By Gerard Braud
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.