Saturday, February 26, 2011

Crisis Communications Tip: Not All Websites Are Created Equal

In my 25 Feb 11 blog posting, I advocated that PR Professionals must prioritise their attention when dealing with news agency according to the permanency of the medium. Related to this prioritisation, the PR Professional must also prioritise their attention according to the agency's “influence” with regards to their target audience. This prioritisation is important as the effect of citizen journalism allows an almost infinite number of Internet postings on your company in cyberspace. And with finite resources, PR departments cannot not possibly respond to all.

So how should PR Professionals prioritise their attention? Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point offers one possible framework.

According to Gladwell, messages spread like viruses due to the involvement of 3 particular types of people which he named connectors, mavens and salesmen. Broadly speaking, connectors are people with the ability to bring people together; mavens those who others rely upon for new information; and salesmen are those with the ability to persuade.

In any industry, there will be bloggers that meet the above 3 criteria – usually only a handful. Once identified, besides monitoring their daily postings (to forestall any potential crisis), PR Professionals should pro-actively engage these bloggers with the aim of making them into Ambassadors for the company. If this is not possible, then at least with the alternate aim of establishing a direct channel to the company so that the blogger can verify information before publishing negative things online.

In the infinite world of social media, not all websites are created equal. PR Professionals need to and, in my opinion can, exert some degree of influence. All it takes is some prioritisation and dedicated effort.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Importance of Getting it Right

In a recent conversation with a former journalist for a Singapore main stream newspaper, the journalist agreed with my research findings that it was imperative that a company's crisis communication plan include an Internet presence.  This is because anything published on the Internet will be cached and remain available indefinitely.

The former journalist cited his professional experience where media like radio and television almost never issue corrections, while newspapers did.  This he attributed to the "permanency" of the medium.  In the case of radio and television, new (and correct) news would "replace" the older wrong one, while in the case of newspaper, once a story is published, it would remain "correct" unless otherwise corrected.

This need for clarification is even more critical in new media as powerful search engines will display all relevant information indexed for the ease of the reader.  Hence, without a clarification, or a deliberate attempt to get the company's side of the story out, future readers may get the wrong impression.

To me, the key take-away for PR Professionals is this.

As PR Professionals, we must always ensure that journalists publish an accurate story about the company we represent.  We however need to prioritise the importance of each medium and give it the appropriate attention.  In the case of less permanent media, we must be pro-active upfront to ensure that the journalists gets the story straight.  However, once a mistake has been made, we should request a clarification (for legal record), but then not lose any sleep if the news agency does not issue a correction.  In the case of more permanent media, we can be less pro-active upfront, but once an error is detected, we need to strongly pursue the publication of a clarification to set the record straight.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

iPhone Crisis: AntennaGate

In a 16 February 2011 post on hbr.org, Joshua Gans blogged that Apple broke 5 key Public Relations (PR) Rules with regards to AntennaGate and yet came up smelling like roses. In Joshua's opinion, Apple (a) did not apologise and take full responsibility; (b) created expectations with a media event; (c) did not announce the “give away” first; (d) made specific comparisons to their competitors; and (e) aired the industry's dark secrets in public.

My personal assessment however differs from Joshua's.

In one of my early blog postings on a Framework for Crisis Communications, I made reference to Bernard Weiner's research on attribution theory which links “accountability” to stakeholders' perceptions of responsibility for the crisis. Thus, depending on whether stakeholders felt that the crisis was caused by Apple, was something which Apple could reasonably have predicted to occur, and whether it was within Apple's ability to prevent it, different levels of responsibility would be levelled against Apple.  Then, depending on the root cause of the crisis, Apple could then adopt one of 4 Crisis Management Strategies to manage it – deny, redirect, diffuse and accept.

In the case of AntennaGate, Apple's investigations revealed that the root cause of the crisis was not the design of the iPhone, but a physical limitations of existing antennae technology. Apple, then adopted the Crisis Management Strategy of Diffusing responsibility with other phone makers. If we overlay Apple's response to this strategy, Apple did not break any PR “rules” as pointed out by Joshua.  Apple's refusal to apologise, decision to hold a press conference, their specific comparison to competitors, decision not to play-up their free give-away and their decision to air the industry's dark secrets all fit the strategy of diffusing responsibility.

Hence, if Apple has indeed been successful in riding out this crisis, in my opinion, Apple did not break any Public Relation rules, but adopted the correct crisis management strategy for the situation.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Social Media and the Media Cycle

At a recent workshop, the issue of timely updating of stakeholders was raised.  The executive essentially questioned the notion that an organisation can be faster than a citizen journalist.  Her argument was based on the fact that citizen journalists are not obliged to verify the accuracy of the facts before posting it online, while an organisation attempting to stay ahead of the media cycle is.

Participants at the workshop as a whole agreed that organisations are at a disadvantage.  They however agreed that staying ahead of the media cycle did not mean that they had to gather all the facts before responding to the incident.  In time critical situations, a simple statement (a) acknowledging the incident; (b) giving some factual information about the incident; and (c) stating that the organisation was investigating is sufficient.

Hence, in the time sensitive era of social media, the old approach of responding only after gathering all the facts is no longer valid.  Organisations must now be prepared to issue 2-tiered media responses to incidents.

Refer to my earlier blog posting for one possible decision matrix on "to respond or not to respond."

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Net Presence: Platform for Credible Crisis Communications

I read an interesting blog posting by Alexandra Samuel on HBR.Org titled "when to stop and when to keep going with your social media strategy." In his blog posting, Alexandra mentioned that the lack of a "gate keeper" allows genuine feedback about an organization's product and  service to be raised. In this context, organizations that truly want to improve their offerings should not shun or fear these feedback, but embrace it as a tool to stay ahead of the competition.

Alexandra's posting resonates with me as in many of my discussions with crisis communications managers, my advocacy for a net presence (as part of building a credible source for breaking news) is often rejected. The reason is a rationalization that the day to day problems such a net presence will surface will outweigh any benefits that it can bring in a crisis.

Hence, the key lesson for me is that a net presence provides an organization two main benefits - a valuable source of unadulterated feedback to improve its product and services, and a credible platform for crisis communications.  Any organization that fears a net presence as the "cons outweigh the pros" is therefore throwing the baby out with the water.