Archive for November, 2009

Old Media Minds meet New Media Model–it doesn’t work

November 30, 2009

Some communicators clearly don’t understand it is not just about the technology and new media channels. It is even more about how we do our business of communications. Here is a classic example. When the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) added social media to its communication effort, it seems they approached it from an old media mindset: control the message, broadcast, propagandize, spin, and all that one-way communication stuff. What they didn’t realize is that social media is, well, more social than that. It is about engagement, participation, dialogue, building relationships.

Here’s a great summary of the problem from the article linked above: In the BCS example, I think their problem is that they are not fostering conversation,” said Jeff Ma, co-founder and VP-research for the popular website Citizen Sports and the author of one of the most popular sports apps for iPhone, Sportacular. “Instead, they are trying to deliver a message.”

Here’s a little test–if you’re reaction to the last sentence is, hey, isn’t that what communication is all about, delivering a message? Then you probably have a hint that you will have some problems with social media. Well sure, it is about delivering a message, but like at a cocktail party you don’t enter the room to deliver a message. You may deliver a message as part of a mutually enjoyable conversation but as soon as the people you are talking to believe that all you care about is your agenda and delivering your message, the conversation is essentially over. That’s why communicators need above all to understand that social media is more about listening than anything else. It is by listening that we learn what the issues are, the concerns, and the reasonable opportunities to convey our message. Or, as may be the case with the BCS, maybe they should be listening to their constituents a little more rather than preaching to them about what is best.

This also raises a side question: is a PR firm headed by a former White House press secretary the best model for engaging audiences. You  might think so, but if ever there was an example of operating in an old media-only mindset and delivering the message as a one-way process, it is in the now old-fashioned, out-dated and anachronistic White House press conference.



On being thankful

November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! As I try to clean up my messy desk and head home for my wife’s wonderful thanksgiving feast–sharing it with all kids, their spouses and seven wonderful grandchildren, plus brothers, sisters, parents, nephews, nieces and on and on, I can’t help but express a bit of gratitude.

While I haven’t read Mitch Albom’s new book “Have a Little Faith” I heard him on a radio talk show and the host asked him the secret to happiness and if it was in the book. It is, and it was spoken by a dying rabbi if I recall the story. It was simply: be grateful for what you have. Sadly, we spend most of our waking lives thinking about what we don’t have, being miserable as we compare ourselves with others, working our behinds off to get ahead so we can have “just a little more,” and generally being cranky and unhappy because things don’t always go our way as we pursue the always just out of reach goal of contentment by grabbing onto the next hope.

I’m so glad for this day and that our leaders had the wisdom to set aside a day to think about all that we have rather than what we don’t have. I know that if I do a better job of practicing the discipline of gratitude some of the coldness and bitterness that too easily enters my heart and life will melt away.

Wishing all of you a very grateful and content Thanksgiving Day!

Is the era of free news on the internet ending?

November 24, 2009

It certainly looks that way if Rupert Murdoch, now the owner of Wall Street Journal, and Microsoft, the owner of the Google-alternative search engine named Bing, have their way.  Here’s the story from the Washington Post and Techcrunch and a take on it from Social Media analysis site Mashable.

The idea is media companies, led by Murdoch and WSJ, would strip their content from Google unless Google would anty up to pay them to provide searches to their content. Microsoft which is stooping to some desperation to try to take market share from Google has been exceptionally eager to say to Mr. Murdoch, hey, Bing will pay you.

What will happen? I agree with Erik Schonfeld of TechCrunch: Exclusive indexing goes against the Web’s inherent openness. Companies that try to curtail that openness don’t last long on the Web.

I think this very overt attempt to steal market share by violating the most basic tenet of the web which is free content for all is doomed and not only that, but puts Microsoft at some reputation risk. I’m not sure that Murdoch faces the same reputation risk as Microsoft in this. First, he doesn’t have to worry that much about ticking off the internet crowd as Microsoft does and who can blame a mainstream mogul from trying to figure out a way to stay in business? I hope that major news gathering organizations like WSJ find a way to survive and I think they will–but I don’t thing they will by violating basic values of the people they are trying to serve. Find another way, guys. This one is doomed.

