In Defense of Social Media

InstagramBy Greg Davis –

[Editors Note from Gerard Braud – Today we have a guest blog from Greg Davis of Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative. Greg wrote this as a follow up to my March 5, 2015 blog about utility companies avoiding a crisis by communicating with customers who take their complaints about high electric bills to Facebook. Thank you Greg.]

For electric cooperatives, consumer engagement remains critical to continued success. Social media allows you to be involved with members on a personal level. Many people view smartphones and other mobile devices as an extension of themselves. They’re connected—and they expect you to be connected, too.

To toss up a social media presence without proper management or trained communications people to guide content is a recipe for disaster; however choosing to avoid social media can prove to be as catastrophic.

The need for electric utility social media presence is best demonstrated during Crisis communication. Social media allows for fast, fact driven, controlled communication. During a major outage the worst thing a utility company can do is not provide regular up to date information with customers. Getting information from traditional media outlets alone is no longer acceptable.

facebook-like-buttonWhen customers see that they are one of thousands currently without power or can see pictures of miles of downed poles and lines that information can greatly influence their expectations for restoration. It can also greatly influence traditional media expectations.  Social media communication during prolonged outages has also been proven successful in deflecting inquiries to the call center and helping improve call center response time. Social media outage information gets shared by other organizations, the media and individuals, all helping your information reach a greater number of people in a timely fashion.

Not to be forgotten are the marketing opportunities, corporate branding and general community outreach.

The social media conversation will take place with or without you. “Doing nothing” has never been the answer to managing your brand. Being actively involved puts you in the conversation. It lets you tell your story with facts and better control of the message.

No matter what you do you will never create 100% customer satisfaction. Someone will make a negative comment on one of your channels. Some negative comments turn out to be a positive, offering the chance to transform an angry customer into a brand ambassador. More often than not your engaged fans will defend you if someone is bashing without a reason. If you opt not to establish a social media presence, your members can still post unflattering things about you online. What’s the advantage of providing a place for your members to talk about you online? It puts you in the conversation. They will establish a reputation for you even if you aren’t out there to share the facts. Your story will be told even if you “do nothing.”

Social Media When “It” Hits the Fan

schock2By Gerard Braud

Why are so many powerful people oblivious to the potent, negative power of social media? Every day there is a new crisis communication case study and today it is from Aaron Schock, who has resigned as Congressman from Illinois.

Schock created his own crisis with excessive selfies and posts on social media, showing him engaged in a rather lavished lifestyle of travel. This raised questions about whether taxpayers were footing the bill for his fun.

Tip 1: Establish guidelines for what should be posted and what should not be posted as an official representation of the corporation and the leadership of that organization.

schock1Tip 2: Review your current social media policy for all employees to make sure best practices are being followed. If you don’t have a social media policy for employees, make it a priority to write one.

Tip 3: In a corporate environment, require that three people concur about an image or post before it is shared on social media. Get feedback from one another to measure positive and negative reaction before anything goes online.

If you have a great social media policy that you’d like to share with your public relations colleagues please send it to me at gerard (at) braudcommunications.com

If you’d like guidance on setting up a system that works for your corporate culture just give me a call at 985-624-9976.schock3

Brand Judgment Day

Racist chantBy Gerard Braud

Judgment day in the Biblical sense is the Godly determination of your fate at the end of time.

We’ve been taught that we do not know the hour or the day of our death or judgment.

But in the world of your brand, your products, and your services, we do know the day and we do know the hour. In fact, we know the minute.

The time is now. Social media and the throngs of participants on social media could be described as the most judgmental slice of humanity that civilization has ever seen.

Last week I watched two national stories unfold that led to a lot of online judgement. The first was the story about the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members singing a song filled with racial slurs. The second story babyswaddled in american flagwas about a photographer who posted a picture of a baby swaddled in an American flag.

[My goal is to interview both the fraternity brothers and the photographer to learn more about their experiences of being judged so harshly and so quickly. If you can introduce me to any of these folks, please call me.]

