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.
If 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.
In 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.
It 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.
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Social media complicates crisis communications, especially when an expert is pitted against alarmists and detractors on social media. Crisis communications and crisis management get more difficult when the social media alarmist is a celebrity.
Donald Trump has taken to his Twitter account to say that people with Ebola should not be brought to the United States. His assertion detracts from what I think has been a brilliant job by the medical community to provide media training for doctors and physicians, while having a plan to manage crisis communications about the outbreak.
Doctors and physicians trained as spokespeople to be interviewed by the media have gone to great lengths to discuss the layers of protection put in place to keep the Ebola infection from spreading as two ill health workers were flown to the United States for treatment. The messages in the media have served to calm fears in a country where conventional wisdom or logic might lead one to believe Ebola could spread quickly in the U.S. if infected patients are intentionally brought here.
In a crisis, you must:
1) Plan and write your messaging on a clear sunny day
2) Be ready to turn on a dime if those who disagree with your message start to get traction.
The safety message is one that clearly needs to be written and approved long before it is never needed. Good crisis communications should be judged by how well you prepare on a clear sunny day and not how well you wing it in the heat of the crisis.
Twitter sadly gives visibility to detractors. In this case, Donald Trump, with 2.65 million followers, has tweeted these 3 tweets:
“A doctor on NBC Nightly News agreed with me-we should not bring Ebola into our country through 2 patients, but should bring docs to them.”
“Doctors have already died treating Ebola. We should not be importing the disease to our homeland.”
“The bigger problem with Ebola is all of the people coming into the U.S. from West Africa who may be infected with the disease. STOP FLIGHTS!”
What would you do if this happened to you? What expert advice would you give to your employer or client?
Donald Trump is notorious for picking fights and escalating a situation, so the medical community has to proceed with caution before fighting back on Twitter. Sometimes, the proper way to address crisis communications on social media is to respond in kind through the same social media channel. Yet that isn’t necessarily true on Twitter, nor is it true with a Donald Trump type celebrity who has a huge, loyal following who agrees with his political philosophy or agenda d’jour.
In a crisis, your communications to a detractor can easily get ugly. You have to harness the proper amount of cutting pith, while not letting it cross the line into overt anger. You must carefully zero in on your key detractor, yet carefully avoid turning it into a personality battle.
In social media, when the detractor has a huge ego, a huge budget, and a huge following, you have to consider how your response might positively or negatively escalate the war of words. You must consider whether escalating the war of words will get your message out to the world more effectively or whether it gives greater visibility to the negative comments of your detractor.
The message the medical community needs to convey is this:
“As experts in medicine, we are able to gather the top experts in disease prevention to both quarantine ill patients, as well as to take steps that may save their lives. At a time like this, we call on everyone to let the experts do what they do best, while ignoring the non-expert publicity seekers who deal in fear and not facts.”
This crisis statement could be written many ways. Often it is the editing fight and parsing of the words that makes a statement stronger, yet sometimes the editing delays the speed at which the message reaches the intended audience while making the statement weaker.
The crisis statement does not name Trump specifically, but has a bit of a bite with the phrase, “…the non-expert publicity seekers.” My guess is 50% of you would want to leave it in and 50% would want to take it out. I’d leave it in.
Media also love a good compare and contrast quote. This crisis statement clearly separates medical experts from fear mongers.
I would never advise taking this fight to Trump on Twitter. I would, however, get this message to all media outlets and specifically to all medical correspondents and all media facilities. Keep in mind, local media are interviewing local doctors at local hospitals from New York to New Orleans. In a crisis like this, you want an army of experts on your side.
The hazard of posting a 140 character version of this message to Twitter and Facebook is that these social media platforms tend to attract more non-expert publicity seeking fear mongers. My expert advice would be to post the message to your secure website, then send direct tweets to the media with a link to your official statement. Your direct message would say, “Ebola infection update (add your link)”
Trust me, you’ll get your message to the media. If you have the overwhelming urge to use your Facebook and Twitter, you might post the identical link. There is some safety in not posting the “fighting words,” but to post a calming link.
