Peak Communicators
April 12, 2017

Navigating through the social media storm

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:

  1. 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.

  1. Listen.

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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March 16, 2015

Changing Habits Through Leadership

In this final post of our leadership series, we outline what Art of Leadership speaker Charles Duhigg discussed in relation to the power of habit. In particular, he explored how leadership can improve and change habits.

Duhigg informed the room that, according to recent research he’d seen, 45% of what we do is habit. He explained the habit loop, emphasizing the importance of reward in forming habits.


What I found interesting was his take on unplanned organizational habits. He illustrated this point by talking about how we operate in the workplace daily, often without even realizing what we’re doing and how we’re behaving. For example, we operate in silos or we stick to our own job descriptions and won’t interfere with others. He highlighted this by talking about the Kings Cross fire in London which killed 31 people and injured 100. From what I understood, Duhigg was suggesting that, if London Underground employees hadn’t stuck to their job descriptions and silos, the fire may have been prevented from spreading.

Obviously there are always a lot of factors to consider in these kinds of situations but, talking us through the steps and habits of how the employees responded, certainly confirmed his theory. Ultimately, unplanned organizational habits prevented anyone from taking crucial action.

So how do we change habits? Again, it’s a big topic and one that I cannot do justice to in a short blog post. But I would add:

  • Will power is key
  • Recognize that habits spill into all areas of life; identify those you truly want to change
  • Identify what provides you with an opportunity for change
  • Find habits that deliver emotional rewards

Hopefully this leadership series has given you some thoughts, tips and tricks to apply to your workplace environment, teams and individual development. The key to success and growth is keeping things simple and realistic. So be sure to identify what you believe will work for you and focus on a selection of these points. And don’t be afraid to have check-ins with yourself and others. Documenting progress, getting feedback, and being open to change will ultimately allow you to become a more successful leader.

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March 10, 2015

Leadership Lessons from an Olympic Medallist

To follow-on from last week’s blog post exploring leadership qualities and approaches in more detail, I wanted to share key Art of Leadership takeaways from five-time Olympic medalist, Hayley Wickenheiser. Hayley gave an inspiring and entertaining talk which had everyone in the audience captivated. In particular, it was a good reminder that great leaders can be found everywhere – not just in the corporate world.

Hayley’s tips included:

  • It’s important to differentiate between your role and yourself
  • Keep perspective in check – be present
  • Lead from the front – show your team the way
  • Lead from behind – step out of the way
  • Do the best job you can
  • Have the courage to step ahead of fear
  • Find the courage to stick to the plan
  • Celebrate the small successes as well as the big wins
  • Find unity in adversity
  • Enjoy the ride!

Although short and sweet, a lot of Hayley’s points came from her experience training with her team and then becoming the team captain. I think any of these tips can be applied to the corporate world and are just as valid as some of the more corporate-based suggestions that may delve deeper into strategy and relationships. Often, keeping things real and keeping things simple are what will really be effective and have a genuine impact on people.

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March 3, 2015

The Terms for Being a Great Leader

For those regulars on the Peak blog, you’ll recall that, towards the end of last year, we shared some tips from the Art of Leadership conference.

There were a lot of key takeaways that day so here are a few more to consider when looking at how you can be a more effective and inspirational leader (or start working towards becoming one).

Overall, some of the main points that stood out to me included:

  • Leadership is about values and behaviour
  • It’s about having the right set of goals that everyone is aware of
  • Collaboration is a key leadership quality
  • Positivity goes a long way

At one point, the conference host remarked, “True leadership happens when you’re not in the room.” That struck a chord with me as so often we feel like we have to be extremely involved with a process or team in order to achieve the desired outcomes. This statement challenges that concept. True leadership essentially should make everyone a leader.

We’ve previously shared what Dan Roam (The Back of the Napkin) and ex-NYC Mayor, Rudy Giuliani had to say about great leadership.

Dr. Vince Molinaro of Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions was also one of the conference speakers. Dr. Molinaro emphasised the important of getting the best out of people, of leadership accountability, and the skill of being able to connect strategy and leadership.

