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Ebola Crisis Communications Plan Question: Would an Expert Approve My Plan?

Gerard Braud Crisis Communications PlanAn expert would ask you these questions:

1. Count the pages of your crisis communications plan. If it is 6-10 pages long, it is likely only a list of standard operating procedures and not a true plan. Most organizations have been lead to believe this is a plan. My description is that this is little more than an outline for writing a plan. If your document outlines what should be done, but really assigns those tasks to no one, you have a problem.

2. Could your plan be executed by anyone in your organization who can read and follow directions? This sounds like a strange question, but it is a good test. My mantra when I write crisis communications plans is that is should be so thorough that nothing is forgotten and nothing will fall through the cracks, yet simple enough that it could be read by anyone who can read, and executed by them without mistakes. If your plan reads like a technical manual that is as frustrating as assembling your child’s bicycle on Christmas Eve, you have a problem.

3) What time limits have you placed in your crisis communication plan? At a minimum, the first communication document from your plan should reach the public within one hour of the onset of any crisis. The vast number of plans I’ve reviewed over the years have no mandate for speedy communications. This causes the communicator and the executive team to spend too much time analyzing and second-guessing every decision. Speed is important. If your plan doesn’t set time limits for speed you have a problem.

4) Does your crisis communications plan contain the names and phone numbers of everyone you need to reach during your crisis or does it require you to research and find that information as you execute the plan? Valuable time is lost when you have to stop on the day of your crisis to look up information that you could have looked up and collected on a clear sunny day. If your plan says you should contact a list of people and that list contains only job titles and no names or phone numbers, you have a problem.

5) The magic of a plan is when the plan tells you precisely what information to gather, who to call to assemble a crisis management team, and directs you to a library of pre-written news releases. If you are missing these elements, you have a problem.

Think oCrisis communication workshop gerard braudf Goldie Locks – Your plan shouldn’t be too simple and your plan shouldn’t be too hard. Your plan shouldn’t be too long and your plan shouldn’t be too short.

If you need help determining if your plan is just right, phone me at 985-624-9976.

5 Ebola Crisis Communications Considerations

By Gerard Braud

5 Ebola Considerations Gerard Braud

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Your personality type may decide the fate of your crisis communication response if the Ebola crisis touches your company (or the company for your work for.) On one extreme is the personality that says, “It’s too soon. Maybe we should watch it and wait and see.” On the other extreme are those who say, “Heck, let’s get prepared. I’d rather be prepared and not need it than to be in the weeds if it hits us.”

If one of your employees gets Ebola or is perceived to possibly have Ebola or may have come in contact with an Ebola patient or a place where an Ebola victim has been or has come in contact with a person who came in contact with an Ebola victim, then the crisis now affects you.

Here are 5 Ebola Crisis Communication Considerations:

1) The Need is Real

EBOLA webinar Gerard BraudThe crisis may touch your organization because of a person who is actually ill or because of rumors or hysteria. Either option may really happen, forcing you into reactive communications mode. You’ll need solid internal employee communications and customer communications. You’ll need external media relations. You’ll need to fight the trolls and naysayers on social media. Why not start planning your strategy and messaging now? My belief and experience is that you can anticipate nearly every twist and turn on a clear sunny day, in order to manage effective communications on your darkest day.

2) Ask for Help

Many CEOs and executives hire one person to manage their image. Often they will hire a marketing specialist, never realizing that marketing is not public relations, media relations, or crisis communications. Fearing reprisal from their leadership, some people in our allied fields would rather try to disguise their lack of knowledge rather than ask for help. But in the C-Suite, the reality is the boss wants you to speak up and say, “I need help. This is beyond my level of expertise.” Most people in the C-Suite, while never wanting to spend money they don’t have to spend, realize that getting help from an expert could preserve their reputation and revenue. Don’t try to fake it. That will ultimately cost you your job, as well as the company’s reputation and revenue. Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer to that.” Ask for help.

3) Tie Ebola Communications to Business ROI

Preparing for communications you may or may not need will cost either time or money. It may cost both. But communications preparation can pay for itself.

Here are just a few considerations of doing nothing:

  •  The cost of rumors
  •  The cost of a single case linked back to your organization
  •  The cost of a cluster of cases linked back to your organization
  •  The cost of becoming synonymous with Ebola
  •  The cost of worker illness and lost productivity
  •  The cost of your company going out of business

Communications about precautions is step one. It may quarantine patient zero in your organization and keep the virus and negative news from spreading, saving the company huge sums of money in all of the categories listed above.

