Tag Archives: crisis communications

A Twist on Crisis Planning: When Allies Attack

You’ve heard the adage “Familiarity breeds contempt,” and arguably, there’s no place it’s more true than in the realm of online opinion.  Today at SXSW, a session titled “Breaking the Mold: What to Do When Allies Turn” tackled the subject of frangible online alliances, and what to do when things go south.  The discussion was lead by:

  • Jehmu Greene, TV Commentator & Media Trainer at Fox News (@jehmu)
  • Joanne Bamberger, Editor/Publisher, Broad Side Strategies (@jlcbamberger)
  • Sally Kohn, Writer & TV Commentator, Movement Vision (@sallykohn)
Mmes Kohn, Bamberger and Greene.

Mmes Kohn, Bamberger and Greene. (Sally, thanks for making sure I knew who you were, but I recognized you from Crossfire. Just saying.)

Dealing with blowback is never fun, but when people or organizations that were you thought were in your corner turn the tables and attack, working through the situation can be demoralizing.

Kohn advised getting in front of potential problems by building credibility and goodwill within your community.  While goodwill won’t insulate you from online attackers,  building a credible and engaged network is a way to develop virtual comrades-in-arms.

When haters go “all sharknado” on you, it’s important to remember their motives, advised Bamberger.

“Haters are all about control,” Bamberger advised. “It’s not about you, it’s about them trying to stake out their territory.”

Kohn referenced the “Disapproval Matrix” created by Ann Friedman as a guide for discerning the difference between critics and haters.

Sussing out the difference between critics and haters is an important tactic in managing online attacks.  Critics care about the issue, and on some level are offering constructive feedback.  Haters, on the other hand, care more about themselves.  Embrace critics, and try to tune out the haters.

Planning for controversy is also crucial, all three agreed.  Anticipate reactions and have your facts locked down.

When dealing with rampant haters – the avalanches of nasty tweets and relentless evil e-mails – all three offered tips while also acknowledging the fact that meanness stings.

“Laughing at them takes their power away,” said Kohn.

” If you step in it, remember that $#*^ can be wiped off a shoe.” Greene agreed.

Ultimately, if everyone is agreeing with you, you’re not making an impact Greene reminded us.  Challenging conventional wisdom is leadership, and Kohn noted that sometimes, being liked isn’t part of that equation.

“You can’t worry about being liked,” summarized Kohn. “Negative blowback is one of the costs of leadership.”
Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook  New School Press Release TacticsFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

3 Devices for Navigating the Waters of Reputational Repair

The rise of social media and mobile devices has empowered consumers with 24/7 access to the latest news and speeding delivery of information, and crises can quickly snowball.  PR Newswire’s upcoming webinar “Navigating the Waters of Reputational Repair: The Steps to Effective Crisis Communications Planning,” will discuss proactive measures that communicators can take to ensure brand stability during a PR emergency. Prior to the discussion, speakers Shana Harris, COO at Warschawski, and Gerard Braud, Media Training Expert at Braud Communications, shared the most common mistakes made by crisis communicators and how to avoid them.

Prepare a plan in advance

“One of the biggest mistakes public relations people make is that as the crisis is unfolding, they open a blank document on their computer and start writing a news release,” says Braud.  Action is delayed and the crisis intensifies while the press release works its way through approvals. Braud suggests using a clear, calm day to write out as many potential news releases as possible, leaving blanks to fill in the actual details of the event. These documents can be pre-approved by senior communicators and speed up the ability to respond to the public.

Make sure your plan is clear and to the point

A plan that is too generic or too complicated is useless when swift action is needed. To address this problem, Braud has spent extensive time developing a base plan that dictates specific, easy-to-follow tasks that can be delivered within a short time frame. According to Braud, the plan should be so clear that “anyone who can read can execute the plan flawlessly.”