He brought his approach down to four key terms that leaders need to sign up to – in what he called “The Leadership Contract”:

  • Decisions: Define who you are as a leader. Be deliberate in your decision making. Differentiate between you as a person and you as a leader.
  • Obligation: As a leader, you have to step-up. It’s your job to make things better. What’s your leadership legacy? You want to ensure you leave a company in a better and sustainable state for the future. Position your company for success.
  • Get tough! As a leader, you still have to tackle the hard work. Ensure you have regular check-ins with yourself and question whether you’re wimping out on anything you shouldn’t be. Make those tough decisions and have candid conversations.
  • Connect! Ultimately you’re leading a community. Who has got your back? Clarity breeds commitment.

It’s easy to listen to the theory. But, in order to grow as leaders, we need to look at how we can realistically apply some of these theories to our day-to-day work. Something as simple as creating a checklist or assessing more challenging situations and how you approached them can be a really effective way of continual learning. And don’t be afraid to seek feedback from your colleagues. It’s the best way to learn.

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October 23, 2014

Art of Leadership Series: The Power of Pictures

In this second leadership post that explores some of the key takeaways from The Art of Leadership conference last month, I’m going to shift the focus away from New York City and Rudy Giuliani’s leadership principles and focus on the power of pictures.

I have to confess that several people have recommended Dan Roam’s The Back of a Napkin to me. In fact, I went so far as to buy the book last year. But it remained unread on my shelf, having taken second place to life. Newly-inspired by Dan’s talk on the power of pictures, it has been promoted to my bedside table in the hope that I’ll soon never have to communicate through text again.

Dan’s presentation was simple yet effective, just like his ‘matchstick’ pictures. He discussed how pictures are a common language and pointed out that every company and leader needs a vision and a vision requires pictures. He reminded us that pictures can serve the following purposes:

  • Make complex issues, simple
  • Help solve problems
  • Clarify, create, convince
  • They are compelling and memorable

Dan Roam

When you think about it, it doesn’t make sense that we neglect the visual side of our brain so much. Roam encouraged us to tap into this potential more regularly, reminding us that our visual mind never sleeps and that humans are visual processing machines. Yet we’re often not intentional around our use of images. He gave us some tools and tips to takeaway that will help solve problems and/or help share understanding among team members. Here you can see how he adopts this simple approach by getting people to talk through the who/what, how much, where, when, how and why of something, to help map-out a pathway.

I don’t think it’d be realistic to start drafting news releases that only include images or sending client reports showcasing stickmen. But I do think there’s a lot of value in leaders and communications professionals considering using images more frequently, whether it be during brainstorms, strategy planning sessions, or in proposals. Ultimately, we all relate to pictures. And I’d argue that the more we can simplify life, the better.

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October 9, 2014

The Art of Leadership Series

Last week, I had the fortune of attending the Art of Leadership conference here in Vancouver. An interesting, insightful and inspiring one-day event, it featured an impressive line-up that included Rudy Giuliani, Hayley Wickenheiser, Charles Duhugg, Dan Roam and Dr. Vince Molinaro.

Given the sheer volume of information presented and exchanged at the conference, I though it best to share the key learnings from each speaker in a series of blog posts to be published in the coming weeks.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was the keynote for the event and arguably the most influential speaker, so it seemed appropriate to start by sharing some of his leadership principles.

Rudy Giuliani’s Six Leadership Principles:

1) Establish a set of beliefs: what are your goals? What do you want to accomplish? Always have a plan and an agenda and ensure you are accomplishing it daily. You must be clear when you share your goals and plan with others. People can’t follow ambiguity. And don’t forget that you need to be able to measure your goals.

2) Be an optimist. People follow hope. And they won’t follow someone who can’t provide solutions. Ensure you train and encourage those around you to always bring you solutions instead of problems.

3) Show courage. It’s a fact: most great people fail before they succeed. Take risks, learn from your failings, pick yourself up and overcome your fears.

4) Relentless preparation. Rehearse everything. Think of every possible outcome and prepare for it. Understand that things may go wrong and something unanticipated may happen. But if you’re prepared, your confidence and agility will see you through the tough, unanticipated moments.

5) Team work. Know yourself and build a team that balance your weaknesses with the strengths of other people.

6) Communication. Sharing feedback with those you work with is key. And track metrics to ensure you know exactly where you are as compared to your original goal.

Giuliani was charismatic and charming — as one hopes a leader to be — and often illuminated his principles by applying them to his experiences as a lawyer and as Mayor of New York City on 9/11.

But it was his final point, which didn’t make it onto his toplist of principles, that actually resonated most with me: ultimately, as a leader, you have to love people and care about people. You need to be there and support them in life and in business. In return, people will take care of you and go above and beyond the call of duty.

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