Crisis communication workshop gerard braud4) Plan Now

Don’t wait until you are in the middle of your crisis when you are forced into reactive mode. Proactive mode is the sign of a public relations professional. Now is the time to review your crisis communication plan and to determine if it is Ebola-ready. For some of you, now is the time to write that crisis communications plan that you have never written. Now is also the time to write messaging templates for before, during and after an event. Plus now is the time to conduct media training for potential spokespeople and to conduct a crisis communications drill. Response should be planned and never reactive.

5) Be Opportunistic

If you haven’t been able to get a seat at the table or get executive attention in the past for crisis communications, consider this your golden opportunity.

Opportunities to discuss crisis communications with the CEO and the leadership team do not happen often enough. It takes a crisis that hits all businesses equally to sometimes get their attention. The feared Y2K crisis in 2000 caused CEOs to write checks for millions of dollars, mostly to IT experts. Other companies used it as a reason to develop a small part of their crisis communication plan. Sadly, it was usually targeted at only Y2K issues. The H1N1 threat in 2009 once again got the attention of executives to the extent they were willing to give staff time and money to do what needed to be done.

The opportunity for crisis communication planning and crisis management planning is once again upon us because of Ebola. Now is the time to initiate discussions with your executives. It is also useful to seek partners from other departments. Human Resources, operations, international travel, and risk management departments all will need to manage various portions of this crisis. Each are wonderful partners who may already have a seat at the table and who already may have the knowledge and skill to get the time and money needed to accomplish your tasks.

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.

Ebola Crisis Communication Planning and Crisis Management Planning

EBOLA webinar Gerard Braud

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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

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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

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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

Ethics and Honesty in a Crisis

Ethics gerard braudConspiracy to hide the truth is not an effective form of crisis management. Telling a lie is not an effective form of crisis communications.

When those who should be leaders all decide that telling the truth could be harmful to an institution, and hide it, you can bet their bad ethics will catch up with them eventually.

Those with good ethics in the room will often argue their point, yet eventually be dismissed by those in favor of a colorful cover up of the facts.

The men and women who have a strong conscience and need to tell the truth, will disclose to others their dissatisfaction with the final decision. In time, their conscience weighs on them and they leak the truth. Often, in a high profile crisis like the NFL is facing, someone will leak the truth to a reporter. Sometimes it happens in an official media interview. Sometimes it happens in a tip.

It appeared ESPN was on the path to learning the truth about what Roger Goodell and the Ravens knew about the Ray Rice video. Don Van Natta, Jr. of Outside the Lines and ESPN spent 11 days interviewing 20 sources of team officials, current and former league officials, players and friends of Ray Rice. ESPN reported a pattern of misinformation and misdirection by the Ravens and the NFL.

The Ravens issued a rebuttal statement.

I’m waiting to see who is telling the truth.

When you get called in to offer expert advice in a crisis to those in leadership positions, please stand by your ethics. Stand up… and be willing to walk out and walk away from your job when you see a failure of ethics.

By Gerard Braud

The NFL’s Commitment to a One-Year Crisis: 7 Mistakes Causing the Crisis to Drag On

Goodellcrisisgerardbraud GoodellcrisisgerardbraudBy Gerard Braud

What expert would advise their client to let a crisis drag on for one year? I suspect the answer is zero. But the NFL’s failure at crisis management and crisis communications essentially means that the punch Ray Rice threw on Valentine’s Day 2014 will have repercussions through February 14, 2015. Here is why and here is how you can keep from making similar mistakes where you work.

1) Failure to fully investigate the Ray Rice case, or a willful attempt to hide all of the facts by officials in the NFL and/or the Ravens, have already caused this crisis to drag out six months longer than necessary. Speed is always your friend in crisis management and crisis communication and it should be a vital part of your written plan. As TMZ pointed out with their video and through their questions at the recent Roger Goodell news conference, it wasn’t very hard to get the facts and evidence.

2) Failure to do the right thing the first time will always haunt you and will cause the crisis to reignite. Just think about it — the Ray Rice case could have been finished by March 1, 2014. Here we are approaching October 1, 2014, and it is still front-page news. This is unacceptable and unprofessional. This demonstrates the NFL doesn’t have a crisis management or crisis communications plan that they follow. This demonstrates that the person at the top lacks true leadership qualities because a good leader would not allow the organization’s brand, reputation, and revenue to be tarnished over eight months.

