Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Internal Communications

Singapore.  (29 Sep 10)

Following up from my 2 Sep 2010 posting on "SIA Crew Warned over Facebook Use" (where I advocated that organisations should seek to engage and educate employee bloggers to make them ambassadors for the organisation), I received a comment that an employee is unlikely to use his personal blog or facebook account to support the company's cause.

While I fully agree with this observation, I must clarify that the primary purpose of engaging the employee blogger is not to seek his support of the company's cause, but to minimise potential opposition based on the lack of information or facts.  In addition, most bloggers want to be seen as objective and rational, and an engaged blogger is more inclined to come to the defence of the company if criticised by an outsider.

Hence my proposal to engage employee bloggers has, as its primary objective, the prevention of negative publicity.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Google Bombs

Singapore.  (28 Sep 2010).

The Straits Times today ran an article on the practise of "google bombing" - the process of linking a person's, or organisation's, name to a negative keyword. 

Often times when a crisis occurs, and the organisation is not proactive in framing the crisis by pushing out its side of the story, negative keywords may become linked to the oganisation.  With the proliferation of information technology, and the creeping acceptance of citizen journalism as a credible alternative source of information and news, an organisation's online reputation is now just as important as its' real world's.

Hence, as I have advocated in my research findings, the establishment of an Internet presence during the early stages of a crisis is crucial.  This presence will not only allow the organisation to frame the crisis, but also pre-empt the formation of a "google bomb".  Additionally, the Internet presence will further ensure that the organisation's position and reputation continues to be "represented" in cyberspace while simultaneously "drowning out" negative postings. 

In the era of New Media, Crisis Communication is not just an issue to be addressed in the mainstream media.  In the era of New Media, Crisis Communication must also be fought in cyberspace.  Hence, Crisis Communication in the Era of New Media does not end with the fading of mainstream media interest, but only ends when the organisation has achieved information superiority in cyberspace.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Role of Truth in Crisis Communications

Singapore.  (26 Sep 2010).

At a recent presentation to a group of executives on crisis communication, I was asked what role absolute truth played in crisis communication.  While the executive acknowledged the fact that in the modern information environment nothing can be hidden forever, he posed the question in the scenario that being less than truthful at the point of the incident may (a) "buy" time for public outrage to subside; or (b) allow some other incident to over-shadow it

Basing my response on my research findings (where being 100% Truthful was one of the 5 components of effective crisis communications), I replied as follows:

Being "less than truthful" at the point of incident is a technique of crisis communication.  In the case of the former (i.e. buying time time to allow public outrage to subside), I believe that it will only delay the outrage.  In addition, once stakeholders discover that they were lied to, the organisation would face an additional level of crisis.  In the case of the latter (i.e. hoping for some other crisis to over-shadow the incident), while this is entirely possible, it is unfortunately beyond the control of the organisation to ensure that something does happen.

I then reminded the executive that the objective of crisis communications is the protection (and where possible, the enhancement) of the company's brand value.  As such, the crisis communication approach adopted should be aligned to the organisation's strategic objectives and espoused values and brand.  Being less than truthful, or being out-right deceptive, will therefore do more harm than good when the truth is discovered.

In short, in a crisis, many executives may be tempted to adopt approaches that may be less painful in the short-term.  These approaches will however usually have more negative implications in the longer term.  PR Professionals and Crisis Communications Manager must thus ensure that the crisis communication approach adopted not only addresses the incident, but is also be aligned to the organisation's strategic values and branding.

In essence, think long term.  Not short term.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Conversations with a Director of Public Relations

Singapore.  21 Sep 2010.  I had an interesting conversation with the Director of a Public Affairs Department recently where we spoke briefly about my concept of being pro-active (open) in releasing information about incidents to gain the information initiative and to frame the incident.

Essentially, the Director felt that such an open approach would (a) bring unnecessary attention to the incident and make it into a crisis; and (b) given the size of the organisation, there are dozens of incidences that occur daily which can shake stakeholder confidence in the management.

My response to his concerns were as follows:

a.  Perfect Information Environment.  In today's perfect information environment nothing will remain hidden forever.  Current "successes" where not highlighting incidences have kept it out of the news is, to me, a fallacy.  I believe that the incidences did not become a crisis not because no one knew about it, but simply because it was not considered newsworthy.

b.  Not all Incidences become Crisis.  The fact that these numerous minor incidences were not picked-up by the main-stream media only shows that stakeholders have accepted that such incidences will happen.  As such, reporting it is unlikely to make it into a crisis.

In short, my thinking is that organisations should augment their current approach of ad hoc news releases with monthly or bi-monthly press briefings.  These press briefings will then enable the organisation to "control' the media cycle by allowing the organisation to (a) "frame" incidences; and (b) allow the organisation the opportunity to "mask" potential crisis without being accused of hiding the truth.

