Ebola Crisis Communication Plan, Crisis Management & Strategy: Is It Too Soon to Talk About It?

EBOLA webinar Gerard BraudIs it too soon to talk about your Ebola crisis communications strategies and plan? A New York based public relations professional asked me that question today. I responded by saying, “Why wait? One week ago no one in Dallas gave Ebola crisis communications a second thought. Today, at lease 14 businesses and government entities have to send spokespeople out to talk to the media about their portion of the Ebola crisis.”

I say start getting your Ebola crisis communications plan and crisis management plan in place now. Your Ebola crisis can crop up without warning. Your crisis could result not only from an actual Ebola case, but from the hysteria of false information about a case.

You may own a business, be the CEO or leader of a business, hospital, school, or non-profit. You may be Crisis communication workshop gerard braudthe public relations or crisis management professional for a business, hospital, school, or non-profit. NOW is the time to realize that it only takes one case of Ebola to be associated with your organization for a world of media attention to descend upon you. Along with media scrutiny and hysteria, you will also have to deal with the online social media trolls. If you skip a beat… if you hesitate… if you are just slightly behind the story or the crisis, the institution you are associated with will be treated like a 19th century leaper – no one will want to have anything to do with you. It becomes the ultimate crisis, defined by complete harm to your reputation and revenue.

Examine the case in Texas, in which Ebola patient Thomas Duncan has died at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. The airline, the TSA, the Border Patrol, the hospital, the apartment complex, the sheriff’s department, the patient’s church, the school system, the Texas Department of Health, the Texas Governor, the Dallas County Medical Society, the Dallas County Coroner, and the mortuary that cremated his body are all suddenly players having to communicate about some aspect of this crisis. That means thirteen entities that were far removed from the crisis a few days ago are suddenly thrust into the crisis. Fourteen people, if not more, suddenly need to be a spokesperson about their portion of this crisis. Each suddenly needs a crisis communications expert. Even Louise Troh, Duncan’s longtime partner, has retained a public relations firm to speak on her behalf.

Gerard braud Ebola blog 1

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The piece-meal communications I’ve seen indicates that each of these entities are having to develop their crisis communication strategy on the fly. If they have a crisis communications plan, it appears none were updated prior to the crisis to address Ebola. In other instances, it is clear that no crisis communication plan exists, which is the reality for many organizations. And experience in reviewing a vast number of documents that public relations people call their crisis communication plan has proven woefully inadequate. In no way do they meet the criteria of a document that would guide and manage communications in a crisis.

Could you suddenly be a small part of this bigger story? You bet.

Are the odds low? Maybe yes, maybe no?

Could that change quickly because of variables beyond your control? Absolutely.

Is the risk high enough that you should invest time and money to prepare? The vast majority of organizations will say no, because they are in denial about how real the potential threat is. Yet it is a fool’s bet to stay unprepared, when the act of preparing can be done quickly and affordably. Furthermore, when done correctly, you can develop a crisis communications plan that will serve you for Ebola, as well as hundreds of other crises you may face in the future.

Is this line of thought logical? In my world it is very logical. I believe in being prepared. Yet experience tells me that this thought process will be rejected by the vast majority of you reading this and the vast majority of leaders and executives who run corporations, hospitals, non-profit organizations, schools, and small businesses. Human denial is a stronger power than the power to accept a simple option to prepare.

“We don’t need to worry about that,” is easier to say than, “Let’s get a team on this to prepare. The chances are slim, but if it happens it could destroy us.”

“Destroy us?” Is that too strong of a suggestion? Well, two weeks ago the Ivy Apartments in Dallas were a thriving, profitable business. Do you think anyone wants to move into those apartments after an Ebola victim has been there? Do you think existing residents will stay? The owners are already feeling the symptoms of damage to reputation and revenue.

Based on my crisis management and crisis communication experience, don’t be surprised if you see the Ivy Apartment complex bulldozed and the land left vacant for a time, all because they were, through no fault of their own, associated with a global crisis beyond their control.

What are the odds? Very small.

What is the reality? Likely financial ruin.

Are you willing to roll the dice if you own a company? Are you ready to roll the dice if you are the public relations expert for a company?

