Posts

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.

A Crisis Plan vs. a Crisis Communications Plan

Gerard Braud Crisis Communications PlanBy Gerard Braud

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.

Crisis Plan

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.

Emergency Operations Plans, Incident Command Plans & NIMS Plans

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.

Gerard Braud Crisis Plan VideoCrisis 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.

To discuss this more, call me at 985-624-9976. You can also learn more here.

Social Media When It Hits the Fan: NRECA Connect ’14 Conference Teach Back

By Gerard BraudCONNECT14 TWIT5

Last week at the NRECA Connect 14 Conference in San Antonio, Texas, you participated in the  “Social Media When It Hits the Fan” presentation.

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 CONNECT14 TWIT PIC2board 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.

Finally, some of you asked about my program that allows your cooperative to write and complete a crisis communications plan in just two days. Details are on my website, but special pricing is available for co-ops. https://braudcommunications.com/crisis-communications/

CONNECT 14 TWIT PIC

Crisis Team Truths

DSC_0004By Gerard Braud

Many public relations people call their Crisis Communications Team a Crisis Team. The problem is, many other people in the same organization also claim to have a Crisis Team.

We have word confusion. Every company should have these teams:

1. Crisis Management Team

2. Crisis Communications Team

3. Incident Command Team or Emergency Response Team

4. Risk Management Team or Business Continuity Team

A proper crisis response structure would work as follows:

The Crisis Management Team would be lead by the CEO or his/her designee. This team includes members of the Crisis Communications Team, the Incident Command Team or Emergency Response Team, and the Risk Management Team or Business Continuity Team. One or two other key people would be on this team. The overall job of this team is to manage and end the crisis.

9thWard-KatrinaVersary-Media_0379The Crisis Communications Team is responsible for spreading the world that a crisis has occurred and what is being done to resolve the situation and return to normal. This team communicates with the media, employees, customers and other key stakeholder groups.

The Incident Command Team or Emergency Response Team responds to the crisis. Their job is to end the emergency and return things to normal.

The Risk Management Team or Business Continuity Team keeps the company running, keeps the supply chains open, and keeps the company profitable.

In the world of public relations, something may be a crisis which will trigger the Crisis Communications Plan and Crisis Communications Team. In this case, the Emergency Response is not needed and Business Continuity is not needed. A sexual harassment case would be an example. By my definition, a crisis is anything that affects reputation and/or revenue. Sometimes it is a sudden crisis, such as a fire and explosion. Other times it is a smoldering crisis that is not an emergency, but could harm reputation and/or revenue.

To avoid confusion, call the teams by their proper terms and never call them a Crisis Team.

Are your teams named correctly?

 

 

 

 

Crisis Plan Truths

crisis truth blogBy Gerard Braud

Many public relations people who need a Crisis Communications Plan search for the words “crisis plan.” This leads to problems.

Sometimes, as soon as you type the word “crisis,” your browser will auto fill with these options:

Crisis Plan Template

Crisis Plan Free Template

Crisis Management Plan

Crisis Communications Plan (with an “s”)

Crisis Communication Plan (with no “s”)Crisis comm

Crisis Expert

Crisis Communications Expert (with an “s”)

Crisis Communication Expert (with no “s”)

School Crisis Plan

Crisis Intervention Plan

The list goes on. Try it.

In public relations we face a problem with terminology. Did you know that people in the business continuity world, the emergency response world, and the public relations world all generically use the term Crisis Plan, yet each document is very different?

Likewise, there are many bad examples on the web of documents that serve no real purpose. This one has been at the top of the list for years.

I guess this is what most people think a Crisis Communications Plan is because they find it on the web and it is free. I think of this as only a list of standard operating procedures, yet it is far short of what I prescribe as a Crisis Communications Plan.

For a short time my website was #2, behind this site. However, I slipped in the SEO after a website server glitch.

Bottom line – if you are in PR, please call your document a Crisis Communications Plan. If you are in business continuity, please call your plan a “risk management plan” or a “business continuity plan.” If you are in emergency response, please call your plan either an “emergency operations plan, emergency management plan or an incident command plan.”

Every organization should have all three plans.

Do you have all three plans where you work?

 

 

 

GM Hires Crisis Communication Expert

By Gerard Braud

GM Crisis ExpertGM has hired a Crisis Communication Expert to help the company communicate their way out of a crisis surrounding their faulty ignition switches, according to headlines.

Why do companies hire crisis communications experts after a crisis?

Why don’t companies hire a crisis communications expert before they ever have a crisis?