In the end, one of my key take-aways from our conversation is that the approach an organisation adopts towards crisis management is very much dependant on its view and understanding of the information environment.

To be more effective, an organisation must know that the information environment has changed and adopt new methods to deal with it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Australian editor suspended over Facebook comments

Singapore. 14 Sep 2010

AFP today reported that the Editor of the Glen Innes Examiner was suspended over inappropriate remarks he made on his Facebook account.  In the report, the Editor (Matt Nicholls), is alleged to have boasted about how he was going to exploit the death of a police officer to boost circulation of his newspaper.
 
This incident is similar to an earlier incident where the CNN editor for Middle Eastern affairs was fired after she tweeted about her respect for the Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah.  The Glen Innes Examiner incident is more evidence to support my theory of the perfect information environment in which nothing in cyberspace is hidden.

In this perfect information environment, users of social media must assume that (a) everything posted in cyberspace is seen; and (b) everything posted in cyberspace can be attributed to them.  While PR Professionals must accept that all responses must be open, 100% truthful and having an internet presence. 

For specific examples to support my asertion, please refer to my research paper on Crisis Communications in the Era of Social Media

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Career Suicide... and how we can prevent it.

The following is an article I wrote for a local men's magazine a couple of years back ....

Introduction

      We have all read about it in the papers or may even know a friend or relative who has done it.  People at the peak of the careers who suddenly, without any apparent reason, commit career suicide by engaging in an act which causes irreparable damage to their careers.
     Loosely defined, career suicide is any intentional act to self-destroy ones own career. In some ways, it is the individual’s way of reaching out for help. Similar to physical suicide, the reasons behind career suicides are often personal and are usually cannot be attributed to a single cause.  Issues will usually build-up over a period of time and, before the individual knows it, he'll start doing things to hurt his career.

     Fortunately, much like physical suicide, there are clear symptoms or telltale signs that precede the ultimate “act”. Thus, with a little knowledge, you will be able identify this self-destructive behavior and stop it from happening to you before it is too late.

Guilt ... the root cause

     Psychologists will tell you that in any behavioral problems, there is usually a presenting problem and an underlying problem.  Solutions focused on solving the presenting problems (without addressing the root problem) will only bring short-term relief and will prove futile as the root of the problem continues to exist.  The presenting problem will then mutate and begin to manifest itself in other forms of self-destructive behaviors.

     While there are many root causes that may lead a person to commit career suicide, the most predominant one is the feeling of guilt. This guilty feeling is brought about by an individual’s feeling of unworthiness i.e. a feeling that he is unworthy to have the success he is currently experiencing.  What then happens, is that the sub-conscious mind will then seek opportunities to ‘sabotage’ the conscious self by creating situations where the individual can be ‘punished’ and even removed the source of his guilt - his successful career.

The Signs

     As human behavior is complex, exact telltale signs will vary. However, all self-destructive behavior will have the ultimate objective of hurting a person’s career. While not exhaustive, the following four telltale signs are the most common ones expressed by an individual who is on the road to career suicide:

 - Procrastination.  Procrastination is defined as the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished. In this instance, the individual constantly puts off doing an important task until the last minute. As a result of the now limited time, the individual then produces work in quality well beneath that of which he is capable of producing. A variation of this self-destructive behavior is when the individual in question, chooses to place his priority and emphasis on tasks of lesser importance. This will then once again limit the time he is able to spend on what really needs to be done. The results are similar. Work of diminished quality.

- Forgetfulness.  This second telltale is less obvious, but equally destructive. Here, the self-destructive behavior manifests itself in the individual “forgetting” to do things. From missing the deadline for an important report to failing to attend crucial meetings. According to Freud, the mind does not forget.  Forgetting is not an accidental occurrence. This self-destructive behavior is our unconscious mind’s way of expressing itself.

- Stubbornness.  When opinions differ from the boss and you have presented yours, what ultimately counts is the boss’ decision. In this telltale sign, the “stubbornness” of the individual to deliberately go against what the boss has specifically prescribed as the actions to taken is self-destructive. This “stubbornness” sets the individual up to be punished.

- Intentional inefficiency.  The fourth telltale sign is that of intentional inefficiency. In this case, the individual will appear to be complying with his boss’ instructions even to the extent of expressing commitment to the prescribed plan. What then happens is that he will then deliberately either perform the task too late to be helpful, perform it in a way that is useless, or otherwise sabotage the prescribed plan. Whichever way, he would have done what his boss has wanted, but not to the degree that is expected of him.