“Better safe than sorry,” is my suggested approach. Yet, “That won’t happen to us,” or “The chances of that happening to us is so small it isn’t worth our time and effort,” is what the vast majority of organizations will think or say.

In the coming week I’ll share more lessons and insight with you. On Friday, October 17, 2014, I’ll host a live discussion via webinar. Sign up for FREE with this link. On November 5 & 6, 2014 I’ll host a workshop in New Orleans that will allow you to create a 50 page crisis communications plan with up to 75 pre-written news releases. You’ll walk out of the workshop with a finished crisis communication plan and the skill to write even more pre-written news releases.

I’m available to answer your questions on this issue. Call me at 985-624-9976.

Gerard Braud

NFL Crisis Communication Plan: 3 Steps to Good Ethics and Leadership in Crisis Management and Communications

goodell whatever

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

By Gerard Braud

Crisis management requires having a written plan that can be followed in every crisis in order to manage both the crisis and the behavior of the decision makers. The written plan helps insure good crisis communications can take place because there will be honest and ethical leadership.

What is honest, ethical leadership in a crisis? Good, ethical behavior is doing in private what you would do if the entire world were watching and listening.

The NFL crisis is embattled by the same type of discussions that likely took place at Penn State during their child abuse scandal. Usually, a bunch of old white guys – yes I said it – gather in a room and all say, “If people find out about this we’re in big trouble. If people find out about this, our reputation will be ruined. If people find out about this, we’ll lose boat loads of money.”

The group usually goes on to make decisions designed to hide the facts from the world as a way to protect their reputation and revenue.

This is always the wrong way to manage a crisis.

The group should be saying, “If we don’t come clean and tell the world about this we will be in big trouble. If we don’t act honestly, our reputation will be damaged. If we enact real change, we can seek forgiveness and repair our reputation and revenue. If we get this wrong, our reputation and revenue will be more damaged than if we hide the truth.”

The institution must end the crisis and not kick the can down the road. The correct way for any institution or company to protect their reputation and revenue is to end the crisis by doing the right thing the first time. This means:

1) Letting the world know the full extent of what you have uncovered in your investigation

2) Punishing those who are at the root of the crisis

3) Announcing steps to keep it from happening again.

 

Roger Goodell and the NFL:

1) Only let the world know part of what happened and likely hid facts they knew

2) Handed down a punishment based on the world not knowing the full truth about Ray Rice

3) Are now announcing steps to give money to groups who advocate against domestic violence.

Domestic violence is not the crisis at hand in the NFL. The crisis is denial, arrogance, and bad ethics by the people responsible for leading the NFL.

Yes, domestic violence is an issue for some players, but so is womanizing, drinking, drugs, DUI, getting in car wrecks, theft, dog fighting, and even murder. The players in the NFL are a representation of the population at large and the NFL can only do so much to raise awareness about all of these issues.

Ray Rice isn’t the first player guilty of domestic violence and will not be the last. The NFL didn’t throw money at domestic violence prevention in the past. So why now? The NFL is trying to distract us from the truth and the failure of the people who failed to be good, ethical leaders.

The people running the NFL are still not getting it right. In fact, they are making their wrong worse.

If my suspicions are true, more truth will come out about what the NFL did and didn’t know. As the truth comes out, credibility will be lost and the institution’s reputation will be further damaged, with a slow erosion of revenue each day the crisis lingers. Some revenue loss will come from the sponsors who pull out. Some revenue loss will come from fans who don’t buy tickets or merchandise.

The NFL must do what all institutions should do from the beginning:

1) Tell the truth

2) Punish not just the players, but the guilty executives as well

3) Announce steps to make sure bad decision-making doesn’t happen again

Suspending Roger Goodell is still a viable option. It needs to be done swiftly in the name of crisis management and ethics.

Did the NFL Miss a Crisis Management and Crisis Communication Opportunity on Sunday?

Roger goodell gerard braudBy Gerard Braud

Sunday football arrived without a plan for NFL management to end the Ray Rice crisis. Nor did they manage the crisis surrounding what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell knew and didn’t know.

Fans continue to call for Goodell to be fired. Is there another option for crisis management and crisis communications shy of Goodell’s termination?

Sometimes the best plan is to look for a creative solution that hasn’t yet been considered in the crisis.