This may also be a good time to create a YouTube message. YouTube allows the emotions of the speaker to be displayed through both the visual elements and the tone of their voice. However, YouTube comments and shares may get ugly as well. But, if someone shares your video with a negative comment, the person who sees the video may be persuaded to your side.
In a crisis, there are many challenging decisions to make in a short period of time. My hope is that you are a bit stressed out right now. That’s good. Imagine if you had to fight this fight in real time? Imagine if you had to come up with all of this logic on the fly? Imagine if you had to fight with a room full of executives who disagreed with your approach?
A great way to manage your crisis communications and crisis management team in a crisis is to hold frequent crisis drills that play out a scenario with this level of complication. You should have at least one crisis communication drill each year and every drill must have complicated twists and turns of social media embedded in them. I pride myself on making drills so realistic that spokespeople cry. Occasionally we have to call a time-out because an executive is clutching his chest because the scenario is so realistic and the stress is so real.
Are you ready to deal with a crisis this stressful?
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One of the greatest problems in crisis management today is a lack of consistent definitions and names for the various plans needed by a business. You may read this and recognize you don’t have what you need.
Many companies have a document that they call a “Crisis Plan.” What they actually have is a rudimentary public relations 101 outline that will fail them in a time of crisis. It does not contain the elements needed to communicate honestly and rapidly when adrenaline is flowing and emotions are high. Since 2005 I have been sharing links to copies of such plans that I have found on the internet, as I admonish companies that such a document is a recipe for disaster. Sadly, this is the same type of document used by Virginia Tech on the day of their shooting.
Other businesses claim to have a Crisis Plan, which might better be defined as an Emergency Operations Plan, Incident Command Plan or NIMS Plan. Such plans coordinate police, fire, EMS and rescue. Generally these plans have no communications instructions in them as it relates to communicating with the media, your employees or other key audiences. Hence, when news crews show up at the scene, responders and executives are thrown for a loop and caught off guard. Some of these plans make provisions to communicate via text messaging, but they fail to provide all of the communications systems provided by a true crisis communications plan.
Crisis Communications Plan
A Crisis Communications Plan is a step-by-step manual that tells you what to do, what to say and when to say it. All decisions are made on a clear sunny day when you are of sound mind and body — free of the adrenaline and emotions that exist on the day of a crisis. Pre-written news release templates are created for a wide variety of crisis scenarios. When the crisis strikes, communications can happen rapidly because of the fill-in-the-blank format of the templates. The goal is to communicate with critical audiences, such as media, employees and others within one hour of the onset of the crisis.
What You Can Have Completed in Just 2 Days
Next week in New Orleans you can have the correct plan – a Crisis Communications Plan – and you can have it completed in just two days. The system I’ve created is designed to be so simple that if you can read, you can execute the plan. You do what it says to do on page one, and then turn to page two. You do what it says to do on page two, and then turn to page three and so on. Its sequential instructions make it thorough, yet easy to use.
When the time comes to write and issue a news release, you simply turn to your library of pre-written news releases. Within minutes you are able to share the news release with the media, post it to the web, e-mail it to employees and other key stakeholders, and post messages on social media directing people to your website for official information.
Why Communications Often Fails During a Crisis
It takes a lot of time to write a news release from scratch, and then get it through the approval process of executives and the legal staff. My system works because it uses pre-written templates that have been approved by leaders and the legal staff. The messages have also been tested during a crisis drill. On the day of the crisis you simply fill in the blanks of the who, what, when, where, why and how and you are ready to communicate honestly and in a timely manner. Often timely communications is a matter of life and death.
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For three decades I’ve used the sarcastic mixed metaphor, “If a tree falls in the woods and it is not caught on video tape, is it news?”
Never has this been more true than in today’s camera phone and social media sharing world. In the world of news, print can tell any story, but television is a visual medium built around video, which conveys so much more than traditional news stories in print.
Being a television news reporter for 15 years made me very jaded. Stupid trends that I could not reverse from inside the newsroom lead to me resigning from my first career and beginning my second career in media training and crisis communications. If I were in the newsroom today, I would be fighting against elevating non-news worthy events to newscast status simply because a video was distributed on YouTube.
