[My goal is to interview both the fraternity brothers and the photographer to learn more about their experiences of being judged so harshly and so quickly. If you can introduce me to any of these folks, please call me.]
Swift social media judgment is a rather interesting phenomenon, considering the societal emphasis placed on political correctness. The political correctness movement had its roots in the 1990s.
When you think about it, an entire generation of young people have been taught that a person should not be judged by the color of their skin, or their ethnic background, or their religion. From there it grew into not criticizing someone because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.
Perhaps an unintentional consequence of the political correctness movement is that many people feel compelled to correct everyone else’s speech or behavior. Essentially, people anointed themselves as the police of appropriateness. Individuals became self-ordained. Many attempt to shame the rest of the world into adhering only to thinking as they do and approving only what they approve.
So would this also be true? Would it be true that as the political correctness movement spreads, parents, teachers, and well-intentioned folks enable a new breed of judgment that replaced the kind of judgment they were actually fighting against? Did they endorse and encourage judgment? And was the new judgment harsh?
For a large segment of the population, every day is the day they judge everyone around them. Hence, everyday is judgment day.
About this same time political correctness judgment took hold, talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh began their own breed of judgment. This opened the floodgates of copycat radio shows, which made many older adults also increase their level of harsh judgment and verbal criticism.
As this age of judgment was born, unto everyone was also born the Internet, social media, and technology.
Blogging and anonymous comments on blogs represented phase one of judgment. Phase two of judgment began when media news websites opened their doors to anonymous comments. Then phase three emerged with the birth of Facebook and Twitter.
Specifically to Facebook and Twitter, what could be a platform for sharing joy and goodness has become the trolling grounds for those who judge, hate and comment negatively with gusto. Social media can be a real hellhole for your brand.
The truth is, we all judge and pass judgment with every thought. You have thoughts about the products you buy, services you contract for, people you encounter at work, etc. You also have thoughts about every person you see. Your mind creates a near immediate impression as to whether you initially like someone or not. Your judgment on that may change within moments. You make judgments based on what a person is wearing, their body type, their ethnic background, and what they say.
You are in judgment of others, regardless of whether you have pleasant thoughts about a person or negative thoughts.
But do you verbalize every conceivable thought you have or have you been taught the art of self-control?
Many of us were taught the adage, “If you can’t say something nice about somebody, then don’t say anything at all.”
The political correctness age shifted that to, “If someone says something that is not nice about someone you should correct him or her and put them in their place.”
That is called judging those who judge.
This has all morphed into a self-ordained right to comment on social media about everything in society. I don’t see it stopping anytime soon.
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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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SNL mocked a commercial where a father drops his daughter at the airport as she heads off to fight for the U.S. military. In the sketch, the punch line is that the daughter joins ISIS, rather the U.S. military.
Is this type of humor over the top. Yes? Is that the purpose of SNL? Yes? Do I care whether anyone else things it is funny or perfect? Not really.
The crisis communications lesson here is that people constantly judge. Their judgment gets loud and amplified on social media.
According to the Gerard Braud “Rule of Thirds,” one third of the people will always love your institution or your company. One third will always hate your institution or your company. Then there is a third in the middle that will swing like a pendulum.
If your company experiences a social media crisis filled with the kind of opinions that SNL is facing, you should never try to win over the third that hates you. Yes, Taylor Swift is correct that, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate.” In other words, the one third who hate you, for the most part, will never change their opinion.
Your goal should be to persuade, comfort, and win the third in the middle, while supporting the one third who do love your company.
You have likely been taught that you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
In the world of crisis communications, my expert advice is that you try to please 2/3rds of the people all of the time.
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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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Where is the ExxonMobil news release for the ExxonMobil Torrance Refinery explosion? An explosion is a crisis, which requires expert crisis communications. The media would expect information on the corporate news release page. Media want it fast and easy to find.
But look what you find on the ExxonMobil news release page – A fluff release about a summer jobs program.
Oil may have come from the age of the dinosaurs, but public relations in 2015 shouldn’t be prehistoric in nature.
Is ExxonMobil playing hide and seek with their news release?
At the bottom of the ExxonMobil page I found three social media links. I clicked on Twitter and found a statement that I’ve written about before – the dreaded and preposterous, “Our top priority statement.” The Tweet says, “Our top priority is the safety of our employees, contractors and neighbors in Torrance.” Obviously it isn’t your top priority, otherwise you would not have had an explosion with four people sent to the hospital, right?