Why don’t companies write crisis communications plans so that they can manage a crisis and the communications on their own?

The story of crisis communications is much like the movie Groundhog Day. I feel like Bill Murray’s character, living the same story daily. That is because every day, another company announces they are hiring a crisis communications expert to magically make everything better after corporate executives allowed a crisis to happen.

Here is an open letter about crisis communication to corporate leaders:

Dear Corporate Executives,

Many of you make bad decisions every day. You put profits before people and when you do, you have the recipe for a disaster. GM executives decided not to spend 57-cents per car, in order to replace faulty ignition switches, because they thought it would cost too much. If they had spent the money, then:

  • People would not have died
  • A crisis would not have happened
  • The company’s reputation would not have been damaged
  • The company would not be paying untold millions to fight or settle cases
  • The company would not be getting grilled by congress
  • The head of GM would not be the butt of jokes for every late night talk show

Corporate executives should hire a crisis communication expert before a crisis happens.

Corporate leaders should hire a crisis communication expert to make sure their company has a properly written crisis communications plan.

Corporate leaders should stop relying on someone with a spreadsheet to make decisions about revenue that will later damage the company’s reputation.

Corporate leaders should hire a crisis communications expert to be the cynic at the table. That way, spreadsheet decisions do not lead to revenue decisions that have short-term gains and eventually cause long-term damage to both reputation and revenue.

Corporate executives should commit to protecting their reputation and revenue by having a crisis communication plan that guides their decision making before a crisis happens, during a crisis, and after a crisis

Postpone Your Crisis: Crisis Communication Wisdom with a Twist

By Gerard Braud Consider this: scheduling your crisis may be the wave of the future. Rather than being ambushed and surprised by a sudden crisis, which forces you into crisis communication, considerK2 copyBy Gerard Braud

Consider this: scheduling your crisis may be the wave of the future. Rather than being ambushed and surprised by a sudden crisis, which forces you into crisis communication, consider the model used by many of your leaders who ignore my plea to plan for the worst.

Here is how it works. Many public relations people have e-mailed me to say that they cannot conduct media training or crisis communication training with their executives because the executives do not have time. Often these public relations people are asking for only a single day for media training. Sometimes they are asking for two days to write a crisis communications plan. Regardless of which communication training you ask for, there are always too many other projects more important than preparing to effectively communicate in a crisis. Hence, if an executive does not have time to schedule the training for the skills that would be mandatory in order to protect the profits and reputation of their company during a crisis, it only makes sense to declare that no crises should take place unless it is scheduled.

So next time you want to schedule media training or crisis communication training and you are told there is no time on the schedule because we have too many higher priority projects, just ask your executives when they would like to schedule their crisis?

Sure, it has been said that, “If you fail to plan, than plan to fail.” But under this new crisis communication model, we could simply say, “Plan to fail.”

If you’ve ever been told there is no time on the schedule for communication training, please share this article with the person who told you that, then send their reaction to me.

The Great Crisis Communication Lie: A Plan Can’t Anticipate Everything

Crisis Communication movie gerard braud

Click image to watch video

By Gerard Braud

It’s been said that the person who says something can’t be done is always right.

Does this adage apply to crisis communication and crisis communications plans?

The Malaysia Airlines crisis and communication challenges with the media and families have many in public relations saying, “This is unprecedented. You can’t prepare for this.”

Pardon me, but that’s bull$h*t.

As a defiant, non-conformist, contrarian, nothing inspires me to do something more than doing something they said couldn’t be done.

If you want to prepare and you are willing to put forth the effort, you can write a crisis communications plan and a library of pre-written news releases that will serve you in any crisis. Public relations people without the expertise, who are unwilling to put forth the effort, take the easy way out by saying, “It can’t be done.”

Here is the backstory of how defiance turned into a process that allowed public relations teams to put an effective crisis communications plan in place in as few as two days

In 1996, I begin doing extensive research on crisis  communications plans and found each plan repeated the same flaws as the ones before it. All conformed to public relations standards of then and today. Being a contrarian, I researched the common communications mistakes made in each crisis. I poured over case studies from when I was a member of the media. I analyzed why spokespeople said dumb things to me in most crises when I was a television reporter. I analyzed why corporations were slow to communicate about each crisis.

Malaysia-BlogThe pain, problems, and predicaments of the communicator and the corporation were scrutinized. Once this was done, I began to work backwards, with the end in mind. Multiple end points were identified, which consisted of the intervals at which a statement would need to be made by a company to the media, a company’s employees, and the stakeholders most affected by the crisis.