3) Failure to do the right thing the first time and the eventual re-ignition of the crisis causes the media and others to ask, “What else might we not know? What might they be hiding? What don’t they want us to know?” Those were the questions I asked when I was a reporter. Once a reporter starts digging, it is like pulling a thread on a sweater – eventually it all unravels. The unraveling in this crisis is the additional focus. Scrutiny and penalties have been placed on other players who were previously not clumped in with the Rice case, but who have their cases tainted because of poor crisis management and flawed executive decision making.

4) When the threads unravel, it becomes safer for those who are holding secrets to come forward. This is what led to the ESPN report alleging the Ravens knew everything about the Rice case and allegations that the Ravens worked to have Goodell go easy on Rice. Although the Ravens refute the ESPN report, you can bet ESPN is doubling down on their investigative reporting. As a result, don’t be surprised if this crisis reignites again very soon.

5) Goodell made a further mistake by announcing that by the Super Bowl in February 2015, committees will make recommendations about the consistency of punishment for players and will report on the true status of domestic violence among players. This means Goodell is tainting and overshadowing Super Bowl coverage with an extension of a negative story. This is just dumb. This is intentionally stretching out brand damage, reputational damage, and revenue damage. No smart leader would tie a crisis-related deadline to the most high profile day associated with your organization.

6) Saying you got it wrong is a start, but it is not enough. The reason it is not enough is because there is no plausible reason to have gotten it wrong the first time. Furthermore, throwing money at anti-domestic violence organizations appears to be an insincere act of desperation and diversion. Also, the cynical minds in the audience believe Goodell and team owners, who used the “We got it wrong” line, were really saying, “We got caught and we regret that we got caught,” not doing the right thing, for the right reasons, the first time.

7) Trust is lost when bad decisions are made in the beginning, when flip-flops happen months later, and when the crisis is extended by bad decision-making. When sponsors drop their sponsorship, it means they have lost trust. When customers spend less on merchandise and are less likely to watch games, the lack of trust is amplified. Don’t forget your loss of trust with employees. In this case, Goodell has lost the trust of players.

A few weeks ago when this crisis became front-page news, I called for Goodell to be suspended for one year. This was for the same reason he suspended Saints coach Sean Peyton for a year, based on the concept that the leader should have known what was going on in the organization.

But in light of the seven items outlined above and Goodell’s failure to show leadership in managing and terminating this crisis, my professional advice to the team owners would be to fire Goodell. He has hurt your brand, your reputation and your revenue. Surely there is someone else who can do a better job this time and in the future.

Gerard Braud Shares NFL Crisis Communications Advice With Radio Host Kate Delaney of America Tonight and NBC Sports Radio

As the communication silence continues from the NFL, everyone wants to know when the crisis will end. Kate Delaney called Gerard Braud for his expert opinion on the crisis.

NFL Failed Crisis Management Amid Sponsor Pressure

Braudcast Sept 18 NFLBy Gerard Braud

The NFL’s failed crisis management is hitting them in the wallet. It is hitting teams hard, as players under suspicion of wrong-doing are singled out.

It shows weakness of leadership to not manage a crisis properly from the beginning.

It shows failure of leadership not to communicate a response properly from the onset of the crisis.

It is pitiful that sponsors have to force the NFL to make decisions about this crisis based on hard cash.

A good leader and a strong company would evaluate the potential damage to revenue and reputation at the onset of the crisis, leading them to make the right executive decisions. Then they should implement crisis communication techniques to let the world know that the crisis is being managed.

If you are in public relations, employee communications, or corporate communications, this is a case study you should observe so that these same poor crisis decisions never happen where you work.

The Financial Impact of Failed Crisis Management and Failed Crisis Communications

Radisson logoBy Gerard Braud

What is your plan when the crisis of another entity becomes your crisis, forcing upon you a crisis communications challenge? Observe the NFL crisis as it spreads, causing damage to the reputation and revenue of various teams, players and sponsors.

You would think the NFL would have an inside or outside expert to advise them, but apparently the leadership is trying to manage this on their own, with bad results.

The NFL crisis has spread to the Minnesota Vikings, as sponsor Radisson pulls its support. Radisson is the logo sponsor seen behind the coaches and players when they have news conferences. It is the place where Adrian Peterson’s coach and general manager stood to announce that Peterson would play this coming Sunday, even though he was benched after being charged with felony child abuse for reportedly using a switch on his four-year-old son.

Adrian PetersonRadisson’s online statement says they are evaluating the facts while suspending their sponsorship.

Radisson, likely fearing “guilt by association,” is a victim of failed crisis management and crisis communications by the NFL and Roger Goodell regarding Ray Rice. The crisis then went on to touch the Vikings, Peterson and now the hotel chain.

