Most of the world now knows about the “United Airlines incident” after a video of a 69-year-old passenger being forcibly removed from his seat went viral earlier this week.
The video, shot from another passenger’s phone, showed clearly the screaming man being dragged down the aisle, leaving him bloodied and terrified – along with the over- booked flight of witnesses.
Within hours of the video being captured, #United was the leading hashtag worldwide on Twitter. Even in China, where Twitter and Facebook don’t exist, more than 97,000 comments had been recorded on one Weibo post by the end of the day, along with a new hashtag #Chineselivesmatter.
Following the Twitter (and Weibo) eruption of the United Airlines incident, we’re reminded us just how vital a solid social media communications strategy is to any business, particularly in the event of a crisis.
When a crisis does hit a business, social media excels as a way to spread news in a quick and efficient manner. Bad news will always travel fast, and these days it’s likely to gain traction on social platforms before the traditional media get to it. It’s important to have steps in place to manage reaction in the midst of a social media storm and how monitoring early warning alerts of any change in volume or sentiment around your brand will give your team a chance to prepare for what’s coming.
When tackling a social media crisis, I believe there are 5 essential steps that need to be included in any PR plan:
- Plan ahead.
Even if you can’t predict what might set off a social media meltdown, the steps you will need to take are the same: Respond, reassure, research, respond again, and react. Your plan needs to state how you will do this within the tight time demands of social media. Who gets notifications? Who can access the Twitter account? How slow is your approval process? Who has final sign off? Contact details for spokespeople? Have pre-approved statements available, this will make the reaction process far more manageable.
Every business should have social and media monitoring set up to capture what is being said about its brand so that if there’s a spike in negativity, or an emerging issue, you can react instantly. Frankly, a Google alert isn’t really sufficient. For effective monitoring, you need to pin point what it is you want to listen for. There are 6000 tweets sent every second, so understanding the language around an issue will make it quicker and easier to find the relevant ones. Successful monitoring should include daily reporting, early warning alerts if there is a change in volume or sentiment, or mentions from highly influential critics.
- Prepare your posts.
When something happens, you need to be out, publicly, with a response in about 10 minutes. Have a holding tweet at the ready, or a post that acknowledges that something has happened – even if you can’t give out specifics, being the first to acknowledge a situation can go a long way. Even a post that says “We understand an incident has occurred. We are finding out more information and will update in 10 minutes” is better than nothing.
- Pick your platform.
Twitter is the place for breaking news. Facebook is the place for connecting and seeking feedback. Instagram should not be used anywhere near a corporate crisis. Understanding the difference of your social media platforms and having sufficient followers to ensure you can engage when needed is important.
- Respond swiftly and carefully.
It is essential that in any situation involving your business, you are the first person to weigh in and that you have the right information on hand. If you do something wrong admit, apologize, and accept responsibility. The sooner you do, the less likely that your original stuff up will spiral out of control. It’s important to not add fuel to the fire. Understand how your situation is being reacted to on social media and plan your responses accordingly. Even if you do believe your actions are justified, pause to think about how they are perceived.
Chances are, your business is not in the habit of dragging people out of plane seats while being filmed on a smartphone, but there are lessons in United’s response for everyone.
Tags: brand engagement, business, crisis communications, issues management, leadership, media relations, social media
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate,” is the famous line from the 1967 Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke. It best sums up the Marathassa – Burrard Inlet oil spill and points to a critical failure we often see in a crisis. In planning for a crisis, organizations forget the importance of communication, not only in dealing with the crisis, but also when informing the public. They plan how to deploy resources and deal with the crisis internally, while often forgetting what exists outside of their organization.
A timeline in the Globe and Mail shows several communications failures that lead to delays in calling out cleanup and containment crews in the Marathassa spill. Once deployed, the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) teams did an excellent job, cleaning up 80 per cent of the oil in 20 hours, but the communication delays turned what might have been a minor incident into a major event. Those internal communication failures were then compounded by a failure to inform the City of Vancouver until 12 hours after the spill was first reported. This turned it into a major story.
Rather than being praised for its response, the Coast Guard faced a storm of criticism for an inadequate response and cleanup effort. The public was unhappy. Local politicians were unhappy. The Provincial Government was unhappy. This could not come at a worse time for proponents of expanded crude oil shipments out of the Port of Vancouver. Oil spill prevention and a world-class response are central to gaining public support. Public and political sentiment is that this was not world-class. Poor communications lead to a slow response, which let the crisis get out of hand.