Disturbing news trend #5 answers my sarcastic question with a resounding “yes.”
If there is video available, the subject matter becomes news on television. If there is no video, the event gets no television news coverage.
What makes this trend especially disturbing is that many non-newsworthy events get elevated to news status and a place in the television news broadcast.
A case in point is an event on March 31, 2014, when a sailor in a yacht race fell off of his racing yacht in high seas. A rescue ensued, which really isn’t newsworthy. In a race in high seas, a sailor falling from a yacht might be almost expected. But because the humanity of the rescue in the fierce seas was all captured on video, the story received news coverage for nearly five days.
Clearly, without video, this story would not be reported by a single television news outlet.
So how does this affect you if you are in public relations and communications for a corporation, non-profit organization or government agency?
First, you are under more pressure than ever to make any event you want to publicize a visual event. If the media doesn’t cover your event, record your own quality video to send to the media. With fewer people watching television news, advertising revenues are falling. This results in tighter budgets and fewer reporters and photographers to potentially cover your event. Note: Your video has to be compelling for the media to use it.
Next, taking your own video can be an effective part of your crisis communications strategy. Send video to the media taken from a unique vantage point that the media might not be able to have. Video taken from a unique location or of events that occur before the media arrives can help you control the message and the accuracy of the media’s reporting.
But also in the realm of crisis communications and media relations, you must realize that if an employee or eyewitness captures a compromising video of one of your executives, employees, or a mishap, it could be featured on the news. Hence, you must be prepared with your crisis communications plan to know how to respond quickly to any emerging crisis. Your crisis communications plan must be able to move at the speed of social media and not at the slow pace of traditional corporate communications.
If a tree falls, and the tree belongs to your employer, and it is caught on videotape, it could very well become news.
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It is difficult to control what gets said on social media during a crisis. Often, the misinformation that is spread rapidly on social media causes panic and potential harm.
Let’s look at a case study of Twitter gone bad when it hits the fan. When the Virginia Tech shooting occurred, Twitter was just at its launching point and was therefore not a factor. But in 2009 there was a gunman reported on the campus of the University of South Florida. Thank God the situation did not escalate into an actual shooting, because as you will see, Twitter has the potential to create chaos, fear and confusion.
When the gunman was first reported, the school used their text message system to notify students of the potential danger. Those text messages became tweets, which were re-tweeted in an endless cascade. The cascade of tweets reminded me very much of people who want their 15 minutes of fame when they are interviewed by traditional media. People long to be important and a re-tweet makes them feel good, feel smart and feel like they are making a difference. But with each passing minute they were doing potentially more harm than good.
When the all clear was given, it was sent to Twitter. But for the next few hours, tweets and re-tweets kept telling students to take cover because there was a gunman on campus. The university had lost control of the message and the rumor mill was hard at work.
To the university’s credit, they were using one of the platforms that I always suggest using, which was their official website. To their credit, they were using Twitter to both tweet the all clear and to include a link to the official website.
Since every company is vulnerable to mass shootings, part of every organizations crisis communications strategy should be to have software that can be automated to constantly re-tweet your all clear message. Applications such as Tweet Adder allow you to type in a message and schedule it to be re-tweeted as many times as you like and as frequently as you like. This means you can type in an all clear message, complete with hashtags for the event and a link to your official website. If you program it to tweet every five minutes, you will essentially be outshouting those well meaning people who think they are helping when they erroneously tweet a shooting is still under way.
Add to your to-do list to set time aside to discuss the damage that cascading re-tweets might have during your crisis. You also need to discuss how you will cope with this problem. Also, take time to download Tweet Adder or similar software, then learn to use it.
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Your parents probably taught you there is a right place and a wrong place for everything. That is true for crisis communication and for social media.
Many Gen X & Gen Y communicators think the bulk of their crisis communications can be done exclusively through social media. I disagree for many reasons. In a previous article, we identified the generation gap that indicates many people in your audience, and even your own company, don’t use social media.
In order for you to understand my prejudice and point of view, you need to know that I’m a control freak. When “it” hits the fan, I want you to control as many variables as you can. That means you need to know your audience and know where to find my audience.
