Archive for August 17th, 2009

Dominos explains its response to the YouTube video crisis

August 17, 2009

Tim McIntyre of Dominos Pizza explains in the PRSA Strategist article how Dominos responded to the video posted by a couple of idiotic employees on YouTube. This event helped deliver the message to corporate leaders better than almost anything I can imagine how vulnerable they were to the lack of good sense inevitable in their employee base and how social media and “going viral” represents a new and unprecedented threat to their brand value and reputation.

McIntyre does an admirable job of explaining what happened from an inside perspective. It all sounds good and reasonable but as I was reading I was thinking about my criticism of Dominos at the the time as well as every other crisis communication pundit–they were too slow. McIntyre here clearly isolates the reason what slowed them down. And in the process he highlights one of the most critical elements of crisis management: how do you assess the potential damage and how do you prevent your response from creating more damage?

On Wednesday, we learned that Domino’s as a search word had surpassed Paris Hilton for the first time ever. So that got mainstream media’s attention. We were still communicating to YouTube, communicating to these other Web sites, communicating via Twitter. And even at a million views, we were thinking, “This is fast, but there are 307 million people in America. There are a lot of people who don’t know about it; let’s focus on talking to the audience that’s talking to us.”

So they focused on trying to deal with those who were aware of it while not creating more awareness. Or, as he discusses later, cleaning up the mess in aisle five without closing all the other aisles in the grocery store (an analogy). The problem was that he didn’t really count on the viral nature of social media and how quickly it can spin out of control. Here is his answer to the question of what they could have done better in those first 24 hours:

Two things we didn’t anticipate. The first thing we didn’t anticipate was the pass-along value, or the pass-along nature of this particular video, because there was a lot of “Man, you ought to see this going on.” And the sheer explosion of interest from the traditional media. In fact, the writer for USA Today who contacted me first sent me an e-mail. The body of the e-mail said, “This is the e-mail you did not want. Please call me.” And that’s when I knew that we were going to be accelerated and we needed to take a more aggressive stance about reinforcing the message that we didn’t do this; this was done to us. (NOTE: THE EMPHASIS WAS MINE)

Here’s McIntyre’s very valuable advice about crisis communication today:

If there’s a crisis happening in the social media realm, or if there’s a fire in the social media realm, there’s a segment of the population that wants you to put on a microphone and a webcam and describe what you’re doing as you’re doing it. They want you to describe how you’re putting out the fire. And that’s an interesting phenomenon.

Absolutely right. That segment is big, powerful and very influential–and it now includes much of the media. So strap on your webcam and start talking–nonstop! It’s just not about press releases anymore folks–its about continuous 140 character updates with lots of video and images. It’s not about accuracy (heresy!!!) it is about what is happening right now and what you know right now.

McIntyre’s conclusion (and these may be the most important pieces of crisis advice you will get all year):

That would include responding on our Web site a little bit faster, hitting the Twitter community a little bit faster and talking to senior leadership a little bit faster.

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No surprise here–most of Twitter is “pointless babble”

August 17, 2009

Even while Twitter among professional communicators such as those in government is all the talk and concern, I believe that it is already on its way down after a meteoric rise in attention and focus. I predicted, to the surprise of some, that it would die, but that the function of instant updating would become ubiquitous. But why would Twitter die just when so many are finding it useful for critical communication? Because so many are finding it even more useful for disgusting, pointless, banal and completely non-critical communication. This BBC report shows exactly why. Quoting a Pear Analysis study it shows that only 8.7% of the content on Twitter has any “pass-along” value. Most of it (40%) is pointless babble–essentially meaningless conversations between individuals or small groups. Hey, don’t blame Twitter. that’s exactly what it was intended for. Remember, the whole point of Twitter was to answer the question: What are you doing now? No wonder people use it to talk about the coffee drink they are enjoying or other significant events in their lives.

As some conversations with government communicators suggested, Twitter has become very important to them as “listening posts.” An almost inconceivably powerful way to listen in on conversations about your agency or company. But that has its own problems as we will explore here soon. The point here is that Twitter is being buried alive in its own success, but that the functions it provides of listening, communicating and conversing are increasingly important today–even as they find new channels to make these things possible.

Russian power plant disaster and the global village

August 17, 2009

As I write this, the world is finding out about a horrible power plant disaster in Siberia. I’m now also blogging for Emergency Management’s new website and I offered a more complete list of lessons learned on that blog. (For those who may be reading this before they get a chance to post my blog on it, you can find it here.)

It is quite remarkable that a remote power plant disaster in Siberia would be communicated instantly and globally. Such is the global village. As they say, all incidents are local, but the impact is global. An important lesson for anyone preparing to respond. The most remarkable thing in this story right now is the fact that 54 workers are missing. They have 8 confirmed fatalities but don’t know the whereabouts of 54. I suspect this is going to cause a ruckus in Russia, but in the US such information coming out of a disaster at this stage would be completely unacceptable. Understandable, maybe, but unacceptable. The media would be all over this and heads would roll. People’s expectation is that when you go to work, they know where you are and if something bad really happens no one is going to say, we don’t know where these people are. Not 54 of them.

Employee safety and security is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Within our company we certainly have seen an increased interest in improving the ways in which companies communicate with employees, verify their status, and keep their families informed if bad things happen. Some are using RFID devices to make certain they know where people are at. No doubt proximity-based notification will be close behind so those closest to danger will be alerted with specific instructions. With these capabilities comes the demand to use them.

The big lesson here is if you have a lot of employees and bad things could happen, be prepared to answer the question of where they are and if they are accounted for. If you can’t, a tragedy will soon turn into a reputation disaster from which you and your organization may never recover.