From 1996 – 2004, I wrote crisis communications plans for a wide variety of businesses, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. The process often took a year of collaboration, which for me was too long. Dealing with the slow pace of corporate collaboration didn’t fit my personality, despite the large sums of money companies would pay for a year’s worth of work.

In 2004, while spending six months recovering from a near-death-illness, I began looking for the fastest way to deliver a crisis communications plan. I had so many plans written that I was able to condense the crisis communications plan writing process down to two intense days of a group writing retreat. I provided the expertise and base documents, while the public relations team provided a workforce to modify the documents.

Malaysia blog 2

Ten years later, the plan still works in every crisis. Granted, the base crisis communications plan is a living document that undergoes constant modification to incorporate the ever-growing list communications outlets, such as social media.

The reality is, you don’t know how every crisis will unfold. The secret is to understand the intervals at which you must communicate to key audiences. You must make sure your crisis communications plan has a system in place to gather information, confirm information, then release that information.

The biggest breakthrough for me was unlocking the secret to creating a library of pre-written news releases that lives in the addendum of each plan. Starting with the end in mind, I was able to analyze the questions that get asked in every news conference by the media. Based on those questions and a clear understanding of how journalists will

write their news reports, I was able to create a series of statements that include multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank options.

Some of my pre-written news releases have as few as five paragraphs while others have more than 30 paragraphs. Some pre-written news releases are for an event that can be handled with a single press release. Others are three-part releases that can be used to issue advisories before, during, and after an event, such as for an electric company dealing with a winter storm. Still others must exceed three parts, such as an ongoing crisis similar to Malaysia Airlines. These pre-written news releases can usually be edited and released in as few as ten minutes. This is in stark contrast to the typical problem of a public relations person sitting before a blank computer screen and writing from scratch, then facing hours of revisions and hours of delayed communications.

What are the constant realities for the company you work for? The reality for every airline is that they may experience a crash. Virtually every set of scenarios can be broken down into fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice options.

A crisis communications plan can be structured to identify your key audiences, the various ways you must communicate to those audiences, and the frequency of your communications.

Is writing this type of crisis communications plan easy? My original plan took about 1,000 hours to develop – that’s six months. Since then, it has evolved with many more hours.

Today, it is ready to launch and implement in as few as two days. If you would like to know more, call me.

Analyses of case studies in your industry will show you the communications flaws of those who came before you so you can modify your crisis communications plan in such a way that those flaws are eliminated.

If you think it can’t be done, you are correct for yourself. You are not, however, correct for everyone.

Those who are willing to prepare can be prepared and they will communicate effectively when “it” hits the fan. Others, however, will make the same mistakes so many before have made, who have thrown up their hands and said it can’t be done.

Citizen Journalism: How Breaking News Got Broken and 5 Things You Need to Do Now

By Gerard Braud

Gerard Braud * 15Watch the news coverage as winter storms move across the United States, leaving many people without power in the cold for up to two weeks. Much of this story is being told through the eyes of the so-called, “citizen journalists.”

Citizen journalism is one of the reasons breaking news got broken. While corporate communicators, corporate executives and corporate lawyers haggle over every word and comma in a news release, eye witnesses to news events are posting their pictures and videos online with astounding speed.

Corporations around the world need to wake up. They need to rethink their approach to media relations and crisis communications. They need to think and act like citizen journalists. They need to post fast to the web.

Learn more at this Free Webinar on Thursday, December 12, 2013

When I hear a corporate communicator tell me, “Our people will never let us do that,” my first instinct is to channel my inner Ron Burgundy because, “I’d like to punch you in the spleen.” Trust me, in 1994 I heard these same people telling us that we couldn’t use e-mail and websites. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.

But seriously – stop saying you can’t. Here are 5 things to consider.

us-airways#1 The Miracle on the Hudson

When U.S. Airways had a jet full of people land in the Hudson River in the media capitol of the world, all of the world’s media used the same image taken by a guy with a smart phone who posted the image to Twitter. I’d wager that U.S. Airways might have not even known they had lost a plane when those first images hit Twitter. You must be that fast to post images of your own news events.

#2 The Virginia Tech Massacre

On that sad day when 32 people died at Virginia Tech, University officials were slow to meet, slow to make decisions, and slow to issue both news releases and emergency communications to their student body. Instead, an engineering student used his smart phone to capture video of police officers on campus as 26 gunshots from the gunman are heard on the video. There was no national VT Cell Phonenews media on the campus at that moment, yet when the students uploaded his video to CNN iReports, the media had all they needed to tell the story from a location where no media would have been allowed. You must be that fast to post video of your own news events.

