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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

Will they ever learn? A few simple social media tips could have helped Kansas Governor Sam Brownback avert a Twitter-imposed reputation crisis, a seemingly growing trend among public figures. When high school student, Emma Sullivan visited the state capitol, she tweeted “Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.” Gov. Brownback’s communications team led by Director Sherriene Jones-Sontag, found the tweet in a routine social media monitoring keyword search under his name. They proceeded to contact Sullivan’s high school principal who demanded Sullivan deliver a written apology to Gov. Brownback resulting in a hailstorm of ridicule from the Twitterverse and beyond.

Some industries have been hesitant to join the world of social media because of confidentiality or regulatory concerns. Law, pharma and government to name a few abide by legal, security, marketing and/or communications restrictions; a single word could cost them clients, affect policy, or result in millions of dollars in fines. Gov. Brownback’s communication team was correctly monitoring social media, but the way they responded to one negative Tweet demonstrated their failure to consider what we at CommCore consider to be key Twitter tips:

  • Twitter is a platform where you cultivate conversations. Bad or good, you should be prepared to read positive and negative opinions and respond (or ignore) accordingly.
  • Consider your online reputation. Acting defensively reflects poorly on your ability to manage issues.
  • Take the opportunity to turn a foe into a fan. You can reach out privately through a direct message (DM) and develop a conversation.
  • When faced with a negative tweet, consider the source before reacting. Emma Sullivan is an 18 year old high school student whose prior sporadic tweets were filled with excitement about the Twilight series and Justin Bieber.

In the end, it was not Sullivan who issued an apology, it was Gov. Brownback. He issued a statement on Monday saying, "My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize. Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms.” Jones-Sontag told the Kansas City-Star that it’s “important for students to recognize the power of social media, how lasting it is. It is on the internet." Looks like that was more of a lesson to Gov. Brownback and his communications team than it was for high school students. Let us know other helpful Twitter tips you would like to add.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Da Vinci + Gawande = Fewer Crisis and Business Mistakes

Leonardo da Vinci was ahead of his time in many ways. NPR’s Robert Krulwich has a great blog on DaVinci’s “To Do” list from the 1490’s.  Pretty good illustrations.

The blog reminds me of one of my favorite books of the past couple of years, The Check List Manifesto by Atul Gawande.

Both remind me of the KISS formula in communications.  We live in a very complicated world, with more and more demands for our attention. It’s hard to juggle and set priorities.  But the simple “To Do” list or a check list helps us organize the chaos, make good decisions, and avoid mistakes.

In crisis planning and response in particular, CommCore is a big believer in check lists.  Gawande demonstrates that a study of operating rooms with 4,000 patients in 8 hospitals around the globe that adherence to check lists accounted for drops of 36% in complications, 47%  fewer deaths and 25% fewer returns to the OR for another procedure to fix the first mistake.

Gotta tell you that check lists even make the Thanksgiving holiday planning and hosting of family and friends go a lot easier.

How do you or your clients use check lists and To Do’s?

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

They’re OUR Followers and You Can’t Take ‘Em

An online mobile news and reviews resource, PhoneDog, has filed a lawsuit against a former employee whom they claim absconded with 17,000 Twitter followers in its data base.  What’s interesting is that the company is viewing the taking of names and a Twitter password as a trade secret or company intellectual property.  We also see the issue as similar to one that plays out in other media:  whether the tweets were a work for hire or does the tweeter have the right to contact those that he responded to? 

This lawsuit has other interesting aspects:
  1. PhoneDog is suing for $340,000 in damages.  It got to that number by multiplying the number of followers by $2.50 – a figure that the company claims as an “industry standard.”  Others view twitter followers as worth barely 1 cent per follower.
  2. PhoneDog apparently allowed the tweeter to have access to the company account and password.  When he left, he merely changed the name of the account so that the @phonedog followers now came to his personal account.
  3.  Is the fact that his hand was @phonedog_employeename make it any different than a writer who has a byline saying that the magazine mailing list is his/her personal property.

As social media continues to evolve and becomes a growing marketing tool for all industries, it is important to have a set of guidelines for company property and how social media is used. A company’s best defense against losing critical data is to have protocols in place.  At CommCore, we work with our clients to develop specific policies regarding crisis, security and social media. Here are some suggestions:
  • Posts should be monitored by a second or even a third person to ensure the messages are in line with the company image.
  • Passwords should not be in the hands of only one person.
  • Limit social media admin privileges to senior staff.
  • Make it clear in employee contracts what is expected of them regarding organizational social media accounts when they are employed by you, and also when the working relationship ends.

What do you know or think a Twitter follower is worth?

