Today’s crisis communications tip looks at what happens when angry customers take to Facebook to complain about your company. Complaints on your Facebook page or complaints on a Facebook group page built for and by the complainers is creating public relations problems for companies.
All of us can learn from this perfect crisis communication lesson — It can be found at every utility company, where customers who are angry about their high winter bills and are venting their frustration and anger on Facebook.
Many utility companies do exactly what they should not do: They do nothing.
The men and women in leadership positions at both investor owned electric companies and rural electric cooperative companies have spent decades practicing the art of hope, as in, “I hope this just goes away.”
However, engaging with these angry customers on Facebook can be problematic because social media is filled with traps.
Trap 1: If you comment on a post that is either positive or negative, it can lead to an exponentially high number of negative responses.
Trap 2: If you comment on any Facebook posts, it sends it to the top on everyone’s news feed.
What do you do?
Solution One: Fix the problem and/or make the anger and hostility go away. The reality is there will never be a refund for electricity used. And chances are, the customer has forgotten that their bill was likely this high during the coldest month of the year 12 months ago and just as high during the hottest month of the year six months ago. But they would rather blame their electric company than to take personal responsibility.
The solution is to manage the expectations of the customer by eliminating the peaks and valleys in their bill by offering an option to have what many companies call bill averaging or bill levelization. It means the customer will see nearly the same amount on their bill every month. Often, it will reduce this month’s $400 bill to an easier to pay $250 bill, which makes the customer happier.
Solution Two: Take the discussion offline. In many cases, the best way to handle an angry customer is to have customer service pick up the phone and call them directly. Customer service is able to demonstrate the type of soothing, personal concern that would be lost on a Facebook post.
Make the Crisis Go Away
The problem with the, “I hope it goes away” philosophy is that the problem will go away within the next two months as spring arrives and many customers use little, if any heating or air conditioning. But the problem will return during the hottest month of the year, then go away, then return next winter.
If you have a solution that can make the crisis go away once an for all, then by all means do it.
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The need for crisis communication has never been greater. The need for speed in crisis communications has never been greater.
The reality is that if you experience an incident that the public knows about, you should be communicating to them about it in one hour or less. The biggest problem with this one hour benchmark is that in a world with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, that is still 59 minutes too long.
Look at this photograph. What do you see? Yes, those are workers running from a fireball as it is still rising. What else do you notice? Yes, when everyone should be moving toward safety someone stopped to snap a picture with a cell phone.
This event eventually claimed two lives and resulted in more than 100 reported injuries.
Within minutes of the photo being taken, workers built a complete Facebook page about the event. Meanwhile, the company took nearly three hours to issue the first news release. Other than the time of the event, there was nothing in that statement that was newsworthy or that could not have been written and approved three years before the event. It was boiler plate language. By the time it was released, the media and the public already knew every detail.
When “it” hits the fan in the age of social media, you have the option to control the flow of accurate information by releasing details faster than ever before. If you fail to do this you surrender control of the story to the general public, who may or may not have accurate information.
Granted, human resources needs to communicate with the families of the dead and injured. Granted, lawyers will want to avoid giving ammunition to the plaintiff’s attorney in your statement. Granted, facts need to be gathered by the home office. Granted, state police are acting as the primary spokespeople under a NIMS agreement.
But will you also grant this? The photo on Facebook and the Facebook page are providing more information to the public, the media, and plaintiff’s attorney than the official source is. And NIMS can provide a law officer to discuss evacuations, but a state trooper cannot express the necessary empathy that families need to hear, nor can they communicate the contrition that a community needs to hear.
What should you do? How can you get the upper hand?
Step one is to have an effective crisis communications plan that facilitates the fast gathering of information about any incident, combined with the fast dissemination of the details to key decision makers.
Step two is to have a “First Critical Statement” document in your crisis communications plan. The First Critical Statement is a fill-in-the-blank document that can be modified in five minutes and then posted to your corporate website, emailed to all employees, emailed to all media, read to the media at a news conference if needed, and also used as a link on your corporate social media sites.