Swift social media judgment is a rather interesting phenomenon, considering the societal emphasis placed on political correctness. The political correctness movement had its roots in the 1990s.

When you think about it, an entire generation of young people have been taught that a person should not be judged by the color of their skin, or their ethnic background, or their religion. From there it grew into not criticizing someone because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.

Perhaps an unintentional consequence of the political correctness movement is that many people feel compelled to correct everyone else’s speech or behavior. Essentially, people anointed themselves as the police of appropriateness. Individuals became self-ordained. Many attempt to shame the rest of the world into adhering only to thinking as they do and approving only what they approve.

So would this also be true? Would it be true that as the political correctness movement spreads, parents, teachers, and well-intentioned folks enable a new breed of judgment that replaced the kind of judgment they were actually fighting against? Did they endorse and encourage judgment? And was the new judgment harsh?

For a large segment of the population, every day is the day they judge everyone around them. Hence, everyday is judgment day.

About this same time political correctness judgment took hold, talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh began their own breed of judgment. This opened the floodgates of copycat radio shows, which made many older adults also increase their level of harsh judgment and verbal criticism.

As this age of judgment was born, unto everyone was also born the Internet, social media, and technology.

Blogging and anonymous comments on blogs represented phase one of judgment. Phase two of judgment began when media news websites opened their doors to anonymous comments. Then phase three emerged with the birth of Facebook and Twitter.

Specifically to Facebook and Twitter, what could be a platform for sharing joy and goodness has become the trolling grounds for those who judge, hate and comment negatively with gusto. Social media can be a real hellhole for your brand.

The truth is, we all judge and pass judgment with every thought. You have thoughts about the products you buy, services you contract for, people you encounter at work, etc. You also have thoughts about every person you see. Your mind creates a near immediate impression as to whether you initially like someone or not. Your judgment on that may change within moments. You make judgments based on what a person is wearing, their body type, their ethnic background, and what they say.

You are in judgment of others, regardless of whether you have pleasant thoughts about a person or negative thoughts.

But do you verbalize every conceivable thought you have or have you been taught the art of self-control?

Many of us were taught the adage, “If you can’t say something nice about somebody, then don’t say anything at all.”

The political correctness age shifted that to, “If someone says something that is not nice about someone you should correct him or her and put them in their place.”

That is called judging those who judge.

This has all morphed into a self-ordained right to comment on social media about everything in society. I don’t see it stopping anytime soon.

 

Cold Facts About High Bills: Crisis Communications Tips for Angry Customers

electric cooperative high bills gerard braudBy Gerard Braud

Today’s crisis communications tip looks at what happens when angry customers take to Facebook to complain about your company. Complaints on your Facebook page or complaints on a Facebook group page built for and by the complainers is creating public relations problems for companies.

All of us can learn from this perfect crisis communication lesson — It can be found at every utility company, where customers who are angry about their high winter bills and are venting their frustration and anger on Facebook.

Many utility companies do exactly what they should not do: They do nothing.

The men and women in leadership positions at both investor owned electric companies and rural electric cooperative companies have spent decades practicing the art of hope, as in, “I hope this just goes away.”

Hope is not a crisis communications strategy, especially in the age of social media.

However, engaging with these angry customers on Facebook can be problematic because social media is filled with traps.

Trap 1: If you comment on a post that is either positive or negative, it can lead to an exponentially high number of negative responses.

Trap 2: If you comment on any Facebook posts, it sends it to the top on everyone’s news feed.

What do you do?

Solution One: Fix the problem and/or make the anger and hostility go away. The reality is there will never be a refund for electricity used. And chances are, the customer has forgotten that their bill was likely this high during the coldest month of the year 12 months ago and just as high during the hottest month of the year six months ago. But they would rather blame their electric winter storm cleoncompany than to take personal responsibility.

The solution is to manage the expectations of the customer by eliminating the peaks and valleys in their bill by offering an option to have what many companies call bill averaging or bill levelization. It means the customer will see nearly the same amount on their bill every month. Often, it will reduce this month’s $400 bill to an easier to pay $250 bill, which makes the customer happier.