Had Goodell originally handled the Rice crisis properly, the league would not be under such heavy scrutiny for other players with various degrees of accusations of child or domestic abuse. Failure to manage the crisis then communicate the action plan is letting the smoldering crisis spread like a wild fire. Many people are getting burned.

Now the NFL has a bigger crisis than the original crisis. There are the allegations surrounding Rice and Peterson, as well as Ray Hardy of the Carolina Panthers and Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers.

Each player, each franchise, and the sponsors surrounding the teams, all need a crisis management plan and a crisis communications plan that will end each of their respective crises before each suffers damage to reputation and revenue.

Crisis Communications: When Social Media is Mandatory, When it is Optional, and When it is Useless in a Crisis

One-Size-TagBy Gerard Braud

Many thanks to Shel Holtz for his crisis communications podcast that explores whether there is ever a right time to take your social media sites dark during a crisis. You can listen to the entire podcast here.

Some folks are appalled at the suggestion of taking a social media site dark and they tweet back to me the names of brands that they think could never go dark in a crisis. But that isn’t the question nor is it why I sparked the debate. The question is, what is right for YOUR brand or corporate social media page?

One size doesn’t fit all in either bathrobes or social media policy.

Here are some important highlights:

1) The world at-large on social media is not your primary audience in a crisis. If the crisis garners coverage by the mainstream media, rapid communications to your employees with simultaneous rapid communications to the media should be done first.

In this excerpt I discuss why tried and true beats shiny and new, as well as understanding the rule of thirds in employee communications.

2) Just because you, as a public relations professional, use social media all day and all night, doesn’t mean the rest of the world does. Know the demographics and digital habits of your employees and customers. There are many companies for which the executive staff and many of the employees still don’t use social media. E-mail is often more effective than a post on Facebook or a Tweet.

In this excerpt I discuss it further.

3) Be brave enough to consider whether your social media site should go dark because your crisis is being complicated by foul comments by certified crazies. Many of you who follow this blog are a communications and PR team of one. You have no one else on the PR staff. You should focus on the audiences that are most important and the communications channels that are most reliable. All companies should place high value on their secure website and direct e-mails to their employees and customers. Those loyal employees and customers will become your advocates and supporters on social media.

I discuss which types of brands could go dark without anyone noticing and which types of high profile brands would likely have to stay up and endure an assault of negative comments.

4) In a crisis, monitoring social media is important. But don’t get sucked into the vortex of trying to be a therapist who “listens” to everyone who has a comment. Don’t get sucked into the vortex of trying to respond to everyone, positive or negative. If possible, identify the high value negative stakeholders and call them on the phone to have a human-to-human conversation. If you see that your social media platform is being overrun by the anonymous crazies, be aware of what they say, but know when to “ignore the mean kids on the playground” and focus on your core audience.

In this excerpt I discuss when you need to let the naysayers have their own discussion on their own social media site, rather than polluting your site.

In conclusion, remember that no two crises are the same and when it comes to social media, one size does not fit all.

This final excerpt looks at what you should do long before your crisis hits.

 

Social Media Is Not Always the Right Fit for Reaching Your Audience in Every Crisis

By Gerard Braud

Social Media Site down Gerard Braud crisisWhen I mentioned on a blog and BraudCast video recently that sometimes in a crisis, taking your brand Facebook page dark may be the best option, I expected a lot of pushback or differing points of view. Crisis colleague Melissa Agnes posted the observations below and I want to share them with you and tell you where we agree and where we disagree. In her blog she quoted some of my points and then posted her observations. So to make things easy, below I’ve quoted her entire blog and I’m inserting my observations.

Before writing this, I called Agnes and had a pleasant conversation by phone.

It troubles me, however, that Agnes would take my advice about one type of crisis communications response and lay it over another crisis with completely different facts and circumstances. I would never say or imply that every crisis is the same or that the way to respond to every crisis is the same.

My first blanket observation would be that in some crises, I would certainly tell a client that social media is an important channel and that they should keep the site alive and active. In other cases, taking it dark is a viable action to consider. Failing to consider this option or any options in a crisis is a fatal flaw. When you’ve been in as many boardrooms and war rooms around the world as I have, you realize that is is also a strong possibility that a CEO might demand that the public relations team take the social media site dark. What then, especially if you selected a consultant who never considered this as a possibility because they have made the fatal flaw of building their crisis strategy around social media, rather than the tried and true options.