Step three is to write a library of pre-written news releases with a more in depth system of fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice options. Such news releases can be written on a clear sunny day, months or years before you will ever need to use them. The goal of the document is to answer every question you might be asked about a specific incident – ranging from fires and explosions, to workplace violence, to executive misbehavior. The pre-written nature of the release allows your leaders and legal teams to proofread the templates and pre-approve them. This saves time on the day of your incident. Usually, the pre-written document can be edited within ten minutes and approved nearly as fast. Once it is ready to use, it can be your script for a news conference, a post to your corporate website, an e-mail to all media and employees, plus a link on social media.
Check your calendar: It’s 2015. Check your computer and smartphone: Social media amplifies everything the public sees or thinks. Check your decision-making: It is time for you to have a modernized fast moving crisis communications plan.
The bottom line is that your reputation and revenue depend upon it.
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The internet, the media on the internet, and the proliferation of self-ordained pundits on the internet, has forever changed the world. So has the proliferation of gadgets that let us rapidly post pictures, comments and video to the web. The ability for the global community to post online comments in countless ways and forums makes the world even more frightening for those trying to manage their reputation. For the sake of discussion here, when I use the term social media, I’m talking about all postings to the internet that allow your reputation to be improved or destroyed, as well as the gadgets that make it all possible.
There are three ways you can get hurt in the world of social media. The first is when your public actions are photographed or video taped, then posted to the web. The second is when your reputation is attacked on social sites and blogs, and the third is when you willingly participate in on-line discussions and do a poor job communicating.
One of my all time favorite videos, posted to the web, is of a county commissioner being hounded by a television reporter. When asked after a public meeting to justify the delay in opening a new county juvenile justice center, the commissioner asks the reporter, “Elliot, do you know that Jesus loves you?” The commissioner then dodges every one of the reporter’s subsequent questions by trying to engage in a discussion about why the reporter should accept Jesus as his personal savior. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the answer is inappropriate because it is not germane to the news report, and by repeating a variation of it as the answer to every question, it only makes the official look more like he is guilty of hiding something.
Prior to the advent of social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook.com and YouTube.com, such buffoonery would have been seen once or twice on the local evening news, the commissioner would have become the butt of some brief local mockery and embarrassment, but within a few days it would all pass. But in the age of social media, millions of people around the world are able to watch the video and laugh at its absurdity on a daily basis. Some will post a link to their own website, or forward a link via e-mails to friends. This is what viral and social media is all about. This video lives forever on the world wide web and so does the commissioner’s embarrassment, mockery and humiliation, as people perpetually forward the video to their network of real friends and online acquaintances.
Situations like this are one of the reasons you should consider Social Media Training.
Social Media Training is a program I pioneered to teach communicators and executives the realities and how their reputations can be damaged by public actions that are either voluntarily, or involuntarily captured, and posted to the web.
More than a few reputations and careers have been destroyed because of what someone says in a presentation to what is perceived as a friendly group. Inevitably, an audience member records the speech or presentation, then either posts a portion of it to the web or gives it directly to the media. Cloaked with an audience of perceived friends, speakers often “cross the line” by their comments, only to face humiliation, embarrassment, and in many cases a long list of apologies and even the loss of their jobs because they thought their comments were made in private and off the record. If you are hosting a social media training class, you may wish to combine it with a presentation skills class.
Social Media Training is also needed before communicators and executives voluntarily attempt to participate in online communities. This is true whether one is responding to a posting made by someone else, or whether you are the one posting to a personal or corporate blog for your organization.
A case in point is a random blog entry I found one day as I prepared to teach a social media seminar. The blog entry was from a top executive from General Motors. The blog entry, posted on an official GM site, featured a photo of the executive. The guy in the photo looked like he was delivering an angry rant on stage at a corporate meeting. His blog entry, likewise, took an angry, rant style with a tone that personified, “I know better than you.”
His comment was a reply to a blog posting critical of GM’s poor gasoline mileage in its Sports Utility Vehicles. Because of how the executive worded his rather pompous response, many more participants in the blog criticized his parsed words and reply, which reflected the official corporate line.
In short, the executive’s poor choice of words was like throwing gasoline on a small fire, turning it into a bigger fire. It didn’t need to be that way.
Executives need to think carefully before they participate in social media and corporate communicators need to think carefully before asking or allowing executives to actively participate in social media.
There are a few basic things communicators and executives should consider in the world of social media:
1. Are you good with traditional media? If you are not good with traditional media, what makes you think you can handle social media?