Solution Two: Take the discussion offline. In many cases, the best way to handle an angry customer is to have customer service pick up the phone and call them directly. Customer service is able to demonstrate the type of soothing, personal concern that would be lost on a Facebook post.

Make the Crisis Go Away

The problem with the, “I hope it goes away” philosophy is that the problem will go away within the next two months as spring arrives and many customers use little, if any heating or air conditioning. But the problem will return during the hottest month of the year, then go away, then return next winter.

If you have a solution that can make the crisis go away once an for all, then by all means do it.

Did the SNL ISIS Skit Go Too Far? A Lesson in Opinion Based Crisis Communications

isis 2By Gerard Braud

In the classic sense, it is not a crisis, but there is an underlying crisis communications lesson regarding the Saturday Night Live sketch on February 28, 2015. Social media is buzzing with opinions about whether SNL went too far.

SNL mocked a commercial where a father drops his daughter at the airport as she heads off to fight for the U.S. military. In the sketch, the punch line is that the daughter joins ISIS, rather the U.S. military.

Is this type of humor over the top. Yes? Is that the purpose of SNL? Yes? Do I care whether anyone else things it is funny or perfect? Not really.

The crisis communications lesson here is that people constantly judge. Their judgment gets loud and amplified on social media.SNL

According to the Gerard Braud “Rule of Thirds,” one third of the people will always love your institution or your company. One third will always hate your institution or your company. Then there is a third in the middle that will swing like a pendulum.

If your company experiences a social media crisis filled with the kind of opinions that SNL is facing, you should never try to win over the third that hates you. Yes, Taylor Swift is correct that, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate.” In other words, the one third who hate you, for the most part, will never change their opinion.

Your goal should be to persuade, comfort, and win the third in the middle, while supporting the one third who do love your company.

You have likely been taught that you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

In the world of crisis communications, my expert advice is that you try to please 2/3rds of the people all of the time.

When “It Hits the Fan: Effective Communications for Critical Times

By Gerard Braud

The need for crisis communication has never been greater. The need for speed in crisis communications has never been greater.

Williams ExplosionThe reality is that if you experience an incident that the public knows about, you should be communicating to them about it in one hour or less. The biggest problem with this one hour benchmark is that in a world with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, that is still 59 minutes too long.

Look at this photograph. What do you see? Yes, those are workers running from a fireball as it is still rising. What else do you notice? Yes, when everyone should be moving toward safety someone stopped to snap a picture with a cell phone.

This event eventually claimed two lives and resulted in more than 100 reported injuries.

Williams FB pageWithin minutes of the photo being taken, workers built a complete Facebook page about the event. Meanwhile, the company took nearly three hours to issue the first news release. Other than the time of the event, there was nothing in that statement that was newsworthy or that could not have been written and approved three years before the event. It was boiler plate language. By the time it was released, the media and the public already knew every detail.

When “it” hits the fan in the age of social media, you have the option to control the flow of accurate information by releasing details faster than ever before. If you fail to do this you surrender control of the story to the general public, who may or may not have accurate information.

Granted, human resources needs to communicate with the families of the dead and injured. Granted, lawyers will want to avoid giving ammunition to the plaintiff’s attorney in your statement. Granted, facts need to be gathered by the home office. Granted, state police are acting as the primary spokespeople under a NIMS agreement.

But will you also grant this? The photo on Facebook and the Facebook page are providing more information to the public, the media, and plaintiff’s attorney than the official source is. And NIMS can provide a law officer to discuss evacuations, but a state trooper cannot express the necessary empathy that families need to hear, nor can they communicate the contrition that a community needs to hear.

What should you do? How can you get the upper hand?

Step one is to have an effective crisis communications plan that facilitates the fast gathering of information about any incident, combined with the fast dissemination of the details to key decision makers.

Step two is to have a “First Critical Statement” document in your crisis communications plan. The First Critical Statement is a fill-in-the-blank document that can be modified in five minutes and then posted to your corporate website, emailed to all employees, emailed to all media, read to the media at a news conference if needed, and also used as a link on your corporate social media sites.

