Gerard’s Top 5 Tips for 2009 – Day 5 – Social Media Training

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:

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: or at:

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

Best of luck to you in your communications endeavors for the coming year.

Gerard’s Top 5 Tips for 2009 – Day Two – Can We Talk?

Your executives will be talking more in 2009 and so will your employees. With the economic issues we all face, the media and employees will be asking tough questions… perhaps the toughest your executives have ever been asked. And when times are tough, employee morale can go down and employee talk can turn negative, further hurting the organization’s reputation, image and productivity.

That’s why in the first quarter of 2009, I’d recommend 3 types of training within your organization: Media Training, Presentation Training and Ambassador Training.

We’ll talk about all 3 in a minute, but first let’s look at some typical speaking styles to understand why you need these training programs, even if you’ve done them before.

If we look at the 2008 election cycle, we see 5 dominant spokespeople and see 5 distinct styles that you will likely see in your spokespeople. Look at President Bush, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Sarah Palin and John McCain… and to understand my point of view, please put your political views aside and just look at their styles.

Bush is the top guy… like many CEOs he’s very knowledgeable, but is a horrible speaker. His inability to communicate well undermines the confidence people have in him. This happens to many CEOs.

Obama has the natural gift of speaking with great rhythm and style, and he has the ability to inspire and motivate. He could read a grocery list and get a standing ovation. Few people have this natural gift.

Joe Biden is the unfiltered speaker. Like many executives, he’s prone to say something stupid at anytime. He is the proverbial loose cannon on deck. Many executives think this is the proper way to be honest. Boy are they wrong.

John McCain is the classic humble spokesperson. He has an incredible story to tell, but refuses to tell it because of humility. His skills as an orator are good, but could be better. Great stories are a part of great communications. Many executives fail to use stories effectively.

Sarah Palin, like many female executives, has a lot of pizzazz and spunk. She, like Obama, has some great natural gifts as a speaker in front of a crowd. But while her spunk and pizzazz are appealing to many, it also rubs many people the wrong way. Female speakers may also face sexist preconceptions and prejudices that male speakers don’t have to deal with.

Chances are in your organization you have people who can’t put 2 words together, people who are naturally gifted, people who are too humble to tell a great story, people who make you cringe because you never know what kind of stupid or inappropriate thing they will say, and people, who while gifted, might rub some people the wrong way.

Media Training, Presentation Training and Ambassador Training can help you conquer the challenges of all 5 of these communications styles.

Media Training is, of course, designed to help with those difficult media interviews. In a time like this, they can help executives communicate honestly and teach them how to handle negative questions.

Presentation Training is needed to help executives communicate challenges in small group meetings, as well as in meetings with large groups of employees. You’ll certainly need these skills if layoffs are in the cards. Regardless of your challenges, regular face-to-face communications with employees provides a high degree of comfort in uncertain times.

Ambassador Training is a program I designed for mid-level managers and ordinary employees, to help them communicate positively, rather than constantly repeating negatives. It combines some of the skill sets you find in both Media Training and Presentation Training, especially the ability to speak positively and answer tough questions honestly, without repeating negatives.

As an example, imagine this: Your company lays of 500 people and an employee wearing your company logo on their shirt is in a grocery store line. Let’s imagine the person in front of them in line sees the logo, has heard the bad news, and says, “Wow, things must be bad where you work?” Most employees would instinctively respond, “Oh, it’s bad and getting worse.” This type of negative response then fuels the continuation of a negative conversation.

Most employee have told me over the years that they do not want to be a part of that negative conversation, but in their awkwardness and embarrassment, they don’t know how to get out of it. The proper way to get out of it is with a positive response. But the fact is, a negative response is easier and it is more in line with human nature.

If we return to that grocery store scene, a positive response might be, “Well, your heart has to go out to the people who have left, but that means the rest of us need to double our effort so we can be profitable and bring them all back.” If an employee said that, what would happen to the conversation in the grocery store? It would either turn positive or end right there. Negative comments are like throwing gasoline on a fire; it makes it more volatile. Positive comments are like a fire extinguisher; they’ll put an end to the negative fire quickly.

As you propose training for 2009, realize many people may be resistant. Some think if they’ve trained once they know it all. But the fact is, media training and presentation training are not skills that a person masters in a single session. It needs to be an annual program with refreshers.

Also realize that some people will be resistant because they fear they will perform poorly or because they are embarrassed to fail either on a personal level or in front of colleagues, during training. Many will even say that they would rather wing it. Your trainer needs to make sure that training is done in a safe environment, that each participant can see some improvement, and that each participant is predisposed to the idea that training is not a one-time event, but should be part of an ongoing program for personal improvement.

A good analogy to make to your participants is to compare it to sports. Every great athletic performer has coaches and every great executive needs personal coaches as well. Likewise, great athletes don’t become great after a single practice; they become great because they practice daily and constantly try to improve.

And on the topic of practice, your participants in Media Training, Presentation Training and Ambassador Training need to be reminded that they must practice their skills in daily conversations in order to master the techniques of speaking positively, keeping information jargon free and simple, and knowing how to respond positively to negative questions.

Finally, in tight economic times, PR budgets get cut quickly. Be ready to make your case that, whether speaking to the media, to a group of employees, or even in informal public situations, the things your executives say can have a direct impact on your profits and the performance of your workforce. The cost of training can be miniscule compared to its financial benefits.

If you or your executives would like to begin the learning process, they can sign up for my 29-day online Media Training program at Everyday for 29 days you’ll receive a 3-6 minute audio lesson that you can listen to on your computer or i-pod.

If you have questions about how to deal with executives who may be resistant or embarrassed to train, send an e-mail to me or call me via my contact information at

In our next lesson, we’ll look at the role you need to play as a writer in 2009.