Conclusion

     Like physical suicide, career suicide occurs when we least expect it. Thankfully, it does not occur overnight without warning.  Clear and distinct telltale like the four described above will occur. It is thus important for us to be aware of them, so that we can diagnose ourselves early and intervene.

     Like physical suicide, career suicide is our unconscious minds way of crying out for help. Caught early enough, effective intervention can prevent its occurrence and in most cases, individuals will make a full and complete recovery.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Crisis Communications Plan: To respond or not to respond ...

In the early stages of a crisis, the main focus of the PR Professional is to determine if the incident will become a crisis. This assessment is crucial as it will then guide management's decision on the appropriate response to initiate.

The importance of the appropriate response cannot be understated as both over and under-reactions can negatively impact the company. In the former, if the company goes into full crisis management and communication mode to be ahead of the incident, the company may inadvertently create a crisis where one was not in the making. In the case of the latter, if the company under-reacts and is slow in responding to an incident that eventually becomes a crisis, the company risks being put on the defensive. This is a disadvantaged position as the company's ability to protect its image and reputation will be then greatly diminished (See Diagram 1).

Diagram 1: Crisis Response Matrix
So what can a company do when it is faced with an ambiguous incident?

My advise to clients is to issue a scaled response acknowledging and providing factual information about the incident. This is because a scaled response will allow the company to hedge itself against the negative outcomes of Quadrant B and C. Let me explain (See Diagram 2):

Diagram 2: Effectiveness of a Scaled Response

  • Quadrant A. In this scenario, the PR Professional had correctly identified the incident as an incident and the company responded appropriately. Here, a mere statement of fact will not change the nature of the incident and turn it into a crisis. On the contrary, in the perfect information environment (where nothing will remain hidden forever), issuing a scaled response will ensure that the company's side of the story is told.

  • Quadrant D. In this scenario, the PR Professional once again correctly identified the crisis as a crisis and the company responded appropriately. The scaled response issued by the company will then form the “holding line” and the statement will also give the company the information initiative while concurrently establishing itself as primary source of information on the developing crisis. This response will once again position the company to deal effectively with the crisis.

  • Quadrant B. In this scenario, the PR Professional wrongly assessed the crisis as an incident and the company failed to act. In this scenario, issuing a scaled response will effectively pre-empt opposing stakeholders from fanning the crisis by accusing the company of having something to hide. Once again, a scaled response will perform the role of a "holding line" allowing the company time to react and deal with the crisis.

  • Quadrant C. In this final scenario, the PR Professional once again wrongly assesses an incident as a crisis. Similar to Scenario A, a mere statement of fact will not change the nature of the incident and turn it into a crisis and a scaled response will ensure that the company's side of the story is told.
Hence, as the above matrix demonstrates, the best approach for any company to adopt in an ambiguous situation is to issue a scaled response as it hedges them whichever way it turns out.

Friday, September 3, 2010

SIA Crew Warned over Facebook Use

Singapore.  (2 Sep 2010.  2300 hrs.).

Yahoo! News Singapore today reported that several SIA crew members had been issued warning letters over their inappropriate postings of work-related matter on their Facebook accounts.  SIA confirmed that action has been taken to "protect proprietary information as well as the privacy of other staff and our customers".  The spokesman clarified that similar to many other companies, including government ministries, SIA does not impose a total ban on staff members using Facebook, but instead has clear guidelines that staff must not comment on work matters.

Netizens' response to SIA's actions has been mixed - some have held the crew members accountable for their failure to restrict access to their postings to friends only, while others have "flamed" SIA and supported the crews' rights to express their views.  As I commented in my earlier posting on internal communications, the proliferation of social media is increasingly challenging companies to manage unauthorized employee communications.

My belief is similar to that of Steve Durbin (Vice-president of sales and marketing at Information Security Forum) - social media is here to stay and it can only become more pervasive.  Companies should therefore direct their efforts on capitalising on their employees usage instead of restricting it.  This is because in the perfect information environment nothing stays hidden forever.  It is therefore best to address issues before they get out of control.

My proposal is simple.  To win the battle for social media, companies must focus on achieving two things - (a) gaining and maintaining the information initiative; and (b) dominating the blogosphere by having information superiority. 

To do this, companies must embrace their employee bloggers and convert them into ambassadors of the company.  Employee bloggers must be proactively engaged by senior management to ensure their understanding of the company's position on matters, rationale for unpopular policies, and limitations to adequately address the concerns of all employees.  This clearer understanding of management thinking will then enable them to "speak up" (as third-party endorsements) for the company.

In addition, if their numbers are large and their blogs well followed, their postings will allow the company to gain the information initiative while at the same time, their volume may "drown-out" the nay-sayers giving the company information superiority over the incident.

Hence, I advocate that Internal Communications is the key to winning the battle for social media.