I read a blog post recently about a small coffee shop that was being challenged by their local health department because they allow dogs into their store. The coffee shop successfully used Twitter to reach their customers for support. This is a very low level crisis and the fit is right. Most crises I deal with are far greater.
Even in the case of the coffee house, I would be using other communications tools first. I would be using my website, my e-mail list, a video on my website… all things I have direct control over. I would conduct an Ambassador Training class for my staff. Ambassador Training is a system I pioneered many years ago that is similar to Media Training. It teaches employees how to properly talk about a negative issue with customers. In a crisis, word of mouth is important.
Social media channels can be good tools for ambassadors and employees who support you, provided the audience is of the right age group. In the end, social media is one of many tools to consider and it is not, be default, the highest priority tool.
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As we examine the leadership gap, the generation gap, and shiny new object syndrome, let’s note that in many cases, in the world of crisis communications, social media can be a greater source of bad than good.
The fact that a citizen can post a picture of a plane crash before the airline knows about it is not good. The fact that a student is broadcasting a shooting to CNN before you even know about it is not good. The fact that your employees are part of a social media gossip loop before you send official communications to them is not good. Now, let us add to the discussion the fact that sometimes, social media is your crisis.
Case in point, Easter Day, April 16, 2009. Two employees at a Domino’s Pizza outlet were bored and started to shoot a video of themselves. One captured the other putting cheese in his nose, before placing the cheese on a pizza he was making. They then uploaded the video to YouTube.
It was an astute blogger who had a Google Alert for the word Domino’s that first saw the video. The blogger called Domino’s headquarters. The folks at Domino’s were not amused and not pleased, and they took steps internally to identify the employees and the store. But Domino’s did not anticipate that this video would become a viral wonder. They underestimated the YouTube audience. So here, we see multiple failings. There is the classic leadership gap, there is decision paralysis, and there is the generation gap.
Earlier in this collection of articles I told you that a cardinal rule of every crisis communications plan that I write is a mandate to communicate within one hour or less of the crisis going public. Obviously Domino’s did not have such a plan, because the one hour mark would have been reached one hour after they heard from the blogger. In many crises, at that one hour mark, depending upon the severity of the crisis, you would speak to any media who have arrived at your site; you would publish something to the web; and you would communicate with employees, via the web, via e-mail, and in severe situations, with an in person meeting.
In the world of decision paralysis, one of the problems is the fear that if the company says something, they may turn a nothing story into a bigger story than it should be. Hence, many companies, often on the advice of both attorneys and the communications department, say nothing. I have never subscribed to that rule and never will. I have successfully defused events that could have become major stories and lead to major lawsuits by bringing the story directly to traditional media. I believe that being pro-active and communicating bad news on your own is your best defense.
Add to your to-do list the need to have a discussion with your leadership and your legal department. In that discussion, you need to ask them under which circumstances they would suggest saying nothing. It needs to ultimately conclude with a decision to speak and disclose your potential crisis in almost every situation.
The system that I have created, using pre-written communications templates, has resolved that situation for all of my clients. This is due to the fact that lawyers get to see exactly what we plan to say, giving them time to approve all of the statements – sometimes months or years in advance.
The Domino’s case presents a to unique opportunity to respond in-kind, meaning respond to a YouTube video with a YouTube video and do it within one hour. Let me explain the magic of this approach. Domino’s eventually responded with a YouTube video, which we will discuss further in a moment. However, inside sources tell me that the general discussion within the organization was that for a company as big as Domino’s, if the story wasn’t on the front page of U.S.A. Today, then there was nothing to worry about.
Wrong! The offending video was posted late Sunday and by Tuesday evening, more than 250,000 people… more than a quarter of a million people had watched the video. By noon Wednesday, just 18 hours later, the video had more than 1 Million views on YouTube. The company learned the word Domino’s was being typed into more search engines than the word Paris Hilton. Domino’s was still thinking that out of 307 million people in the United States, only 1 million had seen the video, which was minimal in the big picture. I At 1 million hits the video got the attention of mainstream media and became a story among all major media outlets across the U.S.
