” “2,” and “3” really make for a loop. Great PR must treat this loop as an organic system until the crisis comes to proper closure.
July 31st, 2011 at 18:32
See jxie’s tabulation below. The point is obviously not to make an excuse for this accident. Before retards try to indict the Ministry of Rail as if it is out to disregard the Chinese life, they ought to bark at the Japanese and German governments first.
I just tag along the latest post on the train accident…
Here are the stats on deaths per trillion passenger-km, for the 4 countries I computed for, based on the latest commonly available data for the most recent decade:
* France: 21.90
* China: 24.91
* Japan: 45.62
* Germany: 50.44
A few notes:
* The railway-related accident death numbers came from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rail_accidents_(2000%E2%80%932009). I took the 8/01 to 7/11 data, which is least favorable to China since there was just a new accident in China.
* I didn’t include accident deaths caused by the likes of terrorist attack, and acts of god, such as earthquake, because those are not the railroad operators’ fault.
* I included all railroad deaths, not just deaths on one specific type of railroads.
* For China alone, I also performed quite a bit Internet search to make sure the Wiki pages covered all accidents with fatalities happened in the last decade.
* The passenger-km numbers came from http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IS.RRS.PASG.KM/countries?display=default. The data I use is for year 2000 to 2009. The passenger-km data for 2010 is available on China, but not other countries. Since China’s passenger-km number grows much faster than other countries, again, my computation is least favorable to China.
* I tried to compute data on Taiwan and India, but gave up. For Taiwan, the passenger-km data is incomplete — but if I project the latest data to the prior decade, the death per trillion passenger-km is MUCH higher than the 4 countries. For India, I quickly realized that there were so many accidents and some of the causes were quite dubious, and the total death count is hard to compute. But regardless, India is MUCH worse than Taiwan.
Draw your own conclusion.