Sunday, March 27, 2011

Singapore General Elections 2011: High Ministerial Salaries. Is PAP's Failure to Respond a Miscalculation?

Building upon my Framework for Responding to Negative Blog Postings and Online Forum Mentions posted on 15 Mar 2011, I believe that the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has failed to fully grasp the full impact social media will have in Singapore's General Election 2011 (GE 2011).

A 2007 video clip of Workers' Party of Singapore Ms Sylvia Lim opposing the multi-million dollar salaries of ministers has gone viral on Facebook. In her statement, Sylvia raised valid points that undermined the ruling party's justifications for their high pay. As this is not a political blog, I will not go into the details of her statement, but use it to illustrate what I view as the PAP's failure to assess, analyse the impact and then respond appropriately to the video clip.

Source. The video clip (or its links) have been circulating widely on Social Networking site like Facebook and local political websites. In this instance, the credibility of the video clip is beyond question as the original video was broadcast on television in 2007. Even for those that did not view the original broadcast, the consistency in quality of the clip, the accuracy of the people shown in the clip and their demeanor lends to its authenticity. Hence, the video clip is perceived as credible.

Content. Next, the intent behind the circulation of the video clip is clear – to weaken the PAP's claims that they are building a “Singapore for Singaporeans”. The people behind the video clip are using the emotionally charged issue of high ministerial salaries to demonstrate that the PAP is no longer in touch with the average Singaporean. The intent being to urge voters to vote against the PAP in the coming election. In addition, Sylvia's statement was also well-thought out, researched and delivered. Her arguments are sound and logical and valid opposing views to that of the PAP. It is thus assessed that the Target Audience is likely to believe her.

Audience. In this case, the Apparent and Ultimate Audience are also very clear. They are the voters in GE 2011. What is however not so obvious is the Unintended Audience of potential opposition members. The publicity of high salaries that PAP ministers enjoy will make it more attractive for high calibre candidates to join the PAP. Afterall, the allure of multi-million dollar salaries is hard to ignore.

Effect. Based on the above factors, the effect of the video clip is assessed to fall into the Quadrant High Impact-High Probability. The video is assessed to have a High Impact as the demographics of the electorate has changed. Prolonged exposure to Western ideals of equity and fairness is likely to make voters “angry” at the delink between their “leaders” and themselves. The source of the video and the reach that Social Media has in 2011 makes it Highly Probable that voters will hear or view Sylvia's arguments.

Response. According to my proposed framework, a High Impact-High Probablity effect requires a Crisis Response Strategy of direct refutation. Failing to do so, and quickly, will only strengthen the perceived credibility of Sylvia's arguments. Voters will see the PAP's lack of a response as an admission that they cannot defend their position.

In summary, my view is that the PAP has miscalculated the impact of this video and has failed to respond to it appropriately. If the PAP believes that ignoring the video will keep it from being discussed further, it is sadly mistaken. In the era of Social Media, there is perfect information. Ignoring a bad Mention or Blog posting will not make it go away. Instead, the silence says more than they think.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Framework for Responding to Negative Blog Postings and Online Forum Mentions

In the Era of Social Media, organisations will inevitability find their names mentioned in some blog or internet forum. While positive mentions are good publicity and should be encouraged, the question facing PR Professionals is how to deal with the negative mentions. And, given the practically infinite number of blogs and internet forums, PR Professionals need a practical framework with which to assess, analyse the impact of the mention and then decide how to respond.

One framework which PR Professionals can use is what I call SCAER – an abbreviation for the factors Source, Content, Audience, Effect and Response. As a framework, the SCAER is a deliberate process to guide the PR Professional's assessment of the mention. Done sequentially, the framework will prompt the PR Professional to the most logical response to the mention.

Source. The aim of this factor is to determine the credibility of the source. Under this factor, the PR Professional will assess where the mention is found, the type of website, its viewership, the profile of the viewers and the reputation of the blogger. Determining credibility is important as it will determine how likely the target audience will believe the content.

Content. Next, once the credibility has been determined, the PR Professional will then assesse the content of the mention. The aim of this factor is to determine the mention's objective and intent behind the mention. For example, the PR Professional must determine if the mention is aimed at discrediting the organisation, urging customers to switch brands, or is it a personal vendatta against the CEO of the organisation. Ultimately, understanding the intent and objective of the mention will allow the organisation's response to address the root of the issue.

Audience. When a mention is put online, there are generally four target audiences which the PR Professional must consider - apparent, ultimate, intermediate and unintended. The apparent target audience is the direct recipient of the message; the ultimate target audience is the actual target of the source's mention; the intermediate target audience is the conduit to get the mention to the ultimate target audience; and the unintended target audience is anybody that may come across the mention. Identifying the ultimate target audience of the mention is crucial as it will then allow the PR Professional to more accurately assess the mention's impact.

Effect. This final factor is a cumulation of the previous 3 factors. Based on the findings of (a) the source's credibility; (b) the intent of the mention; and (c) the ultimate target audience, the PR Professional then draws a conclusion on the effect of the mention. As a guide, the PR Professional will make an asessment based on the impact to the organisation and the probability that stakeholders will believe the mention. The PR Professional can then use the following 2x2 matrix to determine whether the organisation should respond to the mention, and if so, the approach to take.