One size does not fit all when it comes to social media. It really depends upon the type of company involved and the type of crisis involved. My original post involved Emory University Hospital when people attacked their Facebook page because those individuals did not like the hospital bringing Ebola patients to the U.S. for treatment.

However, upon reading Agnes’ post, it is clear that the types of crises I have in mind when presenting my options and blog are different than what Agnes has in mind.

Below is her blog with her text and headlines in blue and my reply to her points in black italics. Enjoy.

agnes1Fear of Confrontation in a Crisis is Not a Reason to “Go Dark” on Social Media

Agreed. But fear of confrontation is not why I propose taking a site dark. When Facebook comments degrade into rude, inappropriate remarks, the ability to effectively communicate with your core and intended audiences is lost. If effective communications in critical times is your crisis communications goal, it is important that your communications channels are not jammed. A vocal minority on your social media site can skew public opinion in ways you do not want. My goal in crisis communications is to spread the truth faster than opponents can spread lies. Vocal groups of activists can post lies all over your Facebook page. Do you want that? I don’t. If the page is mine, I want to control the message. I’m happy to let them post their lies on their own Facebook page, which I can monitor to know what my opponent is thinking and saying. But no, they don’t have permission to pollute my site and I will take it away from them if I have to.

It worries me when crisis communication professionals are still advising their clients to avoid social media in a crisis. I never advise clients to avoid social media nor did I assert that in my blog. However, I do advise them to make sure social media is the RIGHT FIT for their audience and their brand. One size does not fit all. This article by Gerard Braud was brought to my attention on Twitter and I was left speechless as I read it.

It surprised me because I’ve seen other articles of his that provided sound advice. I agree. This article, in my opinion, did the opposite and I wanted to respectfully address why here today. This blog post isn’t meant to pick on anyone, it’s meant to take one professional’s point of view and rebut it with my own. Gerard, I welcome your feedback and our difference of opinions may make for an interesting podcast episode… consider this an open-ended invitation I agree. It’s a date. ;-) back at ‘ya. Shel Holtz has agreed to have us both on his podcast For Immediate Release (FIR).

Fear will be your downfall, not social media

Social media presents so many powerful opportunities to communicate and build trusting relationships with your audiences. I agree that sometimes this is true for some brands and some audiences, but not all. Just because people may vent and lash out against your organization is not a reason to hide and refuse to communicate on the channels that demand communication these days. I agree, but it depends upon the brand, the crisis and other factors. Not every audience uses social media, nor do they expect this to be their channel of communications. Often my clients find their best channel of communications is a face-to-face town hall meeting or a telephone call. Doing so will only hurt your organization’s reputation. I agree.

We’ve seen so many cases where social media was an asset in crisis communication (see below for links) and so many other cases where the lack of real-time and two-way communication was the organization’s downfall (see below for links). I agree.

Within his article, Braud makes the following statements, and I’d like to address each one and provide a different perspective.

Braud says: “Stop trying to fight the crisis on social media.”

It’s not about fighting the crisis on social. It’s about communicating effectively and in real-time, on the channels and platforms that your stakeholders want to receive (and look to receive) your organization’s crisis communications. Do your stakeholders really want to receive your information via social media? In many cases, the answer is no. Demographics vary per brand or company. Research your audience and know how to reach them through channels they use. Fighting social media will only further your frustration and bring you off-topic and off-focus. It isn’t a question of fighting social media. It is a question of whether social media is a bad fit for a particular brand or company.

Braud says: “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.” I agree. (Oh wait, that was a quote was from me… so I still agree with me.)

Firstly, you aren’t supposed to tweet your way, or Facebook your way out of a crisis. I agree. I just said that. So we agree. Yet some in public relations try to do that. That’s not the goal. Social media provides a way to disseminate your key message points to your key stakeholders. Messages, which I agree, need to be hosted on a platform that is owned by the organization, i.e.: the corporate website. I agree. The way you communicate and manage the crisis will be how you get “your way out of a crisis”. I agree.