What if the crisis management solution was for Goodell to communicate to the Sunday NFL audience that he was suspending himself for one year? It would have displayed leadership in a crisis and managed the crisis to a conclusion.

Is this the best expert advice that crisis managers and crisis communications counselors could make? It would be the creative crisis management solution I would suggest.

Sean PaytonConsider this — New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended for one year even though he didn’t know that his defensive coach was running a bounty program for defensive players. Payton received a one-year suspension because Goodell said that as the head coach, it happened on Payton’s watch. Payton, as the top leader, was held responsible by Goodell.

So, many call for Goodell to be fired and he goes into classic executive denial, diversion and potential cover-up about what he knew. The best way for him to end the current crisis would be to suspend himself on the grounds that the Rice incident happened on his watch. If someone within the NFL had video of the punch in the elevator and Goodell didn’t see it, then by default, Goodell is as guilty as Payton.

If we learn Goodell did know about the video, or saw the video, and/or was told by Ray Rice about the punch, yet failed to serve Rice his harsh penalty until the world saw the punch video, then we have a classic case of leadership failure in a crisis. We have a case of an executive acting one way toward others, yet having different rules for himself. We have a case of an executive who was wishing it would all go away, but who was forced to respond differently when the world learned more.

Crisis management requires good ethics and good ethical decisions. Expert crisis management only happens with the executive’s words and actions are one in the same. Are the executives actions congruent with his or her words? When they are, the executive is a leader. When they are not congruent, the executive fails to be a leader.

The more I watch this crisis the more I expect it to get worse. When a crisis is allowed to smolder this long it results only in more damage to reputation and revenue. Experts will tell you that the faster you end the crisis, the faster revenue and reputation are restored.

Leadership in a crisis happens when hard decisions are made quickly. A self-suspension is a great compromise shy of Goodell being fired. If Goodell fails to take a bold step, then his job is one the line, as it should be, for failing at crisis management and crisis communications.

Social Media for Crisis Communications: Social Media Confusion in Crisis Communication

By, Gerard Braud

USF Web Crisis All ClearIt is difficult to control what gets said on social media during a crisis. Often, the
misinformation that is spread rapidly on social media causes panic and potential harm.

Let’s look at a case study of Twitter gone bad when it hits the fan. When the Virginia Tech shooting occurred, Twitter was just at its launching point and was therefore not a factor. But in 2009 there was a gunman reported on the campus of the University of South Florida. Thank God the situation did not escalate into an actual shooting, because as you will see, Twitter has the potential to create chaos, fear and confusion.1_USF - gunman tweets-1

When the gunman was first reported, the school used their text message system to notifyUSF - gunman on campus students of the potential danger. Those text messages became tweets, which were re-tweeted in an endless cascade. The cascade of tweets reminded me very much of people who want their 15 minutes of fame when they are interviewed by traditional media. People long to be important and a re-tweet makes them feel good, feel smart and feel like they are making a difference. But with each passing minute they were doing potentially more harm than good.

When the all clear was given, it was sent to Twitter. But for the next few hours, tweets and re-tweets kept telling students to take cover because there was a gunman on campus. The university had lost control of the message and the rumor mill was hard at work.

To the university’s credit, they were using one of the platforms that I always suggest using, which was their official website. To their credit, they were using Twitter to both tweet the all clear and to include a link to the official website.USF cynic on false alarm

Since every company is vulnerable to mass shootings, part of every organizations crisis communications strategy should be to have software that can be automated to constantly re-tweet your all clear message. Applications such as Tweet Adder allow you to type in a message and schedule it to be re-tweeted as many times as you like and as frequently as you like. This means you can type in an all clear message, complete with hashtags for the event and a link to your official website. If you program it to tweet every five minutes, you will essentially be outshouting those well meaning people who think they are helping when they erroneously tweet a shooting is still under way.

Tweet-Adder-ReviewAdd to your to-do list to set time aside to discuss the damage that cascading re-tweets might have during your crisis. You also need to discuss how you will cope with this problem. Also, take time to download Tweet Adder or similar software, then learn to use it.

 

Social Media for Crisis Communications: Social Media as the Cause of Your Crisis

By Gerard Braud

YouTube Flicker Dominos VideoAs we examine the leadership gap, the generation gap, and shiny new object syndrome, let’s note that in many cases, in the world of crisis communications, social media can be a greater source of bad than good.

