Crisis communication resources to help you protect your revenue, reputation, and brand.
Effective crisis communications when “it” hits the fan.
There are blizzards, floods and tornadoes in the news — all signs of a changing season. But you can never tell what season it is based on how Megan Kelly of Fox News dresses.
How you dress when being interviewed on TV is important. News anchors are becoming bad role modes as we hear in today’s BraudCast.
After you listen to the BraudCast, if you’d like to see Megan’s shiny legs and summer wardrobe in the dead of winter, there are many videos available on YouTube.
Here’s wishing that you dress for success,
A hazard of trying to force Social Media into the workplace is that 1) in some companies, many employees don’t use computers at work and 2) where computers are used, their is a huge demographic divide between the online habits of Baby Boomers and the Gen X-Gen Ys. But in today’s BraudCast, I see a sliver of surprising hope that the generational divide is getting smaller.
In 2009 I think you need to introduce Social Media Training where you work. I started teaching Social Media Training for 2 reasons and the classes generally take 2 forms. One form is to teach executives and blog leaders the proper way to communicate in online forums. The second form is to help executives realize that their bad behavior on and off the job can easily be recorded on a video cell phone and posted to YouTube for all to see, doing more damage than an old style ambush interview by traditional media.
For those of you with executives who participate or lead online forums, I’d ask you to ask and answer these questions to determine if you need Social Media Training:
• Does the executive know how to use key messages when communicating online?
• Does the executive know how to handle negative comments online?
• How well do the executive’s comments hold up when they are run through cynic filter?
• Does the executive’s comments ever sound angry, defensive or hostile online?
• Does the executive know the power of a question?
Let me respond to each of these:
Social media, especially participation in a blog, requires a certain degree of rawness. It would be a mistake to fill a blog with lots of PRBS. But at the same time, there is a case to be made for staying on message and guiding the discussion, just as one learns in traditional media training. Blog leaders need to realize that what they say is not a naked conversation, but a conversation that is on the record for all the world to see. Through good Social Media Training you can have the best of both worlds.
Negative comments arise quickly in social spaces. They can be harsh and mean. In conventional Media Training you are taught how to handle a negative question from a reporter. Some of those same techniques can be effective online.
The blogosphere is a very cynical place. Training will help a blog leader, podcaster or video caster look at their own comments from the cynic’s point of view.
Anger is the worst way to respond in conventional media and also the worst way to respond in social media. He who keeps his cool wins, in my opinion. The person who takes the humble position will ultimately gain public favor. Even if you are confronted with anger, the right move is to respond with kindness and respect, to use your training techniques for addressing negatives and to fall back to your key messages where appropriate.
I’ve been successfully teaching that one of the most powerful tools in online response is to ask a question, rather than respond defensively. For example, if someone makes a negative comment, rather than trying to shoot down the comment, ask the other person a question, such as, “could you elaborate more on your thoughts so I can better understand your point of view?” I have found that when they further explain their position, it begins to fall apart and exposes lies, rumors and innuendos. This creates a platform for you to toss out the lies, rumors and innuendos, then explain your position as it pertains to the remaining issues. Sometimes you won’t even have to respond because others will shoot down the lies, rumors and innuendos for you.
These are the primary points to cover for executives who proactively participate in social media.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who don’t have a clue about viral videos and then get recorded on camera behaving badly in either an official or social capacity. I’ve seen countless examples of reputations being destroyed, jobs being lost and irreparable harm being done in such situations.
To give you a few examples, a few years ago at a gathering of U.S. Marines, a Marine leader was giving a hoorah type speech. He thought he was among an audience that was in 100 percent agreement with him and loyal to the esprit de corps. The father of a Marine was video taping the speech when the leader made negative comments about gays. The father was offended and handed the tape over to the media. The media showed the video and the leader career was swiftly terminated.
This scenario points out that leaders need to be admonished that they are potentially being recorded 24/7/365. And while the example I gave resulted in the mainstream media becoming involved, in the world of YouTube those same videos can be quickly posted to the web for the entire connected world to see. Then the blogosphere lights up with comments about the video.