What YouTube Direct means for the post-media world

November 23, 2009

The movement toward a true post-mainstream media world took another big leap forward with the announcement last week of YouTube Direct. There’s been lots of talk, including on this blog, about how the 300 million plus people walking around with smartphones are the electronic newsgathering network of today. And how the news outlets such as CNN and CBS and trying increasingly hard to tap into this network of citizen journalists. YouTube brilliantly just made it a lot easier. While I confess I haven’t looked at it in detail it looks a bit like combining YouTube downloading capability with some HARO (Help a Reporter Out) functionality. So someone with a cell video camera can capture something stunning like Tom Cruise jumping on a couch over his new love or houses floating by on a flooded river and immediately post that to YouTube, where it can the be easily accessed by media, bloggers or anyone else to share. Also, those looking for video on specific topics can request it or search and those with them can submit directly. That seems to be the idea as I understand it.

What this means of course is more access by anyone who is interested to the videos and information they want.  The implications for crisis and emergency management professionals is significant. Now more than ever when you respond, the story will be told already. The chances of getting the first word in are remote–unless you completely control the exposure, such as if you are David Letterman and decide you will reveal the sordid facts and not leave it to someone else. If you don’t control the first hint of what is going on, then by the time you can respond, the world–at least those most interested–will be already receiving a stream of relevant info. The real question for crisis managers and emergency responders is how do you manage an event when everyone who cares very well knows more than you do? That to me is the big question that we will be struggling with in the coming years.

Can social media help in a crisis? Hospital shows how in Fort Hood shooting.

November 17, 2009

Since I talk a lot about social media and crisis communication these days, I’m often asked for specific examples of how social media works in a major crisis. Here’s a great example, thanks to Kitty Allen at Harris County Hospital District I was pointed to how Scott and White hospital, the closest Level 1 trauma center to Killeen, TX and Fort Hood, used social media during this event.

I hope you read the article but those skimmers, here are a few key lessons learned:

– the hospital launched its Twitter account on September 11 (one of more than 300 hospitals now using Twitter). The fact that it was launched before they really needed it and had 225 followers before the shooting occurred was very helpful in making it useful during the event.

– the first thing Aaron Hughling, the hospital web guy behind this, did was to look at Twitter to see what people were saying. Smart. Listen–because you will find out the issues and how you need to fit in and participate. He found that blood donation was a big deal.

– he posted 43 tweets in three days–jumping his followers to 400. But I’m guessing some of those followers were pretty significant–media, gov offices, maybe White House, etc. It’s not necessarily the numbers–it’s who is following that is important.

– he used his tweets to drive people to additional info: He then sent three tweets within 30 minutes with a link to a statement from the hospital, a phone number for the media, and a note that the ER was closed to all but patients from Fort Hood. That is very smart. 140 characters lets you tell the minimum but tell where else to go. This guy was also managing several websites and two blogs–very busy guy but it shows if you have your act together one communicator with the right tools can do an awful lot.

– he used more than Twitter. Hughling had set up several social media outlets including YouTube, Facebook, etc. (the article provides details) and posting videos such as this one to YouTube helped carry the message.

Great job, Aaron and for those of you looking for case studies on the new crisis management, look at Scott and White.


PRSA Conference Keynote Bob Garfield–hitting all the right notes

November 12, 2009

I’ve read Bob Garfield for years and am sorry I am missing the PRSA conference this year–first year in many that I’ve missed it. The report of Garfield’s keynote is right on target in my mind and very necessary for crisis communicators. The message is simple–it’s a completely different world out there.

Here’s a key quote:

“The digital revolution isn’t some kind of news magazine headline,” he said. “It’s an actual revolution yielding revolutionary changes including, but not limited to, the disintegration of the media and marketing infrastructures that have worked in perfect symbiosis for almost four centuries.”

The “disintegration of the media and marketing infrastructures…” “perfect symbiosis for almost four centuries.”

On the one hand, what we are seeing is unprecedented on a scale of Gutenberg. On the other hand, it is following predictable patterns. When I was growing up in mid-50s, there were a handful of magazines that existed and were read by millions: Time, Life, Look, Good Housekeeping, etc. By the time I was teaching in the mid-70s, many were gone and were replaced by hundreds of thousands of much more special interest publications. By the time I was in business in the mid to late 80s, I was publishing 5 very special interest monthly magazines myself and by now there were millions. Today, there are hundreds of millions–but increasingly using the internet for publishing rather than paper, ink and the US Postal Service. Is publishing dead because Life and Look are gone forever? Heck no! Publishing is alive and well and being done by almost everyone who has the slightest desire to put words on a screen.