So, what would you do? My answer is I would have had a YouTube video on YouTube within one hour of learning of the event, even if I didn’t know all of the facts. Why? Let me explain.
Rule 1. Respond within one hour or less, but in the case of social media we add a new rule.
Rule 2. Respond in-kind, meaning answer a YouTube video with a YouTube video. If, when you post your video, you use the same key words as the offending video, you can achieve nearly equal search engine optimization. That means that every time someone types the word Domino’s in a search engine, the corporate response would show up nearly as often as the offending video.
Domino’s eventually posted a message from the CEO to the web and they claim it was posted 48 hours after the offending video was posted. Furthermore, they claim this was ground breaking. For the record, I’ve been a corporate Vice President and I council executives on a regular basis as a crisis communications expert. I can imagine what was going on inside the company. Many executives were on Easter vacation and they were attempting to tackle the problem by long distance. People were busy trying to prosecute the employees. People were busy wordsmithing messages; people were massaging words. That’s always such bull.
Just as I shot a 15 second video in my snowy front yard and posted it as an i-Report for CNN with less than an hour’s work, I could shoot a very brief on camera message that says,
“Hi, I’m Gerard Braud with Domino’s Pizza. There is a YouTube video circulating around with two people who identify themselves as Domino’s employees. In the video, they’re doing some pretty nasty stuff in the store. Chances are if you’re watching this, you’re looking for the other video. Let me just say that we’re in the process of identifying the people in the video so we can get to the bottom of this. Our focus now is to find out exactly what’s going on and how we can keep it from happening again. Stay tuned for an update.”
That’s it. That’s all that was needed. I don’t need to see a CEO. Some crisis communications trainers believe you should always send out “the top dog first.” I say bull. Usually the first person I push out the door as a spokesperson is a public relations spokesperson. I’ll send the CEO out later if the situation is severe enough, but in many cases a high level manager makes a good spokesperson, if he or she as been through proper media training.
Add to your to-do list the need to have a discussion with your team and your leadership to establish an understanding of who should be your first spokesperson in a crisis, and how many people you feel should undergo media training so they can serve as subject matter experts in the subsequent hour of your crisis.
I am a big believer that the CEO needs to be busy managing the crisis, especially in the early hours of the crisis, while others serve as the spokesperson. Only in the most extreme cases do I make the CEO the spokesperson, and even then, I generally roll out lower level experts first.
Now, back to the video from the Domino’s CEO. Yes, eventually it was posted. The CEO did a poor job of reading from cue cards off camera. No teleprompter, he made no eye contact with the camera and no, he isn’t someone who can ad lib well. Add to that, the statement was worded as an angry rant and by the time it was recorded, the CEO was an angry person. It was bad, it was too little and it was too late.
The Domino’s head of PR claims in an article published by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), that what Domino’s did was unprecedented and ground breaking. I disagree on several points. I’ve used YouTube videos many times before his crisis, and I’ll share some of those examples for you a bit later. I also live by the rule to communicate in one hour or less… not the Domino’s rule of one week or less. This isn’t rocket science, but it is about writing a crisis communications plan that works, using that plan, communicating in one hour or less, and involving leaders in crisis communications drills annually. Annual drills condition them to the idea that you must communicate quickly and that the CEO doesn’t have to be the primary spokesperson.
One final note on this topic – Every crisis communications plan that I write contains dozens of pre-written templates and your plan should too. Every item the leaders identify in the vulnerability assessment should have a companion, pre-written communications template. On a clear sunny day, when there is no anxiety and you have clarity of thought, you can write 75%-95% of what you would say on the day of the crisis. In the case of a restaurant chain, you would have a document that describes food tampering. When the crisis hits, you’re not looking at a blank piece of paper. Rather, you are looking at a well-worded document that has already been vetted by the leaders and the legal department. You are looking at the same type of template that your leaders would have seen and used when you conducted your crisis communications drill. Spokespeople would be looking at and reading from the very same document they used during their media training class. This system gives everyone the confidence needed to communicate quickly in a crisis.
With that, get your to-do list out. If your crisis communications plan does not contain dozens of pre-written statements for all of the possible crises you could face, then you need to create such templates. If your plan does have templates, you need to schedule a quarterly review to determine if new templates need to be written.