The viral video world also means that some of your official corporate videos are being seen by audiences that you never expected to have access. As you produce corporate videos, you need to run them through the cynic filter and ask yourself how would the outside world respond if they saw this video. A case in point is a video by Ernst & Young. It appears the video was shot at a corporate leadership meeting and then shown at a larger annual meeting. Based on my video experience, it was a very expensive video to produce, complete with a band and “hot girl” lead singer. For the video, the company took the liberty of changing the lyrics of a traditional Gospel song, called, “Oh Happy Days.” Whereas the original lyrics included the phrase, “Oh happy days, when Jesus was born,” the new lyrics said, “Oh happy days at Ernst & Young.” Yes, they took Jesus out. This created an uproar once the video became viral. Wow, good thing they didn’t parody a song of Islam and remove the name of Mohammad. As I first viewed the video, my cynic filter notice that there was only one black person in the entire video and the only Latino or Hispanic individuals were seen working in the kitchen. Additionally, with respect to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who tells us that whites clap on beats 1 and 3 while blacks clap on beats 2 and 4, I noticed that in many respects he is right and that in many respects, many of the people in the video cannot find beats 1 and 3 or 2 and 4. This is especially true for the bearded guy down front who is seen more times than anyone else. I’m guessing he is the CEO. Watch the video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaIq9o1H1yo
In other cases, individuals make fools of themselves in media interviews, only to have the media or a viewer upload the video to the web. In one such example, a county commissioner is confronted by a reporter following a public hearing. When the commissioner is questioned by the reporter, every one of the commissioner’s responses centers around asking the reporter if he knows that Jesus loves him. Such a response was not germane to the question and positioned the commissioner as a buffoon. In years past, such a video would have only been seen 2 or 3 times on the news, resulting in a few days of teasing for the commissioner. These days, the video lives forever on the web for all to laugh at. See it at: http://www.myragantv.com/video/?d=299 or at: http://blurbomat.com/archives/2007/10/10/gotta-love-jesus/
There are also a bevy of blogs that comment about this video.
Recently I was training a client who happened to be a public official. While we were out in public, the official got in a shouting match with 3 people in their 20s. I quickly intervened, because I feared one of them would whip out a cell phone and record video.
The fact is, old style ambush media interviews have been replaced by viral media and most people over 35 years old don’t have a clue about viral media. I see this as one of the biggest threats to reputations and profits in 2009.
Well there you have it, five days worth of information I think you need to know to make 2009 a good year.
If you have questions about any of the things I discussed, just pick up the phone and call me at 985-624-9976 or send an e-mail to me. The address is email@example.com
Best of luck to you in your communications endeavors for the coming year.
Social Media is such a big topic for 2009 that I think I need to cover it in two aspects. Today we’ll look at defining it, determining if and when it should be used, and explore why 2009 may be a great year to add, use or increase your social media. Tomorrow we’ll look at Social Media Training, which includes teaching executives how to behave in a social space, as well as helping them become aware of how their daily actions can become social media fodder.
To start with, social media is not for everyone and not for every organization. Just because you sit in front of a computer every day doesn’t mean that the rest of the world does the same thing. To get the latest statistics on who uses the internet and how, I’d suggest you visit PEW research at: http://www.pewinternet.org/
Their statistics will astound you and make you realize that those of us who use computers every day are freaks of nature and in many ways in the minority of society.
Also realize that:
• social media can be a great internal communications tool
• it can be a great external public relations tool
• and it can be a crisis waiting to happen.
On the internal communications side, there are two things to consider before you try to force feed blogs to your organization. First, determine how many people in your organization do their jobs every day without ever touching a computer. In some industries, this number is huge, which means those employees will never benefit from any Social Media you put in place. Secondly, recognize the generational gap between those who use social media and those who do not.
The generational gap in communications cuts both ways. For example, PEW research indicates that e-mail is an effective way to communicate with computer owners older than 17. However, their research shows that only 14% of computer users ages 12-17 have an e-mail address. Keep in mind that e-mail, as a communications tool, only became popular 10 years ago, but already younger people first transitioned to Instant Messaging and now on to simple messaging via MySpace or Facebook, or via cell phone text messaging. So read the research before you assume everyone has your habits.
I’d suggest that because of the generational differences, you may be able to better communicate with older audiences by traditional means and younger audiences through social means. You may find that blogs and other social tools work well for the under 30 crowd, that traditional websites and e-mails work well for those 30-45, while traditional printed materials are favored by those over 45.
While some organizations are led by outgoing executives who are tech savvy and ready to lead a blog, not all organizations are. If social media doesn’t fit the style of your executives, delegate the blogging duties to a Gen X or Y who gets it. Perhaps consider having the younger blog leader interview executives and field questions for them.
Beyond blogging, I love podcasting and videocasting. I actually use these more than blogs because it fits my style. Just prior to Christmas, the New Orleans area, where I live, was blanketed by an unusually heavy snow. I shot a quick 17 second video greeting in the snow and posted it to YouTube, then filed it as an i-report with CNN. Next, I contacted everyone in my Linkedin.com data base and sent them the video link as a Christmas greeting, rather than mailing Christmas Cards. Throughout the morning I could use the YouTube view counter to see that more than half of my contacts had likely watched the video. Then during the noon hour, my phone began to ring off the hook as people saw that same video broadcast by CNN, using me as an I reporter.