The fact that a citizen can post a picture of a plane crash before the airline knows about it is not good. The fact that a student is broadcasting a shooting to CNN before you even know about it is not good. The fact that your employees are part of a social media gossip loop before you send official communications to them is not good. Now, let us add to the discussion the fact that sometimes, social media is your crisis.

Case in point, Easter Day, April 16, 2009. Two employees at a Domino’s Pizza outlet were bored and started to shoot a video of themselves. One captured the other putting cheese inYouTube Flicker Dominos Video1 his nose, before placing the cheese on a pizza he was making. They then uploaded the video to YouTube.

It was an astute blogger who had a Google Alert for the word Domino’s that first saw the video. The blogger called Domino’s headquarters. The folks at Domino’s were not amused and not pleased, and they took steps internally to identify the employees and the store. But Domino’s did not anticipate that this video would become a viral wonder. They underestimated the YouTube audience. So here, we see multiple failings. There is the classic leadership gap, there is decision paralysis, and there is the generation gap.

Earlier in this collection of articles I told you that a cardinal rule of every crisis communications plan that I write is a mandate to communicate within one hour or less of the crisis going public. Obviously Domino’s did not have such a plan, because the one hour mark would have been reached one hour after they heard from the blogger. In many crises, at that one hour mark, depending upon the severity of the crisis, you would speak to any media who have arrived at your site; you would publish something to the web; and you would communicate with employees, via the web, via e-mail, and in severe situations, with an in person meeting.

What do you do in the new world of social media when “it” hits the fan?

In the world of decision paralysis, one of the problems is the fear that if the company says something, they may turn a nothing story into a bigger story than it should be. Hence, many companies, often on the advice of both attorneys and the communications department, say nothing. I have never subscribed to that rule and never will. I have successfully defused events that could have become major stories and lead to major lawsuits by bringing the story directly to traditional media. I believe that being pro-active and communicating bad news on your own is your best defense.

Add to your to-do list the need to have a discussion with your leadership and your legal department. In that discussion, you need to ask them under which circumstances they would suggest saying nothing. It needs to ultimately conclude with a decision to speak and disclose your potential crisis in almost every situation.

The system that I have created, using pre-written communications templates, has resolved that situation for all of my clients. This is due to the fact that lawyers get to see exactly what we plan to say, giving them time to approve all of the statements – sometimes months or years in advance.

The Domino’s case presents a to unique opportunity to respond in-kind, meaning respond to a YouTube video with a YouTube video and do it within one hour. Let me explain the magic of this approach. Domino’s eventually responded with a YouTube video, which we will discuss further in a moment. However, inside sources tell me that the general discussion within the organization was that for a company as big as Domino’s, if the story wasn’t on the front page of U.S.A. Today, then there was nothing to worry about.

Wrong! The offending video was posted late Sunday and by Tuesday evening, more than 250,000 people… more than a quarter of a million people had watched the video. By noon Wednesday, just 18 hours later, the video had more than 1 Million views on YouTube. The company learned the word Domino’s was being typed into more search engines than the word Paris Hilton. Domino’s was still thinking that out of 307 million people in the United States, only 1 million had seen the video, which was minimal in the big picture. I At 1 million hits the video got the attention of mainstream media and became a story among all major media outlets across the U.S.

So, what would you do? My answer is I would have had a YouTube video on YouTube within one hour of learning of the event, even if I didn’t know all of the facts. Why? Let me explain.

Rule 1. Respond within one hour or less, but in the case of social media we add a new rule.

Rule 2. Respond in-kind, meaning answer a YouTube video with a YouTube video. If, when you post your video, you use the same key words as the offending video, you can achieve nearly equal search engine optimization. That means that every time someone types the word Domino’s in a search engine, the corporate response would show up nearly as often as the offending video.

Domino’s eventually posted a message from the CEO to the web and they claim it was posted 48 hours after the offending video was posted. Furthermore, they claim this was ground breaking. For the record, I’ve been a corporate Vice President and I council executives on a regular basis as a crisis communications expert. I can imagine what was going on inside the company. Many executives were on Easter vacation and they were attempting to tackle the problem by long distance. People were busy trying to prosecute the employees. People were busy wordsmithing messages; people were massaging words. That’s always such bull.