Communicate honestly and effectively with the audience

“Eliminating fear is the #1 goal of a crisis,” asserts Harris, “the best way to achieve this is to be upfront and honest with people.” Knowing the audience is crucial toward assessing the right mediums for effective communication, whether it is email, social media or traditional media. Communication must be frequent to let people know when they can expect an update or where to find it and more importantly, it must be transparent and authentic.

Preparing for action in advance of a crisis can be the difference between success and failure. Using a clear, calm day to address potential controversies can avoid panicked decision making or a delayed response time.  By planning ahead, PR pros hold the power to take immediate control and prevent competitors from responding first while maintaining trust with key audiences.

Want to learn more about effective crisis communications planning? Join us Wednesday, November 20 for a FREE webinar, Navigate the Waters of Reputational Repair: The Steps to Effective Crisis Communications Planning and learn how to protect your brand in the wake of unforeseen dilemmas.

12 Tips for Keeping Control in Front of the Media

keep-calm-its-just-the-media

When confronted by a barrage of microphones and probing questions you won’t always have “Just watch me” moments. You’re human. You even make mistakes. It’s understandable: cameras and confusion can make media scrums and press conferences intimidating.

It’s important to engage with media. Dealing with media can be an opportunity to showcase recent achievements, share information with key publics, promote your brand or to showcase leadership.

As communicators, it’s our job to coach the spokesperson to handle all types of media inquiries, one of the most important being the press conference or media scrum. So, where do you start?

  1. Prepare a list of tough questions: You should have a pretty good handle on who your audience is.  Prepare a list of questions you anticipate them asking. Dig deep and don’t assume they won’t ask. It’s better to be ready for anything, so you never have to say “no comment”.
  2. Anticipate audience reactions:  What if some of the questions you’re being asked garner unexpected responses or follow-up questions? Answer the questions on your list from all angles, just in case someone reacts adversely to something you say. Know how to rephrase your responses and be sure to stay on message.
  3. List information not for release: In some sensitive situations, just as important as the key messages are details that are off limits. For example, if the circumstances surrounding the conference are grave, personal information of those involved should not be released. Know what’s off limits before you step up to the microphone.
  4. Distribute material:  You may keep things on track during the conference by having supplementary information readily available to attendees. Factsheets, photos, contacts lists, agenda, maps, company and product information – have these items available in a press kit. This will help journalists covering the story to keep facts straight (timelines, technology specifics) and stay consistent in messaging. It may also cut down on questions and make sure your event runs on time.
  5. Listen:  Now it’s time for the Q&A. This is like the interview portion, so remember to listen to the question. Even though you’ve anticipated a lot of these questions, it’s important to make sure you understand exactly what’s being asked. This will allow you to better answer the question the first time, without having to repeat yourself. Seek first to understand.
  6. Pause: You’ll be answering many questions. It’s perfectly acceptable to take a pause before answering. Make sure you heard the whole question; make clarifications; think about your answer; and respond. If the question has multiple parts, break it up by repeating the part of the question you’re answering. Just take it one step at a time. Pauses are never as long as they seem. So take your time.
  7. Answer the question: Don’t waste time beating around the bush. Listen to the question. Understand what it is that’s being asked. And answer that question. Keep it as clear and simple as possible. Brevity is sometimes the best way. You’re leading the session, so set the standard for clarity right off the bat.
  8. Lead with the facts. You won’t be able to divulge everything at a press conference. Be honest about what you know and what you’re working to find out more about. “No comment” is not an acceptable response. But admitting you don’t have all the information yet is more “transparent” than giving journalists the freeze-out.
  9. Stay on message: It may happen that an attendee at a conference for one event is there to try to inquire into other aspects of your business. Be prepared to get back to journalists with answers to unrelated questions at another time. “Today our focus is _________, but I’d be happy to get in touch with you afterward to answer your questions about __________.” And, sometimes the best way to answer a question is to reiterate a key message.
  10. Stop Talking: They asked. You answered. That’s all you have to do, so stop talking. Make your point and move on. There’s no need to ramble on or jump around to different topics. If someone repeats the question, answer with your key messages and take the next one. Keep things moving.
  11. Watch yourself: In all likelihood, the event was taped. Use the video to coach the spokesperson. What went well? What went poorly? Was their body language appropriate? How was the pace? What could have been handled better? Did the audience identify with the spokesperson? It’s important to conduct a little bit of a self-audit because you might need to consider a new spokesperson.
  12. Learn and correct: Every press conference is a learning experience. Use it to make improvements where you can, in everything from how the event was run to the invitees list and from the venue to the spokesperson chosen. Learn from successes and mistakes to move forward. 