2. How do you behave in public? Do you realize that every public moment of your life is potentially being photographed or recorded? Your public behavior, what you do and say, who you associate with, and where you are seen in public, can all be posted to the web for the entire world to see.
My basic rules for social media are this:
1) Every rule of media training applies to social media. Every word and how those words are phrased will be carefully scrutinized.
2) Edit what you say constantly to avoid having your comments taken out of context.
3) The rule of ethics is to ask whether you behavior in private is the same as the way you would behave if people were watching you. Congruency of behavior is important.
4) Before jumping into an online blog type discussion, you need to be prepared to use key messages and making sure those key messages have been run through the cynic filter. Bloggers are cynical and brutal.
5) Sometimes the best response to a blog posting is to ask a question. Rather than attacking a blogger for their point of view, simply ask them to further explain their point of view. Sometimes a blogger will back down as they are unable to defend their position. Sometimes other bloggers will come to your rescue with responses that match your point of view.
6) Orwell predicted that by 1984 Big Brother would be watching everything you do. Orwell was off by 20 years, because by 2004 the ability for everything you do to be watched had become a reality. Big Brother is now everyone else in the global society.
In our next lesson, we’ll return to more to the traditional setting of a news conference and look at your appearance in a news conference.
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A soft drink cup at KFC screamed, “SOCIAL MEDIA FORCE FIT,” as I munched on my original recipe drum stick. The cup had the hashtag “#HowDoYouKFC?”
Nothing says uncool like adults trying to get young people to be cool by doing something uncool in an attempt to be cool. (Did you follow that?) In other words, the executives and advertising team at KFC are trying to capitalize on social media hashtags with the expectations that their youthful customers will post pictures and KFC comments.
Would you post a photo and comment about your KFC?
In my training programs I always challenge the communicators and public relations attendees to determine if social media is the right fit, the wrong fit, or a force fit for the company or brand they represent.
I also challenge them to determine if they are a social media hypocrite. A social media hypocrite would be defined as someone who promotes their brand, while never really using social media to follow other brands. For example, if you manage social media for a hospital, do you promote the hospital expecting everyone to like your Facebook page, yet you never really follow your own doctor on Facebook? Do you follow your bank’s Facebook page, or your grocery store’s Facebook page?
In the case of KFC, you only need to visit Twitter to see that @KFC or #HowDoYouKFC has only marginal activity. You can also visit their Facebook page to see there is marginal activity around the hashtag campaign.
Some brands are consumer eye candy and a perfect fit for social media. Some brands don’t have enough appeal to get the pop social media can sometimes bring.
How do you use social media where you work? Are you posting on a page that no one really likes or follows? If yes, you may be exemplifying a social media force fit.
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When 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.
Fear 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 FITfor 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 invitationI 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.
It’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 the 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 blogand 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.
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 wrong 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 communicationsand 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 managementThis 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 case 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 manypositive 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.
https://braudcommunications.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Logo-white-01-300x138.png00gbraudhttps://braudcommunications.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Logo-white-01-300x138.pnggbraud2014-08-15 14:35:122021-05-20 05:39:30Social Media Is Not Always the Right Fit for Reaching Your Audience in Every Crisis
A glance at the Emory Healthcare Facebook page magnifies the complexities of crisis communications in the age of social media. I’m not a huge fan of social media in a crisis. What I see playing out on Emory’s Facebook page reconfirms my dislike of social media as a crisis communications channel. As Emory University Hospital tries to save the lives of two health professionals affected with the Ebola Virus, some people hail them as heroes. Others accuse them of jeopardizing the health of everyone in the United States and accusing Emory of doing this as a publicity stunt. Yesterday I wrote about Donald Trump’s Twitter attack on Emory.
If your business or company is in a high profile crisis, the traffic to and the comments on your Facebook page increase. The way Facebook is structured, each time a person adds a comment, good or bad, that Facebook page goes to the top of the newsfeed for everyone who follows the page.
This creates a constant battle of opinions, good and bad, right and wrong, sane and insane.
When Chobani had their yogurt recall in 2013, I warned their social media team to stop trying to fight the crisis on social media. For every positive post from a customer or the company, there were dozens of negative posts.
My best crisis communications advice is to post your primary message on your website and share that with the mainstream media. Next, e-mail the link to all of your employees. After that, e-mail the link to other stakeholders. These are the core people who need to know your message.