#3 Stop Analyzing Words and Commas

After more than 30 years in communications, I still don’t understand why corporations spend so much time scrutinizing a written news release, only to have the spokesperson say dumb, un-vetted comments in an interview. If the interview isn’t going to match the written news release then stop spending so much time on the news release and spend that time in media training with the spokesperson.

#4 Stop Writing News Releases from Scratch

Every crisis communications plan should have a huge library of pre-written and pre-approved news releases that can be easily modified through strategically placed fill-in-the-blanks and multiple-choice options. If 100 things could go wrong in your organization, you should have 100 pre-written news releases. The pre-approval process will allow them to be posted to the web and read to the media in less than one hour of the onset of your news event or crisis.

#5 Practice

To be as good as a citizen journalist you must have the necessary Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts set up. You must set up accounts with CNN iReports and other media uploading profiles. You need the right phone or tablet device and it must be configured to interface with your social media accounts. You need Skype for live reports. Here is the big one – you must practice your performance on camera as well as your ability to share and publish online from your smart device. This isn’t easy to do, yet you must do it and make it look easy.

The bottom line is someone will be telling your story. It can be an uninformed, yet technologically advanced eye-witness, or it can be an official source who understands the technology, as well as good media relations and crisis communications.

Who will tell your next story?

Want to learn more? Register for this free CommPro.Biz webinar on December 16, 2013 at 1 p.m. EDT

Register here

 

 

 

Experts in Crisis Communication Agree: Home Depot Tweet Gone Wrong: 5 Things Your Public Relations Team Should Do Right Now

HD TweetBy Gerard Braud

Experts in crisis communication know social media in corporate communications is highly likely to lead to a crisis. I would say more brands are likely to be harmed than helped by a social media brand page.

Home Depot leaders acted swiftly to fire an outside agency and an employee who posted a picture on Twitter that depicted two black drummers and a third drummer with a monkey mask, with the tweet, “Which drummer is not like the others?”

Good job Home Depot for acting swiftly. Good job Home Depot for terminating the agency and personnel who clearly don’t understand the need to think before Tweeting.

Immediately there were cries of racism. The drummers were beating on Home Depot plastic buckets and sitting in front of a promotional banner for Home Depot’s sponsorship of College Game Day.

To their credit, Home Depot used the same offending brand Twitter page to post an apology that said, “We have zero tolerance for anything so stupid and offensive. Deeply sorry. We terminated agency and individual who posted it.”

HD Appology tweetI love that in a world where lawyers don’t let public relations employees say “sorry,” that Home Depot uses the word “sorry.” I love that they use the word “stupid.” The tweet apology is well written and conveys the anger the company feels toward the offending agency and employee.

HD FacebookHome Depot uses a Facebook and YouTube brand page, but nothing is posted there relating to the Tweet. The Home Depot home page and Media Center also have no news releases or apologies.

From a crisis communication perspective, in this case I think I agree with the Home Depot public relations and crisis communication strategy to confine the crisis to only the offending branch of social media and not bring it over to Facebook or YouTube. However, now that the story is making headlines in newspapers and morning television, I think an apology in the corporate Media Center newsroom on their primary website would be in order. In fact, I would have put up a news release apology in the corporate site newsroom within minutes of issuing the apology tweet. By the way, in the crisis communication plan system that I suggest you have, such an apology would be pre-written and pre-approved on a clear sunny day… written months ago and waiting in the addendum of your crisis communication plan.

HD Homepage 2In a crisis, it is important to tell the story from your perspective and to own the search engine optimization (SEO) for your brand and your story. Posting in your corporate newsroom helps with this. Failure to do so sends anyone searching for information to other pontifications, reports and blogs… like this one.

What should you do in your brand?

1)  Review your social media policy and make it tough. The social media policies that we write at Braud Communications on behalf of our clients are brutally tough.

 

2)  Terminate those who post recklessly.

 

HD snarky tweets3) Pre-determine whether a social media crisis requires response on all social media channels or only the offending channel.

 

4) Pre-determine if your home page newsroom will be used for an apology. I think it should be used.

 

5) Consider establishing a rule that two to three internal eyes need to review every social media post before anyone hits send. Make sure those 2 to 3 people represent the cultural and age diversity of your audience. In the case of Home Depot, it was clear that the age or cultural background of the person who posted this tweet was such that it likely never crossed their mind that this tweet might be considered racist.

As crisis communication case studies go, I’ll say Home Depot is handling this one well.