(Get a free sample and use the coupon code CRISISCOMPLAN)

Step three is to write a library of pre-written news releases with a more in depth system of fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice options. Such news releases can be written on a clear sunny day, months or years before you will ever need to use them. The goal of the document is to answer every question you might be asked about a specific incident – ranging from fires and explosions, to workplace violence, to executive misbehavior. The pre-written nature of the release allows your leaders and legal teams to proofread the templates and pre-approve them. This saves time on the day of your incident. Usually, the pre-written document can be edited within ten minutes and approved nearly as fast. Once it is ready to use, it can be your script for a news conference, a post to your corporate website, an e-mail to all media and employees, plus a link on social media.

Check your calendar: It’s 2015. Check your computer and smartphone: Social media amplifies everything the public sees or thinks. Check your decision-making: It is time for you to have a modernized fast moving crisis communications plan.

The bottom line is that your reputation and revenue depend upon it.

Crisis Communication & Media Hide and Seek: The ExxonMobil Torrance Refinery Explosion

By Gerard Braud

Where is the ExxonMobil news release for the ExxonMobil Torrance Refinery explosion? An explosion is a crisis, which requires expert crisis communications. The media would expect information on the corporate news release page. Media want it fast and easy to find.

But look what you find on the ExxonMobil news release page – A fluff release about a summer jobs program.

ExxonMobile-#1-No ReleaseReally ExxonMobil?

Oil may have come from the age of the dinosaurs, but public relations in 2015 shouldn’t be prehistoric in nature.

Is ExxonMobil playing hide and seek with their news release?

At the bottom of the ExxonMobil page I found three social media links. I clicked on Twitter and found a statement that I’ve written about before – the dreaded and preposterous, “Our top priority statement.” The Tweet says, “Our top priority is the safety of our employees, contractors and neighbors in Torrance.” Obviously it isn’t your top priority, otherwise you would not have had an explosion with four people sent to the hospital, right?

ExxonMobil-Twitter-TopPriority

Come on PR people: Enough with the bad clichés that you can’t defend. My top priority is to get public relations people to stop saying, “Our top priority.”

The link on Twitter sends me to this news release page, which did not appear in my initial search. Note the time stamp on the hidden news release – 10 a.m. ET on February 19, 2015. Now note the first sentence of the news release – it indicates the explosion happened at 8:50 a.m. PST on February 18, 2015. If there is an earlier release, it is hidden from me.ExxonMobil-2-release

I have to question, why does it take nearly a day for a news release to be posted? This is absurd. This is 2015 and we live in the age of Twitter. No corporation should go more than one hour before a news release is posted. And don’t blame it on your lawyers or your executives. An expert public relations leader must learn to deal with lawyers and executives before a crisis so that your crisis communications can move with haste and professionalism. Your crisis communication plan should be filled with pre-written and pre-approved news releases. Geez!

Even on Twitter on the day of the explosion there is no ExxonMobil Twitter post related to the explosion, yet citizens are posting images and details about the crisis trending on #torranceexplosion.
ExxonMobil-Twitter-Feb18

Now let us examine the news release as ExxonMobil plays hide the facts and details. Compare the ExxonMobil release that mentions an “incident,” to the headlines on Google, which uses words such as “explosion” and a host of descriptors such as “rips though refinery,” “rocked by large explosion,” etc.

 

ExxonMobil-Google

 

While ExxonMobil uses clichés such as “top priority” and “incident,” the NBC Los Angeles website describes, “Crushed cars, mangled metal, flames and a health warning.” Their lead says, “Hours after an explosion ripped through a Torrance refinery, residents for miles around continue to grapple with ash, a gas odor and concerns over poor air quality…”

Something tells me this was more than an “incident.”

 

ExxonMobil-NBC

In a crisis, it is important for official sources to provide official information. It is also important to control SEO. From a control perspective, the corporation should be controlling the flow of accurate information, rather than surrendering to the rumors and opinions for the public.