If you don’t know how to write such templates, contact me and we can schedule a writing retreat for your team so that you can quickly fill your plan with the templates you will need.
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Now I want to help you encourage your co-op managers to be better prepared for crisis communications, as well as to better understand social media and where social media fits into your crisis communications plan. My goal is for you to conduct a teach-back, at your electric cooperative, that mimics my presentation with the fan, the jump suits and the silly string. Remember to have a gallery of employees ready to capture the stunt and post it to social media, just as we did. Additionally, challenge your leaders to write a news release on a blank piece of paper, just as we did in the presentation.
If you’d like me to do the same presentation live for your statewide meeting of communicators, managers, and or board members, please call me at 985-624-9976. I’d be honored to serve you.
So you can show your executives how fast social media spreads news about an event, I’ve included a few samples of the Twitter feed about the event, along with photos and videos posted by your fellow communicators. You can search for more online.
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In every crisis communications plan that I write for a client, I have a page that establishes a severity level for the crisis. Traditionally the severity level is determined by injuries and/or fatalities, as well as the speed at which media cover the event, as well as how long the event remains in the news.
I believe all crisis communications plans must be living documents that are updated as communications styles and standards evolve. Several years ago I had to modify the severity levels of my plans to include the impact of social media and how quickly people would begin making postings about a company’s crisis and how long they would remain in the cycle of communications.
Add to your to-do list the need to modify how you categorize the severity of your crisis in your crisis communications plan.
As we explore the generation gap, we must also look at a problem 180 degrees away on the opposite side of the spectrum. One of my great fears about social media is that many Gen X & Gen Y people involved in communications suffer from what I will describe as shiny new object syndrome. In other words, they are enamored with the tools and technology. They treat social media as though it is the greatest communications tool ever invented. They also think social media should supersede other forms of communications. I think that is a mistake.
Add to your to-do list an evaluation of yourself and those around you. Identify whether you or others suffer from shiny new object syndrome. Recognize the symptoms and use the rest of this document as therapy.
I’m especially harsh on Twitter because I think a big part of Twitter’s popularity comes from the fact that people who were not part of the original launch of MySpace and Facebook were afraid they would be left out or left behind. But according to PEW Research,
As of December 2012, only 16% of online adults say they use Twitter.
Once again, I’ll say that all social media tools are part of a mix. In certain crises, there are high value listeners on Twitter, including a lot of people in the media. A direct tweet to a reporter at just the right time can significantly impact the coverage a story gets.
Another fear I have is that the shiny new object syndrome affects younger communicators the most. Because they and all of their friends tend to use these tools 24/7, they perceive that the entire world is likewise using them. We might also note at this point that the mainstream media are trying very hard to use social media and that they too may be suffering from shiny new object syndrome.
If you pull back the curtain, the media are using these tools as a way to reach the younger audience that they have not been able to reach through conventional publications or TV news broadcast. For the mainstream media, Facebook and Twitter are marketing tools to capture a new, younger audience. The media are fully aware that their older, traditional audience, is not a full participant in social media.
One final thought about shiny new objects – remember MySpace? It was replaced by the shiny new Facebook. These days, as parents and grandparents use Facebook to keep tabs on their grandkids, young people are abandoning Facebook for Instagram. This means that social media continues to be a moving target creating challenges for communicators.
In our next article, we’ll look at crises caused by social media.
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As we discuss social media as a crisis communication tool that allows you to reach your core audience, this is a good time to explore what I will describe as both the leadership gap and the generation gap, that social media presents.
People in leadership positions, traditionally perform poorly in a crisis because it is an out of the ordinary event for which they are seldom trained. They don’t plan on a clear sunny day for the things that will affect them on their darkest day. They ignore the old adage, “If you fail to plan, plan to fail.”
You can rectify this in several ways. If you don’t have a crisis communications plan, include leaders in the process of conducting a vulnerability assessment that explores all the things that could go wrong where you work. As I mentioned in an earlier article, I facilitate many executive meetings throughout the year to conduct such vulnerability assessments. Leaders are often stunned when they see the long list of potential ways that “it” could hit the fan.