Secondly, I agree. There should never be a shouting match with your stakeholders or audiences because shouting at people is not communicating with them compassionately. I agree. Social media provides organizations with a means to build relationships, give a voice to and speak with the people who matter most to your business. I agree. Calling your stakeholders idiots is also not something I would advise (to anyone). I agree. Presuming that they’re idiots because they disagree or oppose your organization is not the mindset that will help you overcome a crisis with your reputation in tact. I agree. A person isn’t an idiot because they disagree with you. However, I think we all agree that we know an idiot or bully who spreads lies that may not benefit any of us. This is especially true when it bridges the gap from an opinion to being a confirmed lie. In such a case, it isn’t your stakeholder who is an idiot. An idiot is someone who never will nor ever has been a stakeholder who I refer to in my previous blog.

agnes2It’s true that social media can be a bully, but that’s not a reason to shut it down. I agree sometimes, but depending upon the crises, the bully prolongs the crisis when your goal is to manage it to a resolution. It’s a reason to be prepared and to have a triage system that helps you respond when appropriate and continue to stay on-message. Triage is not needed if I can stop the bleeding through other means of crisis management.

Braud says: “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.”

First of all, where do you think mainstream media is? They’re on Twitter! I agree that they are on Twitter, but my tweet to them will include a link to my primary website in most cases. I have successfully used Twitter to reach the media as part of many crisis communications events that I have managed. But consider this: mainstream media are not more important to my crisis communications strategy than employees of a company. In a crisis, I think all audiences are equally important and I want to first use the communications channels that will guarantee the greatest reach at the fastest speed. A single e-mail blast can reach all of the media I need to reach in my contact folder. A single e-mail blast can reach all of the employees at the same time.

My goal is for a company’s employees to get the official word from the company first and not through side channels such as mainstream media or social media. Relationships and trust are based on truth from reliable sources. Trust is lost when an employee thinks, “Oh great, I had to turn on the TV to find out what is happening at work,” or “Oh great, I had to find out on Facebook or Twitter.”

If important and urgent communications is posted to Facebook or Twitter first, there is a strong chance that most of a company’s employees might not have seen the post because their use of social media varies greatly. However, I can say with confidence that employees are in a habit of checking their corporate e-mail on a frequent basis. Hence… tried and true beats shiny and new. A corporate e-mail blast is tried and true, reaching 100% of the employees. Social media, though maturing, is still shiny and new to many employees who do not even have social media accounts.

Secondly, imagine if KitchenAid refused to communicate on social media immediately after their employee’s rogue tweet left them vulnerable to a defamation lawsuit. This KitchenAid case study is not comparable to the case study I wrote about in my blog. In the case of KitchenAid, the crisis was caused by a dumb tweet by an employee. Of course the right action is to immediately use Twitter to send an apology tweet. I’m not advocating a refusal to use Twitter. My suggestion is to use the right channel at the right time to the right audience. If a direct tweet to one reporter is most effective, then use it. If a tweet to the entire KitchenAid audience is most effective, then do so. One size does not fit all. However, I would still suggest that official information be posted to the KitchenAid website with a message sent to all employees via email. I would never want the employees learning about the incident through the rumor mill or unofficial sources. Imagine if they had, instead, communicated as Braud advises above. You are misleading your readers to imply that my example fits your example. They would have been left with a far different – and far worse – outcome. The key audiences, who were communicating on and monitoring Twitter, would have not been included in those emails. I never said what you imply here. How and where you communicate depends upon thYouTube Flicker Dominos Videoe crisis. If the crisis happened on social media and because of social media, then responding on the same channel is exactly what I have advocated for many years. The Dominos Pizza cheese in the nose video in 2009 is a perfect example of where I suggested that Dominos immediately post their own video to YouTube. They should have posted their own video as soon as they found out about the offending video, rather than waiting several days to post a really poor response on YouTube.

I advocate social media as a useful channel if it is the right fit at the right time. I would advocate communications via Twitter because the crisis for KitchenAid happened on Twitter. It was a crisis of their own making. However, if the brand had to issue a recall of all of the mixers made in the past 10 years, would Twitter be their first and only choice? It would not be my first choice nor would it be my only choice for communications in a crisis of this nature.

Expert crisis communications is when you get accurate and truthful information to all audiences as fast as possible with the intent to get the same messages to all audiences simultaneously. To this point, I stand by the principle and practice that a corporate website and email are a high priority and part of a mix of communications channels, with links back to the official statement posted via social media. In some crises a news conference is necessary. In others it is not. ;the important messages communicated by KitchenAid in real-time would have been missed by nearly everyone had they published them to their website rather than Twitter; I never asserted this position in my blog and the outcome would have been negative publicity which would have lasted quite a long time. Negative publicity that would have put a huge mark on KitchenAid’s reputation for the long-term. Imagine. They would have been referred to as “the company that defamed the President of the United States”, rather than “the company who knows how to communicate in a crisis.” This tweet reached an important audience, but it did not reach all of the important stakeholder audiences. My statements above explain it all.