If you post the link to social media, avoid comments such as, “We appreciate your support and understanding.” Such remarks encourage negative comments from the cynics who don’t understand your actions and who don’t support you.
In a crisis, people can talk about you on your social media site and they can talk about you via hashtags on other sites. Given a choice, I’d rather not have a history of negative comments on my own social media site. You may find you are better off letting people vent with hashtags on other sites rather than being angry on your social media site. No option, such as this, is set in stone, but it must be considered as an option as a crisis unfolds and bleeds into social media.
Sometimes tried and true beats shiny and new. Sometimes in a crisis, you may find that it is in your best interest to rely on conventional crisis communications tools. It may be better to take your social media sites down completely until the crisis is over. Failing to consider this as a possibility is a fatal flaw. Furthermore, you may get orders from the CEO to take the site down. What then?
I trust that if your core audience needs information, they are smart enough to find it on your primary website. Don’t be distracted from your core audience and crisis response because your are fighting social media trolls. This is especially true for those of you who are a public relations team of one.
It is difficult to Tweet your way out of a crisis. It is difficult to Facebook post your way out of a crisis. It is difficult to get in an online shouting match with idiots.
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Social media complicates crisis communications, especially when an expert is pitted against alarmists and detractors on social media. Crisis communications and crisis management get more difficult when the social media alarmist is a celebrity.
Donald Trump has taken to his Twitter account to say that people with Ebola should not be brought to the United States. His assertion detracts from what I think has been a brilliant job by the medical community to provide media training for doctors and physicians, while having a plan to manage crisis communications about the outbreak.
Doctors and physicians trained as spokespeople to be interviewed by the media have gone to great lengths to discuss the layers of protection put in place to keep the Ebola infection from spreading as two ill health workers were flown to the United States for treatment. The messages in the media have served to calm fears in a country where conventional wisdom or logic might lead one to believe Ebola could spread quickly in the U.S. if infected patients are intentionally brought here.
In a crisis, you must:
1) Plan and write your messaging on a clear sunny day
2) Be ready to turn on a dime if those who disagree with your message start to get traction.
The safety message is one that clearly needs to be written and approved long before it is never needed. Good crisis communications should be judged by how well you prepare on a clear sunny day and not how well you wing it in the heat of the crisis.
Twitter sadly gives visibility to detractors. In this case, Donald Trump, with 2.65 million followers, has tweeted these 3 tweets:
“A doctor on NBC Nightly News agreed with me-we should not bring Ebola into our country through 2 patients, but should bring docs to them.”
“Doctors have already died treating Ebola. We should not be importing the disease to our homeland.”
“The bigger problem with Ebola is all of the people coming into the U.S. from West Africa who may be infected with the disease. STOP FLIGHTS!”
What would you do if this happened to you? What expert advice would you give to your employer or client?
Donald Trump is notorious for picking fights and escalating a situation, so the medical community has to proceed with caution before fighting back on Twitter. Sometimes, the proper way to address crisis communications on social media is to respond in kind through the same social media channel. Yet that isn’t necessarily true on Twitter, nor is it true with a Donald Trump type celebrity who has a huge, loyal following who agrees with his political philosophy or agenda d’jour.
In a crisis, your communications to a detractor can easily get ugly. You have to harness the proper amount of cutting pith, while not letting it cross the line into overt anger. You must carefully zero in on your key detractor, yet carefully avoid turning it into a personality battle.
In social media, when the detractor has a huge ego, a huge budget, and a huge following, you have to consider how your response might positively or negatively escalate the war of words. You must consider whether escalating the war of words will get your message out to the world more effectively or whether it gives greater visibility to the negative comments of your detractor.
The message the medical community needs to convey is this:
“As experts in medicine, we are able to gather the top experts in disease prevention to both quarantine ill patients, as well as to take steps that may save their lives. At a time like this, we call on everyone to let the experts do what they do best, while ignoring the non-expert publicity seekers who deal in fear and not facts.”
This crisis statement could be written many ways. Often it is the editing fight and parsing of the words that makes a statement stronger, yet sometimes the editing delays the speed at which the message reaches the intended audience while making the statement weaker.