CNN Ireport gerard braud snowJust as I shot a 15 second video in my snowy front yard and posted it as an i-Report for CNN with less than an hour’s work, I could shoot a very brief on camera message that says,

“Hi, I’m Gerard Braud with Domino’s Pizza. There is a YouTube video circulating around with two people who identify themselves as Domino’s employees. In the video, they’re doing some pretty nasty stuff in the store. Chances are if you’re watching this, you’re looking for the other video. Let me just say that we’re in the process of identifying the people in the video so we can get to the bottom of this. Our focus now is to find out exactly what’s going on and how we can keep it from happening again. Stay tuned for an update.”

That’s it. That’s all that was needed. I don’t need to see a CEO. Some crisis communications trainers believe you should always send out “the top dog first.” I say bull. Usually the first person I push out the door as a spokesperson is a public relations spokesperson. I’ll send the CEO out later if the situation is severe enough, but in many cases a high level manager makes a good spokesperson, if he or she as been through proper media training.

Add to your to-do list the need to have a discussion with your team and your leadership to establish an understanding of who should be your first spokesperson in a crisis, and how many people you feel should undergo media training so they can serve as subject matter experts in the subsequent hour of your crisis.

I am a big believer that the CEO needs to be busy managing the crisis, especially in the early hours of the crisis, while others serve as the spokesperson. Only in the most extreme cases do I make the CEO the spokesperson, and even then, I generally roll out lower level experts first.

President Domino's Prank responseNow, back to the video from the Domino’s CEO. Yes, eventually it was posted. The CEO did a poor job of reading from cue cards off camera. No teleprompter, he made no eye contact with the camera and no, he isn’t someone who can ad lib well. Add to that, the statement was worded as an angry rant and by the time it was recorded, the CEO was an angry person. It was bad, it was too little and it was too late.

The Domino’s head of PR claims in an article published by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), that what Domino’s did was unprecedented and ground breaking. I disagree on several points. I’ve used YouTube videos many times before his crisis, and I’ll share some of those examples for you a bit later. I also live by the rule to communicate in one hour or less… not the Domino’s rule of one week or less. This isn’t rocket science, but it is about writing a crisis communications plan that works, using that plan, communicating in one hour or less, and involving leaders in crisis communications drills annually. Annual drills condition them to the idea that you must communicate quickly and that the CEO doesn’t have to be the primary spokesperson.

One final note on this topic – Every crisis communications plan that I write contains dozens of pre-written templates and your plan should too. Every item the leaders identify in the vulnerability assessment should have a companion, pre-written communications template. On a clear sunny day, when there is no anxiety and you have clarity of thought, you can write 75%-95% of what you would say on the day of the crisis. In the case of a restaurant chain, you would have a document that describes food tampering. When the crisis hits, you’re not looking at a blank piece of paper. Rather, you are looking at a well-worded document that has already been vetted by the leaders and the legal department. You are looking at the same type of template that your leaders would have seen and used when you conducted your crisis communications drill. Spokespeople would be looking at and reading from the very same document they used during their media training class. This system gives everyone the confidence needed to communicate quickly in a crisis.

With that, get your to-do list out. If your crisis communications plan does not contain dozens of pre-written statements for all of the possible crises you could face, then you need to create such templates. If your plan does have templates, you need to schedule a quarterly review to determine if new templates need to be written.

If you don’t know how to write such templates, contact me and we can schedule a writing retreat for your team so that you can quickly fill your plan with the templates you will need.

 

Social Media for Crisis Communications: Social Media, Crisis Communications and the Severity Level of Your Crisis

By Gerard Braud

Braud Crisis Plans_6113In every crisis communications plan that I write for a client, I have a page that establishes a severity level for the crisis. Traditionally the severity level is determined by injuries and/or fatalities, as well as the speed at which media cover the event, as well as how long the event remains in the news.

I believe all crisis communications plans must be living documents that are updated as communications styles and standards evolve. Several years ago I had to modify the severity levels of my plans to include the impact of social media and how quickly people would begin making postings about a company’s crisis and how long they would remain in the cycle of communications.

Add to your to-do list the need to modify how you categorize the severity of your crisis in your crisis communications plan.