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Celebrity Chef Gets Burned

New York celebrity chef Mario Batali stepped into a real stew of his own making last week after he equated bankers with Hitler and Stalin during remarks at a Time Magazine event to propose Persons of the Year.

As anyone speaking in public should anticipate these days, his remarks went viral within minutes, with the predictable ensuing firestorm. The fact that his comments were greeted with equal rage and glee depending on which side of the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement the audience is on only served to fan the controversy over his remarks. Batali's apology appeared almost beside the point; it has been lost in the growing debate over whether he was right or wrong, complete with "snap" surveys and endless blog commentaries on both sides of the issue. Of course, bankers are now using social media to urge a boycott of Batali's restaurants.

It is increasingly clear that despite reminders from communications professionals like the consultants at CommCore, and the endless examples of the consequences of being careless in public or via social media, people simply forget how exposed they are when they comment. Whether it's Republican Presidential hopeful Rick Perry recognizing that his recent debate gaffe and awkward effort at recovery will be repeated online long after the traditional news cycle has forgotten him, or Pittsburgh Steeler star Rashard Mendenhall's series of ill-advised Tweets, those in the public eye regularly lose sight of the risk of shooting from the hip.

All we can do is issue a reminder to public speakers in a conference, public event, scientific poster or key note speech: every Smartphone is a camera, every member of an audience is a potential tweeter, and every image of yourself can end up as a viral sensation on YouTube.  If you are a public figure, think before you speak; pause before you react; hesitate before you push the "send" button. Train yourself to be aware of an undeniable fact of communications: just because you think you know what you intended doesn't mean anyone else cares. Perception is reality more than ever in today's real-time, interactive, shared multi-media world.

How would you have handled Batali's comments if he were your client?

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"It’s Alright, Ma. I’m only Bleeding!"

When Bob Dylan penned and composed "It’s Alright, Ma, I’m Only Bleeding" he didn’t have the PR folks at Virgin Atlantic airlines in mind. But the song could be applied to the airline’s recent PR-driven consumer tiff.

Seems a Virgin Atlantic spokesman issued a public statement that its customers were happy with what he termed “a smooth transition” to a new online reservation system. The resulting firestorm made it clear that many customers not only did not like the new system, they also felt the statement was uncaring and unsympathetic. They were more than happy to publicize their discontent on Virgin's Facebook page wall. The airline posted responses such as: Some guests are experiencing web errors with our online check-in tool and are unable to check in or print boarding passes. Our sincere apologies. If you encounter an error, please check in at the airport. Thanks for your patience."

To our way of thinking, it doesn't take a communications expert to know that technology changes in any consumer-facing industry – e.g. a new online banking protocol, changes to the Facebook interface, iGoogle's new "look," etc. – generally bring an assortment of glitches and complaints, especially from loyal customers who have grown accustomed to a certain way of interacting with a brand. Most people initially don't like change when it comes to their habits no matter how supposedly  "good for them" the change might be. And certainly a cardinal rule of communications that CommCore reminds its clients of is never to assume that your customers or audiences are happy just because you are.

There are ways of ascribing success to an initiative while acknowledging that customers may need some time to recognize the long-term benefit. For example, here's what the airline could have said:  "We are pleased with the initial rollout of the new system. We are carefully keeping an eye out for glitchesWe also monitor customer reactions, and can address concerns on our website or toll-free phone number."  We think that would have been more consumer-friendly and sensitive.

How would you have handled a statement about a major technology change that affects hundreds of thousands of customers?

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Herm Cain and Crisis

At  CommCore we try to avoid stepping into the political fray.  The office is not the voting booth. Yet, politicians inspire us to think about issues, communications and crisis.  We don’t know where this week's issue -allegations of Herm Cain sexually harassing employees - will end up.  However, for our clients here's what we advise when such allegations surface:

  1. Assemble the core team.
  2. Gather the facts - as best you know them.
  3. Grill and drill those who have been accused and have information on the alleged incidents.  You want to know as much as possible about the facts, the issues, and the ramifications. 
  4. After the grilling pause - let the room fill with silence. Then ask: Is there anything else we should know or that could come out?
  5. Develop a statement for release to  appropriate media - options are myriad from a press conference, to a statement on the web site, to live one-on-one meetings, to employee meetings. Once you have settled on a statement that is based on the facts as you interpret them, stick to it. Don't mix messages and change your story based on which way the wind is blowing: the media will be all over you if you do.
  6. Monitor all the media, including blogs and social media.
  7. Issue factual corrections, if necessary.
  8. Don't feel the need to respond to every story or charge.

In general, when allegations surface, get your side out of the story out as rapidly and as fully as possible.  The shorter the duration of this type of crisis - one full news cycle - the better your chances of returning to business as usual.

What's your view?

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