So add to your to-do list the need to conduct a vulnerability assessment in a facilitated setting with your leadership team.
If you already have a crisis communications plan, leaders should be trained in two ways; that would include annual media training and at least one crisis drill each year.
Just because someone holds a leadership title, doesn’t mean they have leadership qualities. Among the qualities I look for in someone who has leadership qualities is the ability to manage a crisis. The leadership gap is most often personified by decision paralysis. In other words, leaders are paralyzed by the fear that the decisions they will make will be the wrong decision, therefore they do nothing.
In the world of crisis communications, decision paralysis is personified by people in leadership positions not authorizing or allowing you to issue a statement in the first hour of a crisis. Often, lawyers advise them against saying anything for fear that they will say the wrong thing. My belief is that you must begin communicating something, even if it is only partial facts.
A crisis communications drill will get your leaders used to the speed at which a crisis unfolds and media training will give your spokespeople the confidence to stand before an audience of employees or the media, to let them know what is happening. I’ve seen some remarkable changes among the leaders whom I media train and the organizations for which I annually conduct crisis communications drills. If you fail to conduct media training and you fail to conduct crisis communications drills annually, you can expect your leadership team to fail you during your crisis. You can expect your leaders to fall back into decision paralysis. Think of it this way; a great athlete practices constantly and has great coaches. Well, your leaders likewise need to practice and have great coaches in order for them to perform well when they need to.
This brings us to the generation gap. We’ve already established that in the world of traditional media, leaders are slow to respond and issue statements. In the days of traditional media, when I was a television and newspaper reporter, if a crisis happened, it usually took us about one hour to arrive on the scene and begin reporting. But these days, any employee or any person on the street can communicate the crisis to the entire world in a matter of seconds. Instead of the 24 hour news cycle, we now have the 140 character news cycle. For those new to social media, 140 characters is the maximum message size allowed by Twitter.
Many leaders do not use social media. Many leaders still don’t know what social media is. Many leaders have no idea how fast messages get communicated by social media. Some leaders may have heard of the various outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter. But the reality is, they have no idea what these tools do and how they work.
I’m asked to give keynote speeches at many association and corporate conferences and a few years ago I introduced a new keynote called, Social Media When “It” Hits the Fan. The keynotes give me an opportunity to create a dialogue from the stage with leaders as I ask them what they know about social media. Here are my questions and the responses received.
• When asked how many use LinkedIn.com, 10% – 20% usually say yes.
• When asked how many use Facebook, fewer than 15% usually say yes.
• When asked how many have watched a video on YouTube.com, about 25% usually say yes.
• When asked how many have ever posted a video to YouTube.com, the response drops to 2%.
• When asked how many use Twitter, the response is usually 1-2%.
I then ask, how many have no idea what I just said and what I’m talking about, to which most hands go up and there is an uproarious laugh.
This represents both the leadership gap and the generation gap. While Gen X & Gen Y employees post comments, pictures and video to social media sites, often via their smart phones, older employees – especially leaders – are oblivious to the far reaching impact of these tools and trends.
In an earlier article in our series, I told you the best research on social media behavior comes from the experts at PEW Research.
As of December 2012:
15% of online adults say they use Pinterest
13% of online adults say they use Instagram
6% of online adults say they use Tumblr
67% of online adults say they use Facebook
16% of online adults say they use Twitter
• 20% of online adults say they use LinkedIn as of August 2012.
At this point, take out your to-do list and place on the list the need to do social media training; that is to say, you need to conduct programs to educate leaders on the impact of social media both on good days and in a crisis.
If you have a corporate meeting planned or if your leaders attend specific association meetings, you can always ask the meeting planner to invite me or you can call me with their contact information. That way, I can help you close the generation gap and solve the leadership gap if you would like my help.
https://braudcommunications.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Logo-white-01-300x138.png00gbraudhttps://braudcommunications.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Logo-white-01-300x138.pnggbraud2014-05-21 03:00:422021-05-20 21:37:59Social Media for Crisis Communications: Social Media for Crisis Communication and the Generation Gap