5 Ebola Crisis Communications Considerations

By Gerard Braud

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

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

Here are 5 Ebola Crisis Communication Considerations:

1) The Need is Real

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

2) Ask for Help

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

3) Tie Ebola Communications to Business ROI

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

Here are just a few considerations of doing nothing:

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

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

Crisis communication workshop gerard braud4) Plan Now

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

5) Be Opportunistic

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

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

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

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

Social Media Complicates Ebola Crisis Communications

Ebola Facebook Crisis video Gerard Braud

Click image to watch video

By Gerard Braud

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.

Emory FB wide 1If 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.

Emory Chobani FB Sorry 1In 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.

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. If people need information, they are smart enough to find it on your primary website.

Emory FB commentsIt 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.

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: 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.

 

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

HD TweetBy Gerard Braud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What should you do in your brand?

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

 

2) Terminate those who post recklessly.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Burger King’s Social Media Crisis & Failure to Effectively Communicate

By Gerard Braud

In 2013 there is no excuse for such failed crisis communications. Any and every company should be ready to make a public statement on any crisis in one hour or less. It is good public relations; it is good media relations; it is good crisis communication; it is good social media crisis communication.

So here it is on Monday afternoon, February 18, 2013 as I sit in my office near New Orleans and Burger King’s Twitter account was hacked nearly 4 hours ago. The hackers make it look like a McDonald’s account.

 

Burger King eventually managed to get Twitter to suspend the account and pull down the content and ugly comments.

 

But in the 140-character world of fast news, the fast food company is SLOW to officially issue a statement.

 

 

 

Here Burger King, I’ll help you out. Go to my website and download a sample of what a First Critical Statement should look like:

 

Type in the coupon code: CRISISCOMPLAN

That way you can have it for free. And anyone else reading this blog can have it for free as well.

 

 

Every company should have a template like this for fast release to the media, your customers and to your website. In the crisis communications plans I write, this template would then have 100 more companion templates with more pre-written details about every type of crisis imaginable.

The time to prepare these responses is on a clear sunny day before you need them. The worst time to write a response to a crisis is during the crisis.

Burger King’s Facebook page is full of comments by followers, but Burger King hasn’t even bothered to post anything on their Facebook page to acknowledge this unfolding social media and public relations crisis. This is simply failed public relations and failed crisis communications.

 

Burger King’s official web page has a page for news releases, but as I write this nearly 4 hours after the crisis began, there is no official statement about the hacking from Burger King.

 

There is a page with names of media contacts. You would think one of these people would be issuing a statement, but no, that isn’t happening.

 

 

I decided to send them e-mail, but no one has replied.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did find a news story on the Associated Press website that said, “Burger King plans to issue an apology later today.” Really? Later? How about right now? How about an hour or less after the event happened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And just before hitting “publish” on this blog, I’ve tripped across a Chicago Tribune story with an apology message from Burger King.

Here is the statement it took Burger King 4 plus hours to write:

“We apologize to our fans and followers who have been receiving erroneous tweets about other members of our industry and additional inappropriate topics,” Burger King said in a statement to the Tribune this afternoon.

Long story short: Burger King PR Team – you guys are failures.

The next question is will the PR people who read this immediately gather their team together and update their crisis communications plan and prepare for a hack of their own social media accounts, or will they simply go about their daily PR task and hope it never happens to them?

 

 

Social Media Crisis Communications – Sins of 2009

Today we’re going to look at one of the biggest sins of 2009… shiny new objects syndrome.

When I look back at 2009, I’ll remember it as the year that people became obsessed with Twitter and Facebook. Seems everywhere I turned, people were clamoring over these shinny new objects… like aborigines who have seen themselves in a mirror for the first time.

The obsession with these tools is perplexing for me, because I know some people truly enjoy them… while others have jumped on the bandwagon because they fear being left behind. It’s a classic version of trying to keep up with the Jones.

The sad reality, is that while many people were chasing after the shinny new objects, they took their eye off the ball; they lost track of priorities, especially in the field of communications.

All communications is about what you want the other person to know and how you want them to respond to that communications. There are many tools that can help you achieve this goal, but too many people in communications have tried to force fit Social Media not only into their tool kit, but to make it paramount as a communications tools.

I think that is a bad idea. Social media reflects a huge generational gap between those under 30 who use it often and those older than 30 who have never used or seen a social media site.

While they tools have their benefits for maintaining certain relationships, they are often a force fit in a corporate culture. Sure, frantic fans of a movie star may want to track their every move on Twitter, but do customers of a chemical company really need to follow your Tweets…and do you really think that I want to follow your Facebook fan page? Not likely.

The reality is, as a communications platform, Social Media sites are unreliable and vulnerable to hacking. There are still many other forms of communications in your tool chest that are more reliable and are better for reaching your loyal audience.

So if shiny new object syndrome was your sin in 2009, as we enter 2010, your redemption would be to make an effort to not get distracted by what is shinny and new, but to use it only when it is a good fit and the right fit…not a force fit.

I get asked about using Social Media a lot as a crisis communications tool, so on January 19th at 11 a.m. CST, I’ll host a special telemseminar called, Social Media When “It” Hits the Fan. If this is a topic that impacts your and your team, I invite you to sign up. We’ll look at examples of when Social Media has worked well and when it has been a huge failure.

Tomorrow, we’ll wrap up the week with a look at what leaders don’t know and how it impacts your job.

And…

1) If you’d like to sign up FREE for the audio version of this, known as the BraudCast, click here.

2) For a FREE sample listen, this is your link