Though it’s important to identify who your stakeholders are and how you will communicate with them in a crisis, you need to meet them on their turf. If they prefer email, great! But there will be others (including the general public and the media) who will prefer to have your organization’s communications disseminated via social media and we can’t deny them this. Doing so will only end up hurting the organization. I have never suggested denying them this channel.

Let’s continue…

Braud says: “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.”

It isn’t about the cynics. They aren’t who you’re communicating with and they aren’t who should dictate your communications. Yet if you irritate the cynics with how you word your statement, they begin to dictate your communications and your communications team spends more time replying to the detractors than they do getting accurate and timely information to the most important stakeholders.

Your customers, your clients, your members, the victims of the crisis, your employees, your supporters, the general public, the media – and the list goes on – are the people who deserve your sympathy, your compassion and the respect of your appropriate communications. Sympathy and empathy are appropriate and needed for certain crises… and stop me if I’ve said this before… but one size doesn’t fit all. Let us take a hypothetical food recall that has been botched by a company resulting in illness and in death of customer. It is impossible to defend a statement such as, “We appreciate your support and understanding.” In fact, I pulled that line off of a Facebook page from a food company with a food recall. It is a fool-hardy statement to make when customers have been wronged and feel angry, hurt and betrayed. Such a statement is an insult to the customers and it draws ugly posts to your social media. The appropriate statement would be, “What has happened here is tragic and we extend our deepest sympathy to those who have been affected. Our goal is to find out what happened, how it happened, and how we can keep it from happening again.”

Telling them that they aren’t worth of your appreciation because of the cynics who don’t understand or who are angry at your organization is not the right approach. I never said what you imply here. What I do advocate is public relations people being better writers and writing in a way that does not draw criticism. Great writers must have their own cynic filters and understand how the cynics will react to each word. Parsing words and selecting the most perfect word is an art. Slapping clichés up as a statement is the work of an amateur. Compassion is needed in a crisis. In fact, it’s one of the ten commandments of crisis communications!

Braud says: “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.”

Way to hide and attempt to cover up… which has never resulted in good crisis management. No cover up is intended – and stop me if I’m repeating myself – never did I imply this in my blog. The company’s official statement can be on a secure corporate website that has search engine optimization, rather than letting liars and detractors hijack the brand social media site.

First, people don’t just use hashtags. They use blogs, news sites, Facebook campaigns, etc. all of which get indexed in the search engines and all of which have a heavy impact on your online reputation. Secondly, denying people their voice on your platform is not the solution. It really depends upon the brand and the audience. Sometimes, it is the right thing to do to go dark. On this we agree to disagree. They will come back louder and with a vengeance. This is not always true. But the fact is that Braud is missing the biggest importance of them all. In a crisis, it isn’t about YOU. I never said what you implied. It is about the TRUTH of facts in a crisis; it is about protecting the brand’s reputation and revenue. It’s about the victims and your stakeholders. Not every crisis has a victim. Talking to important stakeholders requires you to find the channel where the stakeholders can be found, which isn’t always on a brand page. Don’t assume the entire world goes to their smart phone or computer for the latest update on Facebook or Twitter. It’s about giving them a voice and actively listening to them, validating them and righting your wrong in order to continue to build a relationship with them and be forgiven. Shutting down your platform will compromise this important objective.

I disagree again. Sometimes you can be a platform to give them a voice. Sometimes they deserve no voice on your social media site if what they say is Trump Ebola1wrong or an outright lie that obscures the truth. Note that I’m not talking about a crisis in which people have differing opinions, but, for example, a crisis where your opponents are making outright incorrect statements. In many crises, there is no need to validate what they say if what they are saying is factually incorrect. When a crisis is moving rapidly, my first priority is not to be a therapist who listens to loud mouth detractors. My first priority is to communicate the truth as quickly as possible to all of my audiences.

If the sky is blue and the company in question makes blue skies, yet one batch turned out gray, it is a lie for one person to say all of his or her skies have been orange for the past year. It simply isn’t true and it doesn’t need to be validated and no apology, empathy or sympathy is required. If that person organizes the Society of People Against Orange Skies, I don’t want them organizing a campaign against the Blue Sky Company and taking over the Blue Sky Facebook page with trash talk and falsehoods, especially if the Blue Sky Company can scientifically prove they have never made an orange sky.