In the 2014 Fortune 500 list, ExxonMobil is listed as second. Some might wonder if their PR is second rate.

So what do you think about how ExxonMobil manages its crisis communications?

Crisis Communications & Media Relations Strategies for Winter Storm Juno

By Gerard Braud

Good media interview skills, a properly written crisis communications plan, and command of technology will be critical in the next few days as winter weather moves across the United States, especially into the Northeastern states.

Gerard Braud Winter Storm

Click image to watch this video on 12 Crisis Communication steps you should take today

Good crisis communications means now is the time to begin managing the expectations of your customers, citizens and employees. Many of you will experience power outages that may last for days. Let your customers and employees know this through effective communications today.

Transportation delays – from streets to airports and airlines – will be challenging. Let the community know this now. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio began issuing warnings early.  Well done mayor.

Meanwhile in Boston, (and I don’t want to deflate anyone’s fun here, but…) I question the sanity of a rally for the New England Patriots . People need to be getting home before heavy snow and the team should be moving up their departure time to beat the weather.

In your communications to your audiences, be very clear about the pain, problems and predicaments they will face.

#1 Do Not Sugar Coat the News

Tell people exactly how bad things may get. Make sure your messaging is direct and simple. Deliver the headline, give a good synopsis, and then give the details. Write your communications the same way a reporter would write a news story. Don’t overload your communications with corporate jargon, acronyms and politically correct phrases that may confuse your audience.

#2 Do Not Hedge Your Bets With Optimism

You are better off to tell audiences what the worst will be and then be happy if the worst does not come to pass. It is easier to celebrate good news than to apologize for a situation that drags on and gets worse.

Click here to watch Gerard’s video on winter storms

 

#3 Be Ready to Use Every Means of Communications Available to You

Traditional media will be overwhelmed with many stories. If you want to get their attention and get coverage as a way to reach your audiences, do these things now:

  • Be ready to post updates to your primary website
  • Use iPad and iPhone video to record each update and post it to YouTube
  • Send e-mails to employees with links to your website and video
  • Post that same video to CNN iReports
  • Add links to Facebook and Twitter that send your audiences to your website and your video

#4 Media Training for Spokespeople

Anyone who records a video or does an interview with the media should have gone through extensive media training prior to this crisis. Additionally, do role-playing and practice with them before each interview in the coming days.

#5 Be Skype Ready

In a winter storm crisis, media may ask you to do live interviews via Skype. Download Skype to your mobile devices now and practice using Skype. Additionally, all spokespeople on a Skype interview must be properly media trained in a Skype interview setting. Use my online tutorials to help you prepare spokespersons.

#6 Expect a Spike in Social Media Communications

Keep in mind that organizations that often have very little following on social media will see a spike in social media during power outages. As audiences have no computer access they will turn to their mobile devices. Your team needs to be prepared to monitor social media and reply to posts only when it is absolutely necessary. Too many replies to negative comments only lead to more negative comments and those comments keep re-posting more frequently in everyone’s news feed.

#7 Direct Tweets to Reporters

Increasingly, reporters respond quickly to Tweets. I find that in a weather crisis you can get a reporter’s attention faster with a Tweet than with an e-mail, phone call or text message.

#8 Be a Resource

Don’t confine your social media posts to only information about your organization. Post resources that your audience needs, such as locations to shelters, information about emergency supplies, and any other creature comforts they need.

#9 Don’t Be Left in the Dark

Now is the time to review your list of emergency supplies and gather all of the devices you need to power your mobile devices. Devices like Mophies can charge your phones and tablets. Make sure you have batteries and flashlights. If you can, get a generator and ample supplies of gasoline. Gather extra food, water and blankets. Make sure you can heat your work environment.

#10 Rest When You Can

Rest and sleep well before the crisis. Work strategically in shifts during the crisis. Everyone doesn’t have to be awake all of the time. Naps are allowed in the middle of the day.

#11 Victory from Preparedness

Don’t judge your public relations skills by how well you were able to wing it during and after the crisis. Victory is measured by how much you did on a clear sunny day to prepare for your darkest day.