The crisis statement does not name Trump specifically, but has a bit of a bite with the phrase, “…the non-expert publicity seekers.” My guess is 50% of you would want to leave it in and 50% would want to take it out. I’d leave it in.
Media also love a good compare and contrast quote. This crisis statement clearly separates medical experts from fear mongers.
I would never advise taking this fight to Trump on Twitter. I would, however, get this message to all media outlets and specifically to all medical correspondents and all media facilities. Keep in mind, local media are interviewing local doctors at local hospitals from New York to New Orleans. In a crisis like this, you want an army of experts on your side.
The hazard of posting a 140 character version of this message to Twitter and Facebook is that these social media platforms tend to attract more non-expert publicity seeking fear mongers. My expert advice would be to post the message to your secure website, then send direct tweets to the media with a link to your official statement. Your direct message would say, “Ebola infection update (add your link)”
Trust me, you’ll get your message to the media. If you have the overwhelming urge to use your Facebook and Twitter, you might post the identical link. There is some safety in not posting the “fighting words,” but to post a calming link.
This may also be a good time to create a YouTube message. YouTube allows the emotions of the speaker to be displayed through both the visual elements and the tone of their voice. However, YouTube comments and shares may get ugly as well. But, if someone shares your video with a negative comment, the person who sees the video may be persuaded to your side.
In a crisis, there are many challenging decisions to make in a short period of time. My hope is that you are a bit stressed out right now. That’s good. Imagine if you had to fight this fight in real time? Imagine if you had to come up with all of this logic on the fly? Imagine if you had to fight with a room full of executives who disagreed with your approach?
A great way to manage your crisis communications and crisis management team in a crisis is to hold frequent crisis drills that play out a scenario with this level of complication. You should have at least one crisis communication drill each year and every drill must have complicated twists and turns of social media embedded in them. I pride myself on making drills so realistic that spokespeople cry. Occasionally we have to call a time-out because an executive is clutching his chest because the scenario is so realistic and the stress is so real.
Are you ready to deal with a crisis this stressful?
https://braudcommunications.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Logo-white-01-300x138.png00gbraudhttps://braudcommunications.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Logo-white-01-300x138.pnggbraud2014-08-05 11:18:132021-05-20 05:38:05Crisis Communications Management: The Ebola Expert vs. The Social Media Celebrity Alarmist
Let’s look at several case studies to understand the impact of social media when “it” hits the fan.
Social media allows us to communicate in a crisis; social media fails on us during a crisis; social media can cause a crisis.
Where do we start? Think of social media first as a place to Listen and not to talk. Look in the mirror. You will notice the good Lord gave you 2 ears and one mouth. You should use them in that proportion.
Now let us look at social media case studies of crises that involved natural disasters. In the case of Haiti, immediately following the January 2010 earthquake, Twitter was providing a platform for discussions. Facebook was providing a social media channel for discussions that are more in depth. But the conversations were incomplete because many of the people closest to the situation could not talk with us or receive our messages because they were without electricity. Their cell phone batteries were dead and the cell phones that had power were competing for limited band width and likely unable to get a signal. This should be a big red flag that social media and electronic communications have their limitations in many crises.
The Fukushima disaster and Japanese tsunami in March 2011 was another event that unfolded on social media. Some people claimed they learned about the actual earthquake on Twitter, before the shock waves even reached them. Whether this is true or another internet myth, the reality is it could have happened and could happen for other events in the future.
One social media trap is that verifying information is often difficult. It is not wise to repeat unverified sources, even though people on social media do it all the time. This means our listening requires extra attention. In the case of Twitter, we can sort our listening by hash tags by simply following a trending word with the # sign in front of it. Among the great dangers on Twitter is when wrong information is re-tweeted. On Twitter you will often see the letters “RT” before a message, signifying it has been re-tweeted by followers of the original message.
And while social media allows you to listen, often technology fails you, preventing you from both listening and talking.
Twitter, again, is constantly vulnerable to overload. Have you ever tried to use Twitter, only to get a screen that displays a giant whale being lifted by tiny birds? The message says Twitter has exceeded its capacity.
Think about it? In a crisis, internet and telephone use goes up exponentially. At the time you need it most, it may fail you, impeding your ability to listen as well as talk. This is a warning sign that says your Crisis Communications Plan should not be built with a heavy foundation of social media. Your plan should be more heavily rooted in more traditional communications means, with a component of social media as a lower priority option, based on where technology stands today in 2013. This may change in the future, and you must be vigilant to stay abreast of trends and technology so you can rethink this as needed in the future.