In the past 2 years I’ve been asked to teach lots of in-house corporate workshops on videocasting because I’ve worked in television and video since 1980. I think a great form of social media is to teach an executive how to travel with a point and shoot video camera so they can record 2 minute videos as they travel around the organization, especially if it is a decentralized organization with many locations around the country or world.
In other organizations, executives find it fast and easy to record their thoughts into a digital recorder, then allow their staff to post the recording as a podcast.
Many organizations oppose any form of social media because they are afraid it will become home to a giant bitch session. I address that by having a team of people establish protocol and etiquette for online behavior. Then I suggest that blogs, for example, be monitored so comments can be approved for appropriateness, but without censorship. Additionally, I admonish executives that blogs can give them a window into what employees think and what they otherwise say behind your back at the water cooler. Some executives prefer to blindly think everything is always wonderful. I remind them of the rule of thirds, which says at any given time, one-third of the people love you, one-third of the people hate you, and the middle one-third will swing like a pendulum between liking and disliking you, depending upon what is popular at the time. If you believe, as I do, that you can’t win all the people all of the time, then social media can allow an organization to find out how to win most of the people.
Let’s also take a minute to address ethics in social media. I do not suggest that you write blog entries for an executive, even if you ask them to approve it before it is posted. Social media has a grit to it that needs to be maintained. I do think it is fine for an executive to dictate his or her thoughts to be transcribed for a blog. And as long as dictation is taking place, why not record it as a podcast?
In tomorrow’s lesson we’ll address how to respond on a blog when I talk about Social Media Training.
As to what counts as social media, an organization’s social media participation does not have to be limited to blogs, podcasting, videocasting or a FaceBook style site. Social media can be part of a strong, external communications and public relations strategy. My friend George Wright is a perfect example of how a company can uses social media. In his case, he simply video taped an experiment in his corporate lab, where high powered blenders are tested. Next, he posted the video to YouTube.com. At one point, the video was the 35th most viewed video on YouTube, plus it was shown by major news networks that love to show cool web videos. The video eventually landed the company spots on shows like Jay Leno. And to top it all off, sales went through the roof. The company now has a website called www.willitblend.com
During the 2008 elections, I helped a client by shooting short videos and posting them to YouTube to keep voters and the media informed about election developments. For example, when early voting lines were long and people were complaining, we convinced the elections commissioner to add more voting machines at key polling locations. I shot a short video of the voting machines being installed, then posted it to YouTube. A link to the video was sent to the media and posted to the county’s election website so voters would know the county was on the ball. The video helped eliminate complaints from voters and changed the tone of election coverage by the media. Some media even posted the link on their news websites.
As for YouTube, one way to quickly identify the generational divide in your organization is to ask who is a regular viewer, or for that maatter, who has ever watched a video on YouTube. The response will likely astound everyone in the room, with Gen X & Y’s shocked that the Boomers don’t use YouTube and the Boomers puzzled about what all the YouTube buzz is.
And on that note, let me say that as we address Social Media Training tomorrow, we’ll examine why executives need to be taught about YouTube and how their bad behavior can quickly destroy them if a cell phone video is posted to the web.
One final thought about social media and 2009; if you’ve been advocating it for some time now with no luck, consider that it may be a cost effective way to communicate with key audiences during bad economic times. That argument alone may help you get the green light to proceed with implementing social media where you work.
For 2009 I encourage you to join the legion of followers who partake in a little something I invented called Wordsmith Wednesday.
The reason I invented Wordsmith Wednesday is twofold. First, I hate jargon and there is way too much jargon in organizational communications these days, whether you are with a corporation, government agency or non-profit. Writing with organizational jargon is sometimes easier and faster than writing in a way that the rest of the world can understand. So the first purpose of Wordsmith Wednesday is for you to set time aside to write well and to re-write much of the crap that currently passes for communications.
Secondly, because most organizations have a calendar system that allows co-workers to invite you to meetings, your calendar is constantly filled with unproductive meetings that keep you from getting your work done. Wordsmith Wednesday allows you to mark your calendar to reserve every Wednesday afternoon from noon until 5 p.m. as your time to write. You simply go into your calendar system and block it out beginning this Wednesday and then tell your calendar to repeat it every Wednesday for the next 20 years. That way, when colleagues check your calendar to invite you to a meeting, they’ll see that you are already booked on Wednesday afternoon. Clever, huh?
Now let’s talk about how to spend your time. Writing, especially good writing, is something we all need to do more of. Good writing equals good communications and bad writing equals bad communications.
Good communications should be measured by how well your audience understands what your are trying to say and whether they behave the way you want them to. When I say, your audience, I mean any and everyone who could come to your company to buy your products and services and not just your employees.