#12 Update Your Crisis Communication Plan

When this crisis is over, evaluate whether your crisis communication plan worked. It should be so thorough that nothing slips through the cracks, yet easy enough to read and follow during your crisis so that it tells you everything to do with a precise timetable for achieving each task. If it doesn’t meet these criteria, evaluate it during and after your crisis, then prepare for a substantial re-write or re-design as soon as this crisis is over.

 

 

 

Ebola Crisis Communication Planning and Crisis Management Planning

EBOLA webinar Gerard Braud

Register Here

Is it too soon to talk about your Ebola crisis communications strategies and plan? A New York based public relations professional asked me that question today. I responded by saying, “Why wait? One week ago no one in Dallas gave Ebola crisis communications a second thought. Today, at lease 14 businesses and government entities have to send spokespeople out to talk to the media about their portion of the Ebola crisis.”

I say start getting your Ebola crisis communications plan and crisis management plan in place now. Your Ebola crisis can crop up without warning. Your crisis could result not only from an actual Ebola case, but from the hysteria of false information about a case.

Crisis communication workshop gerard braud

Register Here

You may own a business, be the CEO or leader of a business, hospital, school, or non-profit. You may be the public relations or crisis management professional for a business, hospital, school, or non-profit. NOW is the time to realize that it only takes one case of Ebola to be associated with your organization for a world of media attention to descend upon you. Along with media scrutiny and hysteria, you will also have to deal with the online social media trolls. If you skip a beat… if you hesitate… if you are just slightly behind the story or the crisis, the institution you are associated with will be treated like a 19th century leaper – no one will want to have anything to do with you. It becomes the ultimate crisis, defined by complete harm to your reputation and revenue.

Examine the case in Texas, in which Ebola patient Thomas Duncan has died at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. The airline, the TSA, the Border Patrol, the hospital, the apartment complex, the sheriff’s department, the patient’s church, the school system, the Texas Department of Health, the Texas Governor, the Dallas County Medical Society, the Dallas County Coroner, and the mortuary that cremated his body are all suddenly players having to communicate about some aspect of this crisis. That means thirteen entities that were far removed from the crisis a few days ago are suddenly thrust into the crisis. Fourteen people, if not more, suddenly need to be a spokesperson about their portion of this crisis. Each suddenly needs a crisis communications expert. Even Louise Troh, Duncan’s longtime partner, has retained a public relations firm to speak on her behalf.

The piece-meal communications I’ve seen indicates that each of these entities are having to develop their crisis communication strategy on the fly. If they have a crisis communications plan, it appears none were updated prior to the crisis to address Ebola. In other instances, it is clear that no crisis communication plan exists, which is the reality for many organizations. And experience in reviewing a vast number of documents that public relations people call their crisis communication plan has proven woefully inadequate. In no way do they meet the criteria of a document that would guide and manage communications in a crisis.

Gerard braud Ebola blog 1

Click image to watch video

Could you suddenly be a small part of this bigger story? You bet.

Are the odds low? Maybe yes, maybe no?

Could that change quickly because of variables beyond your control? Absolutely.

Is the risk high enough that you should invest time and money to prepare? The vast majority of organizations will say no, because they are in denial about how real the potential threat is. Yet it is a fool’s bet to stay unprepared, when the act of preparing can be done quickly and affordably. Furthermore, when done correctly, you can develop a crisis communications plan that will serve you for Ebola, as well as hundreds of other crises you may face in the future.

Is this line of thought logical? In my world it is very logical. I believe in being prepared. Yet experience tells me that this thought process will be rejected by the vast majority of you reading this and the vast majority of leaders and executives who run corporations, hospitals, non-profit organizations, schools, and small businesses. Human denial is a stronger power than the power to accept a simple option to prepare.

“We don’t need to worry about that,” is easier to say than, “Let’s get a team on this to prepare. The chances are slim, but if it happens it could destroy us.”