In keeping with our last discussion about the generation gap and leadership gap as it relates to social media, this change to your crisis communications plan must be accompanied by training for all involved in the crisis process, including leaders, emergency responders and risk managers.

As we explore the generation gap, we must also look at a problem 180 degrees away on the opposite side of the spectrum. One of my great fears about social media is that many Gen X & Gen Y people involved in communications suffer from what I will describe as shiny new object syndrome. In other words, they are enamored with the tools and technology. They treat social media as though it is the greatest communications tool ever invented. They also think social media should supersede other forms of communications. I think that is a mistake.

Add to your to-do list an evaluation of yourself and those around you. Identify whether you or others suffer from shiny new object syndrome. Recognize the symptoms and use the rest of this document as therapy.

I’m especially harsh on Twitter because I think a big part of Twitter’s popularity comes from the fact that people who were not part of the original launch of MySpace and Facebook were afraid they would be left out or left behind. But according to PEW Research,

As of December 2012, only 16% of online adults say they use Twitter.

Once again, I’ll say that all social media tools are part of a mix. In certain crises, there are high value listeners on Twitter, including a lot of people in the media. A direct tweet to a reporter at just the right time can significantly impact the coverage a story gets.

Another fear I have is that the shiny new object syndrome affects younger communicators the most. Because they and all of their friends tend to use these tools 24/7, they perceive that the entire world is likewise using them. We might also note at this point that the mainstream media are trying very hard to use social media and that they too may be suffering from shiny new object syndrome.

If you pull back the curtain, the media are using these tools as a way to reach the younger audience that they have not been able to reach through conventional publications or TV news broadcast. For the mainstream media, Facebook and Twitter are marketing tools to capture a new, younger audience. The media are fully aware that their older, traditional audience, is not a full participant in social media.

One final Instagramthought about shiny new objects – remember MySpace? It was replaced by the shiny new Facebook. These days, as parents and grandparents use Facebook to keep tabs on their grandkids, young people are abandoning Facebook for Instagram. This means that social media continues to be a moving target creating challenges for communicators.

In our next article, we’ll look at crises caused by social media.

Social Media for Crisis Communications: Social Media for Crisis Communication and the Generation Gap

By Gerard Braud

IMG_2621As we discuss social media as a crisis communication tool that allows you to reach your core audience, this is a good time to explore what I will describe as both the leadership gap and the generation gap, that social media presents.

People in leadership positions, traditionally perform poorly in a crisis because it is an out of the ordinary event for which they are seldom trained. They don’t plan on a clear sunny day for the things that will affect them on their darkest day. They ignore the old adage, “If you fail to plan, plan to fail.”

You can rectify this in several ways. If you don’t have a crisis communications plan, include leaders in the process of conducting a vulnerability assessment that explores all the things that could go wrong where you work. As I mentioned in an earlier article, I facilitate many executive meetings throughout the year to conduct such vulnerability assessments. Leaders are often stunned when they see the long list of potential ways that “it” could hit the fan.

So add to your to-do list the need to conduct a vulnerability assessment in a facilitated setting with your leadership team.

If you already have a crisis communications plan, leaders should be trained in two ways; that would include annual media training and at least one crisis drill each year.

Just because someone holds a leadership title, doesn’t mean they have leadership qualities. Among the qualities I look for in someone who has leadership qualities is the ability to manage a crisis. The leadership gap is most often personified by decision paralysis. In other words, leaders are paralyzed by the fear that the decisions they will make will be the wrong decision, therefore they do nothing.

In the world of crisis communications, decision paralysis is personified by people in leadership positions not authorizing or allowing you to issue a statement in the first hour of a crisis. Often, lawyers advise them against saying anything for fear that they will say the wrong thing. My belief is that you must begin communicating something, even if it is only partial facts.

A crisis communications drill will get your leaders used to the speed at which a crisis unfolds and media training will give your spokespeople the confidence to stand before an audience of employees or the media, to let them know what is happening. I’ve seen some remarkable changes among the leaders whom I media train and the organizations for which I annually conduct crisis communications drills. If you fail to conduct media training and you fail to conduct crisis communications drills annually, you can expect your leadership team to fail you during your crisis. You can expect your leaders to fall back into decision paralysis. Think of it this way; a great athlete practices constantly and has great coaches. Well, your leaders likewise need to practice and have great coaches in order for them to perform well when they need to.