Great preparation can also be the best defense.   That’s why a fundamental aspect of a good media relations program is keeping tabs on what is being published and said about your brand and industry, and to respond quickly when needed.  MediaVantage combines potent media monitoring, measurement and workflow tools to empower your organization to be in control of the brand.

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Dealing With Negative Comments on a Company’s Social Media Accounts

The Q&A Team answers questions from ProfNet readers with advice from our large network of experts. Has there been a question burning in your mind lately, something you’ve been wondering that none of your colleagues can answer? Please send it to polina.opelbaum@prnewswire.com

Dear Q&A Team,

A couple of weeks ago I was assigned to manage my company’s social media accounts. I started noticing negative comments being left on our different accounts, and I am not sure if I should delete/block or respond to these comments. What is the best and most professional way from me to deal with these attacks?

Lost in SM World

_____________________

Dear Lost in SM World,

Congrats on your challenging but exciting new role! Here are seven ProfNet experts who provide their insight on managing negative commentary on a company’s social media accounts:

Define the Attack

“First, define who is attacking you, because it might not be worth your time to pursue,” says Penny Sansevieri, president/CEO of Author Marketing Experts, Inc.  “It’s important to know the difference between an online attack and a difference of opinion. We’ve worked with authors who have gotten bad reviews and wanted them pulled. A bad review is not an online attack — it’s someone’s opinion of your product or book. They didn’t like it and it’s their right to voice that.”

Therefore, “if the negative comments are constructive and have merit, it’s critical to respond in a respectful, conversational and non-defensive way. Explain in a fact-based manner the brand’s position,” says Lisa Gerber, president of Big Leap Creative.

In addition, there can be times where the comment may be a customer service issue rather than a blatant negative comment that is delivered via social media and seems aggressive in nature.

“How you respond, and who should respond, should be known in advance throughout the organization,” explains Chris Dessi, CEO and founder of Silverback Social. For example, he says, “Is there a customer service email you can refer people to? A customer service phone number?”

Responding to a Negative Attack

Wikipedia defines a troll as “someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional responseor otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

Now that we know the “official” name of the individuals who attack, how do you deal with the attacks?

Peter LaMotte, senior vice president of LEVICK, says, “Your message needs to be clear and firm, and must communicate the company’s pre-determined position. If a firm is clear with their communication and stance, there is little more to add unless the conversation takes a new direction. A clear statement can also avoid time-consuming back-and-forth arguments.”

“The company should always be honest about how they are dealing with the issue,” added LaMotte. “If they legally can address the issue, they should never be anything less than transparent. Transparency shows that you have nothing to hide, so anything less than full transparency will exacerbate the issue. Finally, use your platforms to focus on the positive aspects of the issue. If steps are being taken to address the issue, use your blog to tell the story and then share that content across all of your social media platforms.”

Sansevieri  agrees: “Communicate on your blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook. Don’t stop talking. That’s the first thing many big companies want to do: go silent. Silence is not golden. Be communicative.”

Some issues should be handled outside of social media, says Bill Corbett, president of Corbett PR. “Major concerns should be taken offline for discussions and communications with customers with issues.”

Sansevieri says, emailing the person and having a dialogue may be the last thing you want to do, but “step back and realize that going directly to the source could fix this much faster.”