“Destroy us?” Is that too strong of a suggestion? Well, two weeks ago the Ivy Apartments in Dallas were a thriving, profitable business. Do you think anyone wants to move into those apartments after an Ebola victim has been there? Do you think existing residents will stay? The owners are already feeling the symptoms of damage to reputation and revenue.

Based on my crisis management and crisis communication experience, don’t be surprised if you see the Ivy Apartment complex bulldozed and the land left vacant for a time, all because they were, through no fault of their own, associated with a global crisis beyond their control.

What are the odds? Very small.

What is the reality? Likely financial ruin.

Are you willing to roll the dice if you own a company? Are you ready to roll the dice if you are the public relations expert for a company?

“Better safe than sorry,” is my suggested approach. Yet, “That won’t happen to us,” or “The chances of that happening to us is so small it isn’t worth our time and effort,” is what the vast majority of organizations will think or say.

In the coming week I’ll share more lessons and insight with you. On Friday, October 17, 2014, I’ll host a live discussion via webinar. Sign up for FREE with this link. On November 5 & 6, 2014 I’ll host a workshop in New Orleans that will allow you to create a 50 page crisis communications plan with up to 75 pre-written news releases. You’ll walk out of the workshop with a finished crisis communication plan and the skill to write even more pre-written news releases.

I’m available to answer your questions on this issue. Call me at 985-624-9976.

Gerard Braud

Social Media Complicates Ebola Crisis Communications

Ebola Facebook Crisis video Gerard Braud

Click image to watch video

By Gerard Braud

[ If you’ve come to read this crisis communications post via a link by Agnes, please read my full response and rebuttal to her via this blog update. ]

A glance at the Emory Healthcare Facebook page magnifies the complexities of crisis communications in the age of social media. I’m not a huge fan of social media in a crisis. What I see playing out on Emory’s Facebook page reconfirms my dislike of social media as a crisis    communications channel. As Emory University Hospital tries to save the lives of two health professionals affected with the Ebola Virus, some people hail them as heroes. Others accuse them of jeopardizing the health of everyone in the United States and accusing Emory of doing this as a publicity stunt. Yesterday I wrote about Donald Trump’s Twitter attack on Emory.

Emory FB wide 1If your business or company is in a high profile crisis, the traffic to and the comments on your Facebook page increase. The way Facebook is structured, each time a person adds a comment, good or bad, that Facebook page goes to the top of the newsfeed for everyone who follows the page.

This creates a constant battle of opinions, good and bad, right and wrong, sane and insane.

When Chobani had their yogurt recall in 2013, I warned their social media team to stop trying to fight the crisis on social media. For every positive post from a customer or the company, there were dozens of negative posts.

My best crisis communications advice is to post your primary message on your website and share that with the mainstream media. Next, e-mail the link to all of your employees. After that, e-mail the link to other stakeholders. These are the core people who need to know your message.

If you post the link to social media, avoid comments such as, “We appreciate your support and understanding.” Such remarks encourage negative comments from the cynics who don’t understand your actions and who don’t support you.

Emory Chobani FB Sorry 1In a crisis, people can talk about you on your social media site and they can talk about you via hashtags on other sites. Given a choice, I’d rather not have a history of negative comments on my own social media site. You may find you are better off letting people vent with hashtags on other sites rather than being angry on your social media site. No option, such as this, is set in stone, but it must be considered as an option as a crisis unfolds and bleeds into social media.

Sometimes tried and true beats shiny and new. Sometimes in a crisis, you may find that it is in your best interest to rely on conventional crisis communications tools. It may be better to take your social media sites down completely until the crisis is over. Failing to consider this as a possibility is a fatal flaw. Furthermore, you may get orders from the CEO to take the site down. What then?

I trust that if your core audience needs information, they are smart enough to find it on your primary website. Don’t be distracted from your core audience and crisis response because your are fighting social media trolls. This is especially true for those of you who are a public relations team of one.

Emory FB commentsIt is difficult to Tweet your way out of a crisis. It is difficult to Facebook post your way out of a crisis. It is difficult to get in an online shouting match with idiots.