The Coast Guard’s prime stakeholder in a crisis situation is not the Federal Government or Coast Guard management in Ottawa. The Coast Guard’s number one stakeholder in a crisis is the public who they are charged with protecting and that includes local governments who represent all of us. That stakeholder was forgotten.
So how do you avoid making the same mistakes in your crisis? Here are seven things to think about:
1) Have a crisis communications plan. Crisis planning is not complete without a crisis communications plan. Who to call (or tweet), when to call (or post on Facebook), what to say, and how to best get your message out. To be seen to be effectively responding, you have to tell someone about it
2) Alert your communications team right away. Don’t wait until the story is out of control—get the communications team working on the crisis from the outset. Bringing in heavy hitters from Ottawa didn’t save the Coast Guard’s reputation, nor change the public perception of the crisis. By then the story was written by the public, the media, and the critics. The story was “clean up was a failure,” “world-class spill response was anything but” and “Coast Guard cuts made the problems worse.”
3) Prepare your statements in advance. Have fill-in-the-blanks templates for media advisories, statements and news releases for predicted events so you can get those out to the public quickly. It should include social media channels and your website as well.
4) First out with the information controls the message. The first voices set the narrative, the tone of the story. It’s your crisis so you know the most and you know first. Use that to your advantage. Become the source of accurate information. Media and the public go to who can provide the best information. In an information vacuum, they go to who screams the loudest.
5) Know who your stakeholders really are. Make a list. Make a list and have it as a key element of your crisis communications plan. Who they are and how to reach them. If the public isn’t on the list, they need to be there and the best way to reach them is through the media: both social media and traditional.
6) Define each potential crisis in advance. You should have a list of potential crises, each given a crisis rating based on seriousness and a planned response for each level of crisis. That way in the heat of the moment you can just follow the plan and effectively manage crisis communications.
7) Exercise the plan often. The worst thing you can do is create a plan and never practice it. If you regularly deal with minor events, get in the habit of pulling out the plan, assessing the seriousness and whether to call in the communications team. It’s free practice! Follow the same steps until they become routine. Use the templates mentioned above. It should become second nature so when a major crisis happens you know what to do. If you don’t have regular minor occurrences, then you need to do formal practice until you are confident in your ability in a crisis.
Look at the oil spill and relate it to a crisis your organization could face. Would you do better or make the same mistakes? If you don’t have a crisis communications plan, or if you have a plan but don’t know how to use it or where it is or who to contact and how to do that, then expect bad news. A crisis defines your organization. Your response to a serious event is revealing.
Tags: communications vancouver, crisis communications Vancouver, crisis management, issues management, Media relations vancouver, Vancouver PR
I was called by BCBusiness magazine writer, Kristen Hilderman, with the question: Does every company need to know how to communicate in a crisis?
The short answer is yes. Any company or organization can face a crisis requiring them to work with the speed of social media to protect their reputation. Once a worst case scenario hits, the scramble is on to do and say the right things.
This subject is extremely topical because Vancouver’s two recent SkyTrain shutdowns, in the same week, were aggravated by poor communication with many hapless commuters trapped on trains.
This followed Lululemon founder, Chip Wilson, creating his own crisis by implying women who require larger sizes shouldn’t buy the company’s yoga tights.
He got publicity alright. But it was the wrong kind. The online petition fell just short of calling for a complete boycott of Lululemon stores and their products.
Laterally speaking, it was the Mount Polley mine tailings pond dam failure releasing that brought crisis communications to the forefront. The flood of 10 million cubic metres of waste water, plus more than four million cubic metres of sediment flowing through a failed tailings pond dam, created its own flood of public outcry and media questions.
Imperial Metals seemed slow off the mark — they communicated with a news release on their website. That quickly got stale and nobody in the head office was available to respond to media questions.
So what are best practices in these situations? Have a crisis communications plan. Ensure that it is practical and that it works. Run a crisis simulation so you can find and resolve any glitches.
That plan should be a quick-response blueprint for anything that might imperil your organization’s reputation.
Make sure the plan is short and workable. Templates for holding statements, fact sheets, topics and key messages, news releases, media advisories, as well as a resume of predictable questions and recommended answers, should be appendices. Crisis communicators should be able to use the templates to cut and paste to meet current needs.
Select key spokespeople and put them through media training. There is a well vetted methodology for managing crisis communications by communicating effectively with media and stakeholders.
With all that in place, issues and crisis management is still very challenging, as those who have been dealing with recent events know all too well. But there is a way through and preparation is everything.
It will be time and money well spent.
Tags: Communications plan, crisis communications, issues management, media relations, media training
Peak Communicators is excited to be partnering with the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce to host two half-day seminars on building, enhancing and protecting your reputation through strong communications initiatives.