To prove the point of technology’s weakness and failure, examine how often it fails not in a crisis, but in a simple, regional moment of joy. When my hometown New Orleans Saints football team won the NFC Championship on January 24, 2010, all cell phone and land based phone lines in New Orleans and our region were jammed and calls could not be made. Even text messages could not go through. This lasted for nearly one hour after the end of the game. For that reason, you should never put all of your eggs in one basket. This is a clear example that if you live by technology you will die by technology. In the world of crisis communications you may have many tools at your disposal, but you must have a Plan B and a Plan C. If one set of tools fail, what can you use next?
You, as a professional communicator, representing a company, government agency or not-for-profit organization, must consider carefully how much trust you want to put into social media as a part of your crisis communications tool box.
You must also be aware that your potential opponents may be out maneuvering and out communicating you, using these same tools, in certain types or crisis events.
In 2009 we saw a different type of crisis and crisis communication as the Arab Spring unfolded. The initial government opposition in Egypt started on Facebook. As outrage spread on Facebook, it eventually spilled into the streets as protests. Eventually in Egypt and other countries, social media played a major role as protesters in the Middle East were using Twitter to communicate where police attacks were taking place and where protesters could find safe houses during street riots. For the most part, the government leaders were not savvy enough to understand the power of social media. Private Facebook postings to friends and direct tweets to colleagues gave protestors a clear communications advantage as this crisis unfolded. Eventually, some of the open chatter of protesters on Twitter allowed their opponents, the government, to listen in on the conversation to eavesdrop.
And while the protesters were technically using Twitter as a communications tool, their needs are likely very different than the communications needs of your company.
As we stop for today, add to your to-do list the need to set aside 10 minutes to evaluate how you might use social media to listen during certain types of crises. Also, evaluate to what degree you might use it as an outbound communications tool to talk during a crisis.
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As we talk about social media for crisis communication, we have to consider whether your audience uses social media and how they use it. But before we talk about them, we should talk about you and your personal social media habits.
Some companies have no Facebook page, no Twitter, and no YouTube channel. Some companies have no social media. Some companies have set up social media pages, but use them sparingly or not at all. Some companies aggressively post to one or more social media channels.
Let’s cut to the chase, especially for companies aggressively posting to social media. On a clear sunny day, when there is no crisis at hand, are you a social media hypocrite? Do you — or someone on your communications team — sit in your office each day updating your corporate social media sites expecting your audiences to follow you, when in fact you don’t personally follow any other companies?
While teaching my Social Media When “It” Hits the Fan workshop recently to a state-wide medical association, the audience was initially appalled that asked if they were social media hypocrites. They then realized they were. Each has spent countless hours developing Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for their hospitals. Some had branched out into Pinterest and Instagram. Yet on reflection, they realized that they spend a lot of time posting information for their corporate social media accounts, with the belief their audiences and customers would read it, when in fact they didn’t follow their bank, doctor, oil company, etc. They quickly realized that they were social media hypocrites. Many realized that they were social media and public relations sheep, setting up social media accounts because some so-called social media expert said that every company needs to be on social media or you will be left behind.
Next, we should talk about the age and social media habits of your audience to determine if social media is the right fit for your organization on a clear sunny day when there is no crisis, because this will affect whether you can reach them during a crisis.
It has been my experience that there is a large generational divide between those who use it and those who don’t, which we will address in greater detail later. The age and social media habits of your audience will help you decide when and if social media needs to be part of your crisis communication strategy. People in their mid-20’s pioneered social media behavior and made Facebook popular. Now, as some grandparents join Facebook to keep track of their grandkids, younger participants are leaving because Facebook isn’t as cool anymore.
We can say, with a degree of safety, that people under 35 are more active than those who are older. So as you decide if social media is right for you, keep this in mind. The best research on social media behavior comes from the experts at PEW Research.
As of December 2012:
15% of online adults say they use Pinterest
13% of online adults say they use Instagram
6% of online adults say they use Tumblr
67% of online adults say they use Facebook
16% of online adults say they use Twitter
• 20% of online adults say they use LinkedIn as of August 2012.
