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20 years

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Video Blog on Swine Flu Response


Monday, April 27, 2009

SARS vs. SWINE FLU - Comparisons and Differences

As I'm writing, the European Health Commissioner has recommended that unless it is "essential," that Europeans should avoid traveling to Mexico or the US.

Not since SARS have we seen a public health concern and watch that matches the focus on Swine Flu. While the outbreak started in Mexico, confirmed cases have reportedly been seen in the U.S. and in Canada.

I was privileged to be able to help Health Canada and the Canadian Government during the 2003 outbreak. Here are some initial thoughts on what public health officials should do:

Develop a web site as a central place for information. Information should be in English and Spanish. The English site for Mexico we have found is http://www.health.gob.mx/.

Many U.S. news sites have information as does the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Here are a few recommendations that came out of SARS:

  • Use the web site and update it often
  • Health officials in any city, town or national organization should set up a war room
  • Health officials should hold frequent meeting to decide on messages of the day
  • Hold briefings and post to the web as necessary
  • Ask for technical medical and health experts to hold briefings
  • Don't speculate on information you don't know

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Social Media Immediacy

As bloggers, we know that social media is a fluid environment. When attacked, companies and organizations must decide whether to respond quickly to negative sentiment, or wait to assess their response.

Some argue that the percentage of the overall population actively engaging in social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and Digg - though growing - has not yet reached critical mass. But here's the question: is it already a significant enough number, or a critically important enough audience, to warrant constant serious attention by professional communicators?

Was it worth it for Johnson & Johnson's Motrin to pull its controversial ad because of the uproar it caused on Twitter and blogs? According to Ad Age, citing Lightspeed Research, almost 90% of women never saw the ad. Surveys show that more attention was paid to the surrounding crisis and swift corporate reaction versus the ads themselves.

"Too often, communicators act too soon without listening to who are doing the chatting and what it really means to their brand. Sometimes communicators are completely absent from the conversation," remarks social media expert Howard Greenstein.

In contrast, Amazon is currently in the middle of how to continue to react. They had to act quickly last weekend when angry authors (and supporters) of gay and lesbian books whose works were de-listed from the sales charts launched a Twitter-offensive over the Easter holiday weekend. Tagged #amazonfail, thousands posted angry online sentiments about Amazon. Even people who aren't necessarily fans of the de-listed books or authors joined the fray. So far, Amazon is claiming no policy change and that the de-listing was likely due to an algorithm glitch. Amazon called it "an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloguing error." (sic) Question: are they communicating enough? How much would be too much? And are they listening enough first?

In crisis communications, we often talk about the "Golden Hour" a period of time in which you can gather information and respond. It is a phrase from emergency medicine which says that you don't have tons of time, but a little more time than you think. The first five minutes of gut instinct panic responses could lead to the wrong actions in medicine. Taking a little bit more time - but not too much - allows for finding out more data and information, and a more informed response. In social media, we're watching to see if the "golden hour" principle is the rule or the exception.

What has your experience been with social media and situations involving businesses and their services or products that may, or may not, be crises? Do you believe that a quick corporate response is essential even if the scope and scale of the social media conversation remains unclear? Is it enough to respond quickly online, or is immediate corporate action essential as well?

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Leaders and Communications

Jumping into the fray, Jack and Suzy Welch opined on a President Obama Leadership Report Card in BusinessWeek. While not agreeing with all of the policies, so far the former GE CEO gives him an A for leadership.

The comments the Welch's make about Obama and communications can apply to almost any CEO. "You can't communicate too much, especially when you're galvanizing change."

In the midst of this economic turmoil and change, I believe CEO's need to keep communicating with employees, stakeholders, retirees, customers. There is a tendency to hunker down and come out only occasionally. Why keep sending out bad news, is one argument? That's not the point. Yes, there is bad news, but it's how you say it that makes a difference.

An effective CEO and his/her communications team can do a good job even with bad or "eh" news. There is bound to be some positive information to transmit; and you can figure out ways to demonstrate how the enterprise is working harder, more efficiently and maximizing opportunities.

Think about the ways you can communicate: speeches, walking the halls, town halls, media interviews, online chat rooms, old fashioned letters to the house. Who do you think is doing well?

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