Taking place on April 16th at the Capri Hotel, attendees can learn the secret sauce behind building your brand and business. The session will also discuss how to protect your good reputation by identifying an issue before it becomes a crisis and delivering strong messages to internal and external stakeholders and the public.
Other topics to be discussed include:
- Building a brand and profile through public relations and media initiatives
- How to find and tell your news and your story
- Why a crisis communications plan is necessary and how to develop one
- Issues management and crisis communications
- Using social media tools to build, enhance and protect reputation
The session will be hosted by two senior Peak consultants, Alyn Edwards and Chris Olsen. Both were news reporters for 30 years and are experts in helping companies tell their stories.
Date: April 16th 2014
Time: Two time options: 8am – midday or 1pm – 5pm
Location: The Capri Hotel, 1171 Harvey Avenue, Kelowna, BC, V1Y 6E8
Room: The ‘Vineyard’ room at the Capri
Cost: The seminar cost is $195 per person or $149 for Kelowna Chamber of Commerce members
Registration: Available online through the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce
Parking: Available on site
If you’d like further information or have questions, please call Peak Communicators on 604.689.5559.
Tags: branding, crisis communications, issues management, Public relations, social media, storytelling
You can’t beat the drama and emotion in sports. The media coverage surrounding the drama makes it even more entertaining.
Since the Vancouver Canucks’ coach John Tortorella lost it going after Calgary Flames’ coach Bob Hartley on Hockey Night in Canada last weekend, it has been a field day for sports commentators and the water cooler topic for hockey fans.
Some say that as the bench boss and leader of team, the coach demonstrated intense passion. He had his players’ backs. Others feel it was a big sideshow that has no place in professional sports. The debate continues.
The league showed it was an activity they did not approve of. The coach is banished from working for the next 15 days which includes six hockey games.
Kudos to Vancouver’s local CBC-TV newsroom for its story, which I felt had the most refreshing observation about Tortorella. To quote commentator, Alistair Moes:
“It was like the end of the world. It would make sense for a three-year-old, but not so much for a 55-year-old. Look what happens when you have a temper tantrum. When you lose it, no one listens to what you have to say to them. They just ridicule you and make fun of you.”
Mr. Moes is a Vancouver-based anger management expert.
Tags: communication, crisis communications, issues management, media coverage, sports, Vancouver Canucks
You may have seen the shocking YouTube video of a FedEx delivery man throwing a computer monitor over a customer’s gate, uploaded in December.
Within 24 hours, it had received 200,000 views. The story then featured in the Daily Mail and the number of views soared to 4.5 million. Today, the total stands at over 8 million and it has been ‘liked’ 17,000 times.
So how did FedEx deal with the situation?
In the first statement, FedEx condemned the employee’s actions, stating that executives were ‘shocked’. They said the handling of the package was ‘unacceptable’ and vowed to track down the employee responsible.
This is a good initial response. FedEx probably learnt about the incident at the same time as the press so they wouldn’t have had time to investigate. FedEx was also right not to protect the employee; instead they distanced the company’s brand from the individual’s actions.
FedEx’s next move was smart. They created a YouTube video in response – within 48 hours. The speed of their response was critical, helping curb speculation about the incident.
In the video Matthew Thornton, Senior VP at FedEx, said they had met with and apologized to the customer. The company deserves kudos for this; in difficult situations, companies typically communicate with customers via telephone or in writing. Meeting face-to-face is personal and proves FedEx cares about its customers.
Thornton also answered the question everyone asked: what happened to the employee? He explained ‘they’re working within their disciplinary procedures and the employee is not working with customers’. This is a mediocre response. Customers and journalists alike wanted reassurance that the guilty party had been fired. I suspect HR procedures prevented FedEx from providing a stronger response.
Thornton then reminded viewers that the company’s motto is to ‘make every FedEx experience outstanding’. This is good; he uses a difficult situation to reinforce the company’s key messages and its commitment to customers.
Despite this, the footage still damaged the company’s reputation – and consequently it was listed by Forbes as the ‘most brand-damaging viral video of 2011’.
FedEx’s YouTube video also received less than half a million views, a sixteenth of the original video. Clearly bad news travels faster than good.
This incident won’t go away for FedEx and any reoccurring issues will be closely watched by the public eye. However, FedEx can be commended for responding quickly, using YouTube as the channel to respond and meeting the customer face-to-face.
What are your thoughts on FedEx’s response?
Tags: communication, crisis communications, customer service, employee relations, FedEx, issues management, social media, YouTube