As far as how quickly you should respond to the attack, Dessi recommends responding “as quickly as humanly possible. Really. No matter what, you must respond quickly. The faster you respond (even if you don’t have a solution for someone), the better. We like to at least say to people: ‘We hear you. Thank you for posting. We’re working on getting you an answer.’”

When to Delete/Ignore an Attack

Complaints that are not respectful or not understandable may be subject to no answer or deletion; blocking of the individual; or other actions, says Corbett.

Specifically, “if there is any inclusion of personal attacks or personal information of employees or stakeholders, the company has the right to delete the comment,” says LaMotte.

Sansevieri shared a case where an individual had to be blocked from Twitter. “A few years ago, one of my Twitter followers asked me to market him for free (no kidding). When I didn’t, he started attacking me on Twitter. We reported him to Twitter and he was shut down, but that’s the extent of what we did. Now he continues to start up new Twitter accounts and tries to follow us, but he is always blocked.”

However, if a comment is deleted, you need to have something to fall back on and explain the reason for deletion, says Gerber. “This is where a social media policy is very important. In your policy you can state that comments that are disrespectful or contain profanity will be deleted. This policy should be posted online somewhere and available to all community members,” he explains.

*See Huffington Post’s comment policy: www.huffingtonpost.com/faq/#moderationprovided by Tim McDonald, community manager of HuffPost Live. You can also read his insight on dealing with trolls here: bit.ly/XTKmEF

A Positive Side to the Attack

“Sometimes, ‘negative’ comments are a good thing, and can be an opportunity for your brand’s customer service to shine and to solve a problem in front of your social media fans,” says Dessi. “I’ve done this for large retailers and it’s always a huge hit.”

In addition, if you’re doing your job well, your brand advocates will also come to your rescue, says Gerber.

Dessi agrees, saying “it’s always better when the community polices this type of activity. The best way to encourage this behavior is to give back to your community, engage with your community, and generate genuine interest and affection for your brand/personality. When there is affection there will be defenders in your corner, always.”

As far as getting involved in the conversation while the community comes to your rescue, Gerber believes that “as a brand, you’ve said your piece. Now your brand advocates are participating. Your job is done.” If you would like to thank your brand advocates for the supportive behavior, “you can message them privately thanking them.”

Managing Across Different Social Media Accounts

Handling negative comments for difference social networks requires different responses, says Dessi. “I like to say that they are the same language, but different dialects. Also, certain social platforms allow for different types of responses to complaints from the community. Recently, there was a long Facebook post response from the president of Carnival Cruise Lines speaking about a ship that has been stranded at sea. He couldn’t offer that depth on Twitter, nor would it be appropriate.”

“Twitter responses should be more immediate,” adds Corbett. “Facebook responses should be well thought-out and provide more information or ask questions.” He adds that tweets have a shorter life span than Facebook and other posts. “In many instances, a response alone is enough to solve and issue.”

Yet, the fundamentals of communications remain the same, said Gerber. “Don’t get defensive, never be angry, and end the conversation if you are going to agree to disagree. The tools simply dictate a change in tactics, but not in strategy.”

Do’s and Don’ts

Dan Grody, partner of Tellem Grody PR, provides some helpful do’s and don’ts for managing negative comments.

DO:

  • Remember that everything will be ok.
  • Respond to negative comments.
  • Take screenshot threads that demonstrate resolution and keep them on file. You will always be able to show your social media team examples of handling negative comments.
  • Direct conversations offline to address matters privately, if situation is not      easily resolved.

DON’T

  • Don’t delete the comments (unless offensive, derogatory, etc.).
  • Don’t stress.
  • Don’t get defensive.

LaMotte adds to the list with a few more do’s:

  • Engage in the conversation where the conversation is already taking place, don’t try and create your own soapbox.
  • Use a single voice of the firm. Don’t allow any employee to engage on your behalf on their own accord.
  • Be a human being; don’t come across like a robot or party-line recording.
  • Be honest about mistakes or missteps. Don’t forget to address your next steps or solutions.