PR isn’t dead–the opportunities are more pressing than ever. Crisis communication isn’t dead just because the game has shifted from talking to a few reporters with massive audiences to talking to massive audiences who talk to a few reporters. We’ve just gone from control to engagement, from speaking to participation.


Searching and Monitoring–more important and more powerful than ever

November 10, 2009

For the past few months whenever I have been presenting to groups on crisis communication or Joint Information Center operations I have said that the most important job of crisis communication today is rumor management. It most certainly is not putting out press releases, and it may not be that important to put out information releases at all–depending on the event as we will see. The reason is simply that with social media those publics out there have access to all kinds of very fast information they didn’t have before. The emergency management community is struggling with the issue, which I blogged about recently, about how do you handle things when people out there know more than you do?

I was speaking at a state conference of emergency managers about this phenomenon and one of the attendees came up to me afterwards and said it just happened to him. He was responding to a fatality car accident and by the time he got to the hospital, the parents of the victim were already there. They knew before he did.

So in major events that are visible to the public, such as Flight 1549, the public will know more faster than the responders and probably also the media. Such is the power of those little devices we carry in our pockets and the network that makes them live and work. But, one of the truisms of crisis communication is that the initial information about an event is always wrong. And with a lot of people speaking from their perspective a lot of what is communicated about any event is going to be wrong. That’s where crisis communication comes in and why rumor management is fast becoming the biggest and most important job. You have to know what is being said and you have to be able to respond and correct misinformation very quickly. If a lie becomes the truth when it is repeated often enough, just think how often a lie can be repeated when it has gone viral. You’ve got to have the ability to stop it in its tracks before those tracks turn out to be a big honking tank bearing right down on you.

But how? Monitoring has become one of the biggest jobs in the JIC or the Crisis Command Center. I’m modifying crisis plans I’m working on to beef up the staffing for the Monitoring and Rumor Management unit. A sizeable event we were just involved in demonstrated how critically important this monitoring is and how it drives the information that is required.

Fortunately there is an increasing array of excellent tools available to do the monitoring–many or most involving online searches. And many, but not all, are free. And monitoring tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated which means that we have to keep evolving with them. Brian Solis, one of the widely recognized thought leaders in social media has an interesting post today about the evolution of search.

If anyone has any experience with monitoring services or rumor management during a crisis, please let me know. This is a very important topic and wouldn’t mind having a few guest posts on it from people who have been through the mill.

The Lessons from Ford Firestone crisis still important today

November 5, 2009

Yesterday I had the distinct privilege of hosting Jon Harmon presenting a webinar to our PIER Strategy Forum. Jon is the former chief of PR for Ford trucks and was the lead crisis communicator for Ford during the infamous Ford/Firestone crisis of 2000. Jon has written a very compelling book about this event called “Feeding Frenzy.” The book has just been released and I can tell you having read some of the early chapters it is one of the best crisis management books out there. What makes it stand out, in addition to being dead center in the middle of one of the biggest crises in American corporate history, is that Jon tells the story like a novel. All the characters, conflicts, and plot twists are there to make it a great read but in the process Jon pulls out the important lessons learned.

The participants on the call yesterday with us, including a participant from UK, had the benefit of Jon’s wisdom and observations as an insider during this event. Here are a few key lessons I gleaned from Jon’s presentation:

1) Trial lawyers will drive the news cycle. While the company(or companies in this case) are eager for the story to fall off the front pages, trial lawyers have become very adept at stretching out a story. They would leak key documents shortly before the nightly network newscasts with another supposed “bombshell” prompting Dan Rather and others to call for quick comment by Ford or Firestone with little time to research and prepare a response. The link between accuser and media is a happy marriage from their perspective because the coverage furthers the aims of both lawyers and media.

2) The anti-big and anti-corporate mentality means you start a crisis like this deep in a hole. It’s tough to try to protect reputation and credibility when the media and the public has an underlying perception that if you are big, powerful and for profit you are evil and ill-intentioned at the core.

3) The differences between Ford and Firestone made the situation worse. The crisis caused a bitter end to a business relationship that had lasted for over 100 years. It is very useful to see the vast differences between Ford’s approach to communication vs. Firestone’s. The fact that Jon as PR lead was at the table in critical meetings where no Firestone PR people were is just one indication of the management and cultural differences–differences that worked strongly to Ford’s advantage and Firestone’s disadvantage. This is one reason why PR leads should by this book and send it to their CEOs as Christmas presents.