Before further exploring the age and habits of your audiences, we all need to agree on a few things about crisis communications and crisis communication plans.
When “it” hits the fan, you have to consider, what does your audience need to know and how do you want them to behave? What is it that you want them to do? Perhaps you need to evacuate a community before a hurricane or issue advisories to your customers and employees before a bad weather event. Sometimes you need to communicate safety information in the throes of a crisis. Many times you may be communicating with your audiences because of an ugly rumor or the exposure of a scandal.
Your assignment now is to stop here for the day and to make a list. First revisit yesterday’s list to identify your potential audiences by age and their likelihood of using social media. Second on the list is to identify the types of crises that your company or organization may face. Third on the list is to assess how you want your audiences to behave in various crises. Based on what you place on this list, we can better determine what communications channels are the right fit in each type of situation. Allow yourself 15-30 minutes to evaluate these questions.
Tomorrow, we’ll examine what a great Crisis Communication Plan should be, so that we can determine the best way to incorporate social media into your strategy for effective communications.
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Yet one more group of public relations and marketing professionals has asked me to speak at their PR & Marketing conference about the wonderful ways social media will allow them to connect and sell to their customers. I love to speak at conferences, but I cannot tell a lie, especially about social media and the return on investment (ROI) for companies.
I cannot tell you to use social media for positive ROI without talking about the negative ROI.
Too many PR and marketing professionals still mistakenly think social media is their magic bullet. The truth is, one size does NOT fit all. One company may get great ROI through social media while other companies will generate zero buzz or attraction.
The reality is, one should never talk about the positive side of social media for sales and marketing without talking about the negative effects of social media. It can destroy an organization’s reputation, which then negatively affects the revenues. Social media is a dangerous double-edged sword that cuts both ways. I’ve spoken at many conferences which focus too heavily on social media marketing, without full consideration of the “the big picture.”
Some organizations and brands are a perfect fit for social media. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Chobani Yogurt, which benefited from a huge love fest on social media from people who first discovered the product when it first appeared on store shelves a few years ago. Their following developed organically and the company benefited from the loyalty of their customers.
This might not be as true for a bank, hospital, electric company, oil company, etc.
One needs to consider the demographics of the social media audience. Chobani is a darling for the social media active 18 – 32 age group, especially among females.
Meanwhile, many of my clients in the rural electric cooperative sector are in communities consisting of primarily older residents who are less active on social media and who are not constantly using their iPhones for calls, texting, and social media. Many are farmers and ranchers who are working the fields all day and not sitting in front of a computer, laptop, tablet or phone. Also, the rural residents who are young and active on social media don’t want to talk about, or follow, or “Like” their rural electric company, their bank, their hospital, or any of the other industries that don’t understand the true nature of social media.
Despite the success of Chobani on social media, when Chobani had a product recall recently, their brand got beat up by their detractors. Meanwhile, my rural electric co-ops, which get little traffic in good times, get a significant increase in traffic during their crisis events, especially when there is bad weather and a power outage.
In the world of social media, too much focus is on Facebook and Twitter, with not enough emphasis on YouTube and videos, which then requires photographic skills and trained spokespeople. In the world of social media, younger folks are leaving Facebook for Instagram and Pinterest. These forms of social media are even more difficult to use for ROI and sales for service industries, while it might be the best marketing for chic consumer brands. In the word of Twitter, only 16% of the population uses it, which makes it hard to use to reach customers, yet it is widely used by the media during a crisis.
In talking about social media one must be careful that young sales, PR & Marketing professionals who use social media daily, think the entire world is ready to embrace social media. The hypocrisy is that they want to market and sell their companies using social media, while the reality is that they have no personal desire to follow a bank, hospital or electric company on social media. A sales, marketing or PR person is doing a disservice to their organization to think they can significantly generate new customers and spread the world about new lines of business without recognizing that:
a) the demographics may not support their belief
b) the “sexiness” of the product may not support their beliefs
c) social media may have a greater negative impact on ROI than it has a positive impact on ROI.
The reality may be that they cannot justify the investment of their time in social media.
So… yes, I can customize a program for your conference if it is focused on all aspects of social media – the good, the bad and the ugly — but I cannot do a program that tells the audience social media is a rosy, wonderful world.
I cannot tell a lie.
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