I hope this provides you with the information you need to effectively and successfully manage the trolls and different negative comments you receive on your company’s social media accounts. Good luck!

- The Q&A Team

Written by Polina Opelbaum, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources.  The Q&A Team is published biweekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Polina, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

image via Flickr user cambodia4kidsorg

Vulnerabilities in Social Media: The AP Twitter Hack and How They Recovered

Hacking happens. Today it resulted in the following false and malicious information being tweeted from the @AP Twitter account: 

“Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured.”

S&P 500 dips drastically after @AP Twitter hack.

S&P 500 dips drastically after @AP Twitter hack.

Unfortunately the Associated Press, a normally very credible source of information, was victim to a hack and the results were devastating for the stock market. According to Bloomberg, the malicious tweet tanked the S&P 500 by $136 billion within two minutes.

@AP quickly tweeted that their account had been compromised and it was soon suspended and remains so now. The stock market regained strength and I think a lot of people nervously took their first breath after several long minutes.

Who should we blame?

Of course there are lots of people playing the blame game. At the top of the list is of course is the hackers themselves, and I agree! But who else holds responsibility for this crisis? The AP? Re-tweeters? Twitter?

The fact is, we’re all as vulnerable as the AP. I recently attended a panel featuring Eric Carvin, social media editor at the AP. He spoke of the efforts they put into securing their social accounts and gave some very sound security tips.

They were doing their due diligence. Unfortunately, there are always people out there who can get around almost any online wall.

The tweet was retweeted thousands of times within minutes. All of us with the power to retweet or repost messages ‘must’ be more vigilant about confirming through a second and even third sources, information that seems incredible.

Social media is a powerful tool that can be used for good, and which can easily turn to evil by our very own laziness to verify what we’re posting.

Is Twitter to blame? Perhaps Twitter can put better security measures around its service, but in the end, online vulnerabilities are everywhere, and that includes all social media platforms. Not just Twitter.

After securing our passwords and linking social accounts to something other than an easily hacked free email address, part of doing our due diligence is to have a plan of action in case such a crisis occurs.

The AP made the right moves to recover quickly today:

1. They quickly caught and countered the false tweet on their own twitter account, @AP.

2. They had AP journalists with strong Twitter presences Tweet out that the tweet was false.

3. They put out a media advisory with information making sure the story was clearly represented.

4. They told their own story on their own web properties.

At the end of the day the stock market was stable and I don’t think anyone questions the AP’s credibility as a source of news anymore than at the beginning of the day.

UPDATE:  The AP Twitter account is back up and running this morning.

Victoria Harres

Victoria Harres is VP, Audience Development & Social Media at PR Newswire, the main voice behind @PRNewswire, social media lead for @Business4Better and a frequent speaker and writer on social media for business. 

Leveraging cause marketing for authentic communications

Sponsorship is one of the oldest forms of advertising, and the basic principle – associating your brand’s name positively with something your target market enjoys –still holds water today.  However, in today’s changed information marketplace, in which traditional media share the stage with bloggers, brands, experts and individuals,  traditional sponsorships can fall a bit short.  Why?  Because  they give people precious little to talk about.  Enter cause marketing.

Cause marketing – in which a brand aligns itself and devotes resource to addressing a specific problem or supporting a charitable effort – offers brands advantages not found in other types of sponsorship or advertising, and it works particularly well in today’s world of social networks and online tribes.  Here are a few reasons why:

Tribal affinity, otherwise known as market segmentation:   Any marketer will tell you that segmenting your market is a good idea.  Expending the brand’s resources without taking the time to target groups of people likely to have an interest in the message can be an exercise in futility – and it’s wasteful.   However, the brand that aligns itself with a cause that is relevant to its best customers and prospects can create real efficiency when it comes to reaching that constituency.