When I visit an organization’s website, for example, I often have no idea what the company does because the text contains so much jargon. Usually I find myself asking, “What Does That Mean?” Websites are meant to communicate in a glance.
Jargon filled writing on websites is so bad that it affects your search engine optimization. For example, in a recent writing workshop I was teaching, I went live to Google.com and typed in the word Car. None of the major car companies showed up among the top pages. That’s because they sell vehicles and the word vehicle is found all throughout their sites. Folks at home… customers… don’t talk like that. When was the last time you said, “Honey, let’s go get that new vehicle you’ve been wanting.” Believe it or not, vehicles counts as corporate jargon. Try the same test by searching for the word gas. The major oil companies don’t show up in your search because they are energy companies. If my car is low on gasoline, I don’t tell my wife, “Honey, I’m going to get energy for the vehicle.”
Writers get sucked into the corporate jargon machine way too quickly. And we haven’t even touched on all the stupid acronyms. For a full article called, “What Does That Mean?” visit www.braudcasting.com
To improve your writing, forget everything you know about your organization and try something I call Genesis Writing… as in, Genesis in the Bible, where it starts with the phrase, “In the beginning…”
Go back to the roots of your organization and what it does and start with a large, umbrella statement that covers not just the division you work for, but the entire organization.
To begin, fill in the blanks to this sentence: At (blank) our goal is to (blank).
In the first blank you put the name of your employer. Then, in the big picture of helping humanity, determine what your organization does for the greater good, and fill in the second blank. This is your task for your first Wordsmith Wednesday.
The second blank can’t be filled with jargon. It needs to be less tactical and more lofty. For example, a U.S. company that produces oil, gas and electricity might say, at ABC Company, out goal is to power a stronger America.
I’ve seen organizations debate for up to four hours over what goes in the second blank. Take your time. You have all Wednesday afternoon to decide.
Once this sentence is perfected, you’ll find it is the perfect first sentence for your website home page, the first sentence for newsletter articles, the opening line for every speech and media interview. It becomes your defining statement. It points to your vision, value, mission and belief. It becomes your promise statement. And, with some modification, it can become an important tool in search engine optimization for your website.
On your second Wordsmith Wednesday of 2009, I want you to write a second sentence. To write the second sentence, make a list of the 3 most important, biggest profit or service areas of your organization. In addition, think of poster child examples of these. As an example, if we reference back to the ABC Company, we might say, “At ABC Company, our goal is to power a stronger America. Whether you are fueling your car with the oil from our refineries, heating your home with our natural gas, or lighting your home or business with our electricity, each day we work to be here when you need us.”
So your task is to write that second sentence that gives 3 poster child examples of what you do. The sentence needs to be jargon free and focused on your external benefits to society and not your internal goals. Many of the phrases your CEO uses every day will not work in these sentences. If that is the case, your goal is to write new words for your CEO.
I ask you to limit the second sentence to the 3 most important areas because I want you to be able to use these two sentences as the opening statement in a media interview. In media interviews the spokesperson and the listener/reader remember everything better when clustered in 3s. Think of your 3 issues as 3 branches of a large tree.
The following Wednesday, you can delve into more detail by expanding your thoughts and statements about each of the branches. This is the writing technique I teach in my Kick-Butt Key Messages seminars and writing classes, as well as in my workshops on Writing for Search Engine Optimization. I can only teach a small portion here in this forum, so if you have questions just call me at 985-624-9976.
On other Wordsmith Wednesdays you may wish to tackle strategic tasks, such as writing templates for your crisis communications plan. I believe the best way to prepare for a crisis is to write your plan on a clear sunny day without being in the throes of panic and emotion associated with a crisis. In the plans I write, every possible crisis scenario has a pre-written template. That means there is a template for workplace violence, one for pandemic, one for terrorism, one for executive misbehavior, etc.
Much of what you say in the early hours of a crisis is generic, benign information. If you write it out on a calm day you will be able to communicate faster on the day of your crisis because about 75% of what you need to say is already in a word document. Create fill-in-the-blank spaces for information that can only be added on the day of a crisis. Most of the crisis communications plans I help organizations write have 50 to 100 such templates. Each template takes 2-3 hours to write. That should keep you busy for a year or two.
Writing is like love. Your spouse or children shouldn’t get what’s left over at the end of the day; they should get your attention first. Likewise, writing isn’t something that you cram in between all of your other meetings and projects. It is something that you should dedicate quality time to.
For 2009, I suggest you dedicate time to writing on Wordsmith Wednesday.
In our final 2 lessons, we’ll explore my tips for how you should deal with Social Media in 2009.
For client questions & media interviews