This brings us to the generation gap. We’ve already established that in the world of traditional media, leaders are slow to respond and issue statements. In the days of traditional media, when I was a television and newspaper reporter, if a crisis happened, it usually took us about one hour to arrive on the scene and begin reporting. But these days, any employee or any person on the street can communicate the crisis to the entire world in a matter of seconds. Instead of the 24 hour news cycle, we now have the 140 character news cycle. For those new to social media, 140 characters is the maximum message size allowed by Twitter.Twitter over capacity

Many leaders do not use social media. Many leaders still don’t know what social media is. Many leaders have no idea how fast messages get communicated by social media. Some leaders may have heard of the various outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter. But the reality is, they have no idea what these tools do and how they work.

I’m asked to give keynote speeches at many association and corporate conferences and a few years ago I introduced a new keynote called, Social Media When “It” Hits the Fan. The keynotes give me an opportunity to create a dialogue from the stage with leaders as I ask them what they know about social media. Here are my questions and the responses received.

• When asked how many use LinkedIn.com, 10% – 20% usually say yes.

• When asked how many use Facebook, fewer than 15% usually say yes.

• When asked how many have watched a video on YouTube.com, about 25% usually say yes.

• When asked how many have ever posted a video to YouTube.com, the response drops to 2%.

• When asked how many use Twitter, the response is usually 1-2%.

I then ask, how many have no idea what I just said and what I’m talking about, to which most hands go up and there is an uproarious laugh.

This represents both the leadership gap and the generation gap. While Gen X & Gen Y employees post comments, pictures and video to social media sites, often via their smart phones, older employees – especially leaders – are oblivious to the far reaching impact of these tools and trends.

In an earlier article in our series, I told you 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.

At this point, take out your to-do list and place on the list the need to do social media training; that is to say, you need to conduct programs to educate leaders on the impact of social media both on good days and in a crisis.

If you have a corporate meeting planned or if your leaders attend specific association meetings, you can always ask the meeting planner to invite me or you can call me with their contact information. That way, I can help you close the generation gap and solve the leadership gap if you would like my help.

 

Social Media for Crisis Communications: The Social Media Listening Post in Crisis Communication

By Gerard Braud

youtube

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, Twitter over capacityonly 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.

Egypt WaelGhonim2In 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 twitter WaelGhonimwhere 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.

 

Social Media for Crisis Communications: Social Media Relationships Before Your Crisis

By Gerard Braudfacebook-like-button

In considering social media and crisis communication, let’s all agree that social media may cause your actual crisis. Other times, your crisis may be of your own making and social media then amplifies the crisis because of the chatter created in cyber space.

Social media at its worse, clusters mean, anonymous people saying unkind things about your issues and your employer. You have no control over their public conversation. In better situations, fans might say nice things.

In the best situation, social media is about relationships. It is a space and a collection of tools that cluster people with whom you wish to listen to and talk with. It clusters people who want to hear what you say.

I’m not a fan of many aspects about social media because effective crisis communication involves controlling the message and the messenger. However, if I want to at least influence the conversation, the message and the messengers, it is more easily done through friends and supporters than through those anonymous mean people. As with much of what I advocate, those friendly relationships must evolve on a clear sunny day, if you wish to have that support on your darkest day.

Consider that social media is the ultimate personification of 6 degrees of separation. The people you have relationships with have other relationships you don’t know about. That means they are repeating things to friends of friends of friends, creating a circle of conversations and influence. This frightens me because there is less control over the message and the messenger. Yet, it creates hope for me because if a good relationship is built on a clear sunny day, it produces people who like your organization. As a result, they will be more likely to support you in tough times. Essentially, people you have a relationship with have the ability to become your brand ambassadors.

Let’s stop our conversation here today and add something to your to-do list. How might you use social media to create meaningful and sincere relationships with members of your core audiences?

Tomorrow we’ll look at some case studies and struggles in the world of social media and crisis communications.

 

Social Media for Crisis Communications: Are You a Social Media Hypocrite?

By, Gerard Braud

GeismarAs 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?

At home, on your personal Facebook, Twitter or YouTube sites, do you personally follow your bank on social media? Do you follow your hospital? Do you follow your oil company?

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.

InstagramNext, 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.