4) The emergency of online networking. The year 2000 was before people were talking about social media, web 2.0 and all that. But this was one of the first events where blogs, activist web sites, and the viral nature of web communications starting playing a role. Now it has emerged as a driving role but the signs were there of what this could mean as others who different agendas and axes to grind against a major company networked together to pressure and seek more negative publicity.

5) Emergence from the depths. One of the most interesting parts of our discussion with Jon was how the company emerged from this event. While it cost Ford over $3 billion in direct costs, the very next year was a record sales year for the Ford Explorer. And now, Ford stands alone as emerging with strong hopes from the current economic crisis among the Big Three. One reason was the serendipitous introduction of the completely redone Explorer with many added features including enhanced safety. No doubt having the NHTSA exonerate the Explorer as not causing the rollover accidents also contributed. But I would have to say, having gotten to know Jon and understand his commitment to truth, honesty, transparency and credibility, and reflecting on his statement about how their legal team and PR team worked effectively together, I would also give more credit to Jon and the Ford management than perhaps he did or would.

Jon can be reached via his blog at Force for Good Communications. Do yourself a favor and get the book.


Five Megatrends and One Author Ticked Off at Media

November 3, 2009

I just posted my thoughts about the 5 megatrends in marketing and how they impact crisis communication. You can find it here on emergencymgmt.

Also I found it interesting that British author Ian McEwen had a nasty run-in with the press. But he realized there was no sense in getting mad, just get even. Apparently he will in his next novel about global warming. He’s including a reporter as a bad guy causing the hero all kinds of problems.

Crisis management–putting your ears to work

November 2, 2009

I’ve been talking for some time about the rapidly growing role of monitoring as a critical part of crisis communication. Also been saying in presentations that social media and the online conversation is where so many people are going to get their information. That crisis communicators need to understand at best they will participate and the days of control over the information flow are over.

Being involved in a fairly major event in the past week has brought these lessons home. We are using a variety of means to monitor what is going on–everything from PIER MediaTools to view and clip media including broadcast, to Google Alerts, to Twitscoop.

A few quick observations.

1) Media monitoring shows a tremendous amount of media activity but a lot of it is from the fact that media are now major players in social media with their news websites. All print media as well as broadcast use their news sites heavily which makes for a lot of traffic, frequent updates, and a tremendous amount of linking by interested viewers via their blogs and Twitter accounts.

2) Local is global. This is a fairly localized event with only a smattering of national media attention, but the conversation is global. Those interested (or passionate) about topics involved are going to be jumping into the conversation heavily and will keep it going as long as it of interest.

3) People learn from each other. It’s fascinating watching the online conversation and see many of the same news stories or comments showing up over and over on different sites. It’s one of the reasons this monitoring is so important because invariably some get the facts wrong and unless the correct information is readily available or the wrong info is quickly challenged, it does not take long for it to become accepted. The only saying about a lie repeated often enough becoming the truth takes on new urgency in the viral world of social media because it can be repeated a hundred or thousand times in mere minutes or hours.

4) The conversation was always there–but now you can hear it. That is something that really strikes me about a big change in communications and crisis management. All major events stirred lots of conversation–dinner table, office chat, in bars and restaurants, wherever people gather. Except now they don’t gather to have conversations, they do it by text, tweets, blogs, comments, all kinds of social media. And that means you can listen in on a lot of those conversations. Sometimes it seems its like the roar of too much conversation in an overcrowded bar. But if you focus in a little, you can hear fascinating things. And these can give you great insight into how things are turning, what the concerns are, what questions need to be answered, what information is going sideways, etc. In other words, the conversation will drive the communication response as much or maybe more in some cases than the events of the response itself.

5) Participate–not control. It’s is still very difficult for most response leaders and those who have been in public communication for a long time to really grasp this. In this world of heightened conversation, you don’t control the information. At best, you participate. But you do this by providing a continuous feed of of relevant, up to date information about what is going on. You can’t participate if you insist on sticking to a one press release a day strategy. And you can’t participate by putting all your eggs in the press conference basket–as important as it is. You participate by being the best, most reliable source for what is really happening. Then, you will find, as did in this incident, that soon your website will be given shortened url and sent around the twittersphere and blogosphere as the fastest, most relevant source of what is going on.