Come on PR people: Enough with the bad clichés that you can’t defend. My top priority is to get public relations people to stop saying, “Our top priority.”
The link on Twitter sends me to this news release page, which did not appear in my initial search. Note the time stamp on the hidden news release – 10 a.m. ET on February 19, 2015. Now note the first sentence of the news release – it indicates the explosion happened at 8:50 a.m. PST on February 18, 2015. If there is an earlier release, it is hidden from me.
I have to question, why does it take nearly a day for a news release to be posted? This is absurd. This is 2015 and we live in the age of Twitter. No corporation should go more than one hour before a news release is posted. And don’t blame it on your lawyers or your executives. An expert public relations leader must learn to deal with lawyers and executives before a crisis so that your crisis communications can move with haste and professionalism. Your crisis communication plan should be filled with pre-written and pre-approved news releases. Geez!
Even on Twitter on the day of the explosion there is no ExxonMobil Twitter post related to the explosion, yet citizens are posting images and details about the crisis trending on #torranceexplosion.
Now let us examine the news release as ExxonMobil plays hide the facts and details. Compare the ExxonMobil release that mentions an “incident,” to the headlines on Google, which uses words such as “explosion” and a host of descriptors such as “rips though refinery,” “rocked by large explosion,” etc.
While ExxonMobil uses clichés such as “top priority” and “incident,” the NBC Los Angeles website describes, “Crushed cars, mangled metal, flames and a health warning.” Their lead says, “Hours after an explosion ripped through a Torrance refinery, residents for miles around continue to grapple with ash, a gas odor and concerns over poor air quality…”
Something tells me this was more than an “incident.”
In a crisis, it is important for official sources to provide official information. It is also important to control SEO. From a control perspective, the corporation should be controlling the flow of accurate information, rather than surrendering to the rumors and opinions for the public.
In the 2014 Fortune 500 list, ExxonMobil is listed as second. Some might wonder if their PR is second rate.
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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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Many thanks to Shel Holtz for his crisis communications podcast that explores whether there is ever a right time to take your social media sites dark during a crisis. You can listen to the entire podcast here.
Some folks are appalled at the suggestion of taking a social media site dark and they tweet back to me the names of brands that they think could never go dark in a crisis. But that isn’t the question nor is it why I sparked the debate. The question is, what is right for YOUR brand or corporate social media page?
One size doesn’t fit all in either bathrobes or social media policy.
Here are some important highlights:
1) The world at-large on social media is not your primary audience in a crisis. If the crisis garners coverage by the mainstream media, rapid communications to your employees with simultaneous rapid communications to the media should be done first.
In this excerpt I discuss why tried and true beats shiny and new, as well as understanding the rule of thirds in employee communications.
2) Just because you, as a public relations professional, use social media all day and all night, doesn’t mean the rest of the world does. Know the demographics and digital habits of your employees and customers. There are many companies for which the executive staff and many of the employees still don’t use social media. E-mail is often more effective than a post on Facebook or a Tweet.
3) Be brave enough to consider whether your social media site should go dark because your crisis is being complicated by foul comments by certified crazies. Many of you who follow this blog are a communications and PR team of one. You have no one else on the PR staff. You should focus on the audiences that are most important and the communications channels that are most reliable. All companies should place high value on their secure website and direct e-mails to their employees and customers. Those loyal employees and customers will become your advocates and supporters on social media.
4) In a crisis, monitoring social media is important. But don’t get sucked into the vortex of trying to be a therapist who “listens” to everyone who has a comment. Don’t get sucked into the vortex of trying to respond to everyone, positive or negative. If possible, identify the high value negative stakeholders and call them on the phone to have a human-to-human conversation. If you see that your social media platform is being overrun by the anonymous crazies, be aware of what they say, but know when to “ignore the mean kids on the playground” and focus on your core audience.
In this excerpt I discuss when you need to let the naysayers have their own discussion on their own social media site, rather than polluting your site.
In conclusion, remember that no two crises are the same and when it comes to social media, one size does not fit all.
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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.
https://braudcommunications.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Logo-white-01-300x138.png00gbraudhttps://braudcommunications.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Logo-white-01-300x138.pnggbraud2014-08-06 08:57:572021-05-20 05:38:17Social Media Complicates Ebola Crisis Communications