Power of Community and Gaming Principles: Challenges and Opportunities for Strategic Communicators Guest Blog Post by Karen Freberg

Mobile devices (ex. smartphones and tablets) are equipped with social media applications that allow crisis communicators the opportunity to create, curate, and disseminate information to impacted stakeholders during a crisis. This information can be shared through visual (photos and videos), textual (press releases and statements), or geolocation applications (crowdsourcing capabilities) to reduce levels of uncertainty. To stay current, strategic communications professionals need to be aware of these new emerging technologies and be able to apply them into their current crisis communication practices.

Crowdsourcing within Crisis Communications

Crowdsourcing allows individuals to contribute and create information surrounding a topic or issue and upload the results to a centralized location. Crowdsourcing evolved from the corporate world as companies asked their customers and influencers their thoughts and ideas surrounding a question or issue that was facing the brand in question. Crowdsourcing and mobile technologies are integrated together in new media communication practices. A recent example of B2B crowdsourcing practices can be used in a formulation of areas of research and contest-driven marketing campaigns.  One example recently has been how McDonald’s and Razorfish created the crowsourcing campaign in Germany to celebrate its 40th Anniversary.  The “Mein Burger,” focused on encouraging others to create the first crowdsourced burger in Germany.

Smartphones and tablets have allowed users to be connected through the Internet by way of various apps or web browsers. Mobile devices have allowed individuals to be able to generate information shared with an individual person or with a mass audience group through this communication platform.  One of the classic uses of crowdsourcing within a crisis situation was with Ushandi.  Ushandi is an online project that allows users to send information pertaining to a crisis (ex. updates, geolocation information, photos, and videos) to a centralized location online.

Gamification & Crisis Communications

Gamification principles being implemented for emergency situations and preparedness is SF Heroes , which was created by the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management in partnership with two companies specializing in gamification technologies and platforms. Another example of gamification related to risk is the U.S. Department of State’s brand new social media gaming contest, which tests ways social media and open source data can be used to track terrorists and locate missing children. Tag Challenge, the social media game, will be (was) played by people in Washington D.C., New York, London, Stockholm, Sweden, and Bratislava, Slovakia on March 31, 2011. Gamification inspired crisis training also provides feedback to the organization about how effective their crisis team would be in a given situation, which would provide them with the evidence they would need to adapt and reassess their team members. Since this technology is coordinated with mobile devices, crisis communicators can bring their training with them on the go.


As emerging technologies become integrated into daily social and business communication practices, these emerging tools and specializations need to become a focus of discussion within risk and crisis communication. These specializations should be incorporated into risk and crisis communication training, education, and simulation exercises for practitioners.

In addition to having access to real-time information about a crisis, audiences involved in this situation would also have the power to create, collaborate, and help others, leading to a sense self-efficacy and of control over their actions in this highly tense situation. Crowdsourcing practices in particular would allow users to attain a sense of control through helping others virtually, while reducing the efforts by the crisis communicators and first responders on the crisis scene. Gamification within mobile technologies for risk and crisis communication professionals can open a window of opportunity as well raising some challenges.

Challenges such as facing a rapidly evolving communication medium, the 24/7 pace mentality of communication via digital platforms, and risks associated with the lack of understanding or time to formulate policies can raise concerns regarding these new technologies. Yet, these challenges can be addressed by communicators if they view these issues as a chance to explore mobile devices to educate themselves and gain first-hand with these emerging technologies.


Karen Freberg is an assistant professor in Strategic Communications at the University of Louisville and also is an Adjunct Faculty member for West Virginia University in the Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) Graduate Online program. Her research areas are in public relations, social media, and crisis communications.  She writes on these topics on her blog titled Karen’s PR & Social Media Blog (www.karenfreberg.com/blog) and on Twitter (@kfreberg).




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