That said, there are some caveats for brands when it comes to selecting a cause.

“The issues Millennials care about most varies from country to country and its tempting to let that drive what cause you support,” notes Simon Mainwaring, a leading social branding strategist and author of the book We First: How Brands & Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World in his discussion of how corporate purpose can turn Millennials into brand ambassadors. “But a brand must ensure its own purpose, values and mission dictate what cause it supports to avoid accusations of greenwashing or causewashing. That way, a brand’s cause work drives Millennial engagement and reinforces the authentic for-profit narrative of the brand.”

Storytelling, otherwise known as content generation:  Cause-related marketing creates a lot more traction than a fleeting brand impression, because it presents the opportunity for the brand and its partner to tell stories.  And those stories can be powerful catalysts for conversations in social networks, which in turn delivers real message amplification that is positive — and relevant for the audience.   Programs created in association with your brand’s non-profit partner can be rich sources of the sort of attractive and interesting pictures, videos, charts, data, graphics and stories that people enjoy consuming and feel good about sharing with their friends and followers on social media.  And each piece of content derived from a brand’s cause-marketing program can

Incentive, otherwise known as the whole point of most marketing efforts:  Finally, cause-related marketing provides important extra incentives for buyers to make their selections in your brand’s favor when the simple act of making a purchase in turn helps a cause they care about.  Whether the consumer simply likes the idea of sending an extra dollar your cause’s way, or they’re making a conscious decision to only support brands that have sustainable business practices and give back to the community – the effect in the moment of the purchase decision is the same.  The scales are tipped for your brand.

Quite a lot of thinking in the CSR/sustainable business/cause-marketing community is coalescing around the idea that these practices are no longer optional for brands – they are necessary pieces of the strategy mix.   It’s difficult to disagree, from either the emotional or practical standpoints, for two reasons – people like doing business with organizations they like, and a great way to get people to like your organization is to do some good in the world and tell that story in an interesting way.

b4bA unique opportunity for brands considering cause marketing initiatives is coming this May at the Business4Better Expo in Anaheim CA.   There, representatives from the corporate side will find scores of non-profits that are primed for and seeking corporate partners.

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of the e-book “Unlocking Social Media for PR.”  Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik .

5 Things You Should (and Shouldn’t) Do in a Crisis

You walked in to work this morning, coffee in hand, ready to take on another week. But your colleagues are doing (what look like) sprints, papers are flying and your Blackberry’s buzzing like a chainsaw.

You know it’s bad. All signs are pointing to a corporate crisis.

Now’s not the time to lay blame. And until time travel’s perfected, it’s up to you – the PR pro – to help your organization weather the storm.

You’re used to leading teams and guiding organizations down the right path. You try to keep a clear head about the whole thing but the office uproar is distracting.

To help you stay focused, here are some simple Dos and Don’ts to keep in mind when dealing with your crisis:

  • DO….Get to the heart of the issue: find out exactly what went wrong
  • DON’T…Pretend it didn’t happen and hope it doesn’t happen again
  • DO…Make amends: take accountability where you should and admit any wrongdoing
  • DON’T….Pass the buck or accuse others
  • DO….Repair the damage: take conciliatory steps to fix the problem
  • DON’T….Wait and see what happens
  • DO….Communicate progress: keep stakeholders informed of efforts and roadblocks
  • DON’T….Keep quiet about what you’re doing to make things better
  • DO….Learn from it: Monitor the success (or failure) of your efforts
  • DON’T….Operate blindly and make the same mistake(s) again

The last thing you want to do in the throes of a crisis is make things worse.

Remember to always refer to your crisis communications plan. But, if it gets lost in the chaos, you can fall back on these five reminders.

An ounce of planning is worth more than a pound of cure in a crisis.  Incorporate MediaVantage into your communications strategy and stay on top of industry issues — and maintain control of your brand.   Learn more about our real-time media monitoring suite.