At this point, Agnes clearly has only a certain spectrum of crises in mind and I have a much broader spectrum of crises in mind. Furthermore, a company has many ways to listen. One includes picking up the phone and calling the person who has posted something negative, rather than fighting it out online and pushing a negative discussion higher in everyone’s news feed. An offline phone call provides empathy, validation, listening and two-way communications in ways a Tweet or Facebook post never can and never will. Case in point: I called Melissa Agnes personally before writing this response. In addition to a call that I made to her, I sent her a message via her blog and via twitter. Now I’m posting a blog on my official site. I’m adding a video to YouTube. I will be posting links to this blog to social media. I’m using multiple communications channels, but the phone call was by far the most personal and best channel to reach Agnes. The other channels are how I reach anyone else in our audience who cares to know my response to her post.

Braud continues to say: “It may be better to take your social media sites down completely until the crisis is over. If people need information, they are smart enough to find it on your primary website.”

It’s not about being “smart enough to find it on your primary website”. It’s about being smart enough to provide the necessary information where your most important audiences are looking for it. Don’t assume that when you take down your Facebook page, people will instinctively go to your website. Again, Agnes clearly has a certain type of crisis in mind. I have clients in crises today for whom no one would notice if they took their Facebook page dark. Yep, no one would notice. You must question whether a company’s detractors actively sought out the corporate brand page to say nasty things or if they just stumbled across it because they clicked “like” 5 years ago and it popped up in their news feed.

Instead, assume that when you take down your Facebook page, you look like a coward. It isn’t about being a coward. The issue should be about effective communications and as though you don’t care enough to communicate with your audiences or to own your mistake; Again, there are many ways and many places to say you are sorry. that your fear dictates your crisis management This has nothing to do with fear. This has everything to do with finding the right strategy for each crisis and each brand and not assuming there is a one-size-fits-all answer. and rest assured that people will not navigate to your website before they post, publish and share how your crisis management was to remove your social media channels in hopes that the crisis would go away on its own. Removing social media doesn’t make the crisis go away. Losing control of the message and truth on social media does make the crisis worse.

As crisis pro, Patrice Cloutier, says “Public confidence is built on trust and trust is a result of dialogue.” Social media enables that dialogue. In some crises, social media is a dialogue outlet. In other crises, a town hall meeting is the right tool for dialogue. In other crises, a phone call to an online detractor is the best way to have a dialogue and build trust. Social media isn’t the only place or the best place for every dialogue.

In the Emory FB wide 1case of the Ebola crisis and Emory University Hospital, which I first blogged about and which caught your attention, there is no one for Emory to apologize to. To date, the hospital has not harmed anyone. Yet they have online detractors making crazy accusations and interrupting their ability to share medical facts about Ebola.

Braud says: “You may find that it is in your best interest to rely on conventional crisis communications tools.”

I’m sure that he’s referring to news releases, website postings, press statements – all of those one way communications that organizations used to be able to hide behind in a crisis. Note my use of the word “may” in my statement. The reality is that those days are gone, whether you’re happy about it or not. Those days are not gone and anyone who would tell a client there is only one way to manage and communicate in a crisis – only through social media — is giving that client bad advice. But the point remains that two-way communication presents so many positive opportunities and advantages to organizations in a crisis. I agree that two-way communications is important and never said it wasn’t. Opportunities and advantages that you’re denying your organization (or your clients) by sticking with this old and dated mentality. No two crises are the same. Pick the communications methods that work for the crisis at hand. Failing to pick the right option and trying to force a specific option is giving your organization or your clients bad advice.

Braud uses a rhyme: “tried and true beats shiny and new”

But social media, though once shiny and new, is now tried and true. I strongly disagree. I have clients in very rural areas, with very elderly customers who do not live their lives on their computers or mobile devices. Many of their customers don’t even use computers. The company may have a Facebook page, but it may have only 300 followers who may have once clicked “like,” but who are not prolific Facebook users. Likewise, their customers are not Twitter savvy. Heck, to be honest, most of their employees and their leaders don’t even have social media accounts. Some of their executives do not use computers at all and only read emails that have been printed by an assistant. These people get their news from a weekly newspaper or from the friends they speak with at the barbershop or at church.

To many people in the world, social media is still very shiny and new and I strongly stand by my rhyme. A company such as the one I reference here will more effectively communicate by having an interview with the weekly newspaper, by emailing employees, and by hosting a town hall meeting that is advertised in the weekly newspaper. It is a fatal flaw for anyone in public relations to believe that just because you use social media all day and night that everyone else in the world does the same. Especially for effective crisis management. Don’t believe me? Check out the below posts… which are just the tip of the iceberg.

Again, many of the case studies listed by Agnes are not a crisis equal or like the crisis I referenced in my blog.