Response. In general, there are 4 possible responses that an organisation that adopt towards a negative mention. They are direct refutation, indirect refutation, forestalling and silence. My advise to PR Professionals are as follows:

  • Quadrant A. For mentions that have a high probability of being believed and once believed, is likely to have a high impact on the organisation, PR Professionals should directly refute the mention. In this response, the organisation goes on the “offensive” and actively disputes the mention. For example, to address a customer complaint of poor service, the organisation will dispute the customer's story point by point.
  • Quadrant B. In this scenario where the mention is assessed to have a low impact on the organisation but likely to be believed by the stakeholders, the appropriate response is an indirect refutation. Using the above example of poor service, in the indirect approach, the organisation will issue a response (on the same platform) citing third party endorsement of its good customer service. Essentially, the organisation addresses the mention by playing up facts that contradicts the mention.
  • Quadrant C. In this third quadrant, the assessment is that the impact is likely to be high but unlikely to be believed by the stakeholders. Here, the organisation's best approach to forestall. In this approach, the organization does nothing to address the mention, but pro-actively “corrects” the issue.  These measures when publicized ahead of the crisis will mitigate the effect.  Additionally, a preliminary crisis management plan is readied for immediate implementation in the event the mention evolves into a crisis. 
  • Quadrant D. In this fourth quadrant, the assessment is that the mention is unlikely to be believed and even if it is, the impact on the organisation is low. As such, the appropriate approach for the organisation in this scenario is one of silence where the organisation chooses to ignore the mention and carry on with operations as per normal.
The use of the above SCAER framework is a basic model to aid PR Professionals in addressing mentions in blogs and forums. Used correctly, the framework will allow any organisation the ability to quickly assess and, if necessary, to deal with the countless mentions in cyber-space.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

John Galliano's Outburst: Racist Rant Crisis

Christian Dior's British Creative Designer, John Galliano, was fired from his post after a video of his racist rant was circulated on the Internet. Galliano now faces criminal charges for his comments which are illegal in France.

In efforts to mitigate the fall-out from his outburst, Galliano issued an apology and denial through his lawyers after remaining silent on the matter for days. In his statement, Galliano stated that he “completely denies the claims made against him and that he has fully co-operated with police investigations.” He continued that he “took responsibility for the circumstances in which he found himself and for allowing himself to be seen to be behaving in the worst possible light.” Crisis management experts, like Davia Temin of Temin and Company, however believe that Galliano's response is inadequate to address stakeholders anger as according to Temin, apologies must not only be authentic and sincere but must be “in proportion” to the wrong committed.

In this post, I will not comment on Galliano's failure to issue an open, timely and 100% truthful response to the crisis.  Instead, I will focus my blog on proposing what Galliano's can do to manage this crisis.

According to the Framework I use, the first step is to determine if Galliano is indeed responsible for the crisis. Unfortunately based on the “citizen journalist” video of his ranting, it is painfully obvious that Galliano is.  Thus, Galliano has only two possible Crisis Response Strategies (CSR) to adopt – he can either diffuse or share responsibility, or he can accept responsibility.

As there are perceptions of an alleged pattern to his anti-Semitic behaviour (a Geraldine Bloch has lodged a police report that Galliano had threatened to kill her pal Philippe Virgitti in La Perle Bar, and that he had called her a "dirty Jew face") a diffuse/ share CRS in this scenario would not work.  This leaves Galliano with the only CSR of accept responsibility and help stakeholders to manage their anger towards him.

Thus, in this case, Galliano should (a) make a full and unreserved apology for his actions; (b) accept personal responsibility for his actions and its consequences; and (c) undertake actions to demonstrate his sincerity to make things right. The former two can be done via a Press Conference, while the third could entail actions like volunteering to undergo anger management therapy, making a personal (but public) apology to the victims of his actions, or even dedicating himself to work with Holocaust survivors. Galliano's CRS's Theme is to make him "human" in the eyes of the stakeholders.

If done correctly, Galliano could join the likes of Kate Moss who emerged from her cocaine snorting crisis earning more money than ever.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Israeli Gaza Flotilla Raid Ignites War on Wikipedia

Building on my recent blog posting, where I advocated that PR Professionals should not ignore the effect of Wikipedia in crisis communications, an analysis of the Israeli raid on the MV Mavi Marmara on 31 May 2010 provides evidence to substantiate my position.

During that crisis, which is widely known as the Gaza Flotilla Raid, Israeli naval commandos raided 6 ships of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. During the raid, clashes broke out on the MV Mavi Marmara which resulted in the deaths of 9 activists and the wounding of dozens of activists and 7 Israeli commandos

Within an hour of the incident, the first entry on the incident appeared on Wikipedia and, according to Wikipedia's statistics function, the entry received over 80,000 hits and close to 1,500 edits within the first 24 hours. This then peaked in Jun where 4,000 edits were recorded and over 180,000 views.

Thus, as I have advocated earlier, PR Professionals cannot afford to neglect Wikipedia as an important communications platform. The statistics from the Gaza Flotilla Raid proves that in a crisis, stakeholders will rely on Wikipedia as a source of information.  PR Professionals must therefore dedicate resources to monitor and "fight" the Wiki-War.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Short Survey on the Credibility of Online News Sources

The promulgation of the Internet and New Media has changed the way individuals stay updated on the latest News. In order to better understand the impact of these changes, kindly complete the following survey. This survey comprises only 6 questions and should take you no more than 2 minutes to complete.

Thank-you for your participation.

Top Surgeon Dr Susan Lim Investigated by Singapore Medical Council (SMC) for Overcharging

On 24 Feb 2011, Singapore's The Straits Times commenced its coverage of the High Court case between Dr Susan Lim and the Singapore Medical Council (SMC).  The case revolves around Dr Lim's attempt to block the SMC from appointing a second disciplinary committee to investigate allegations by Singapore's Ministry of Health that she had abused the trust placed in her by the patient trust to overcharge her.

I will leave my comments on Dr Lim's approach for another blog posting.  For today however, I would like to highlight the importance of Wikipedia.

In my earlier blog post titled "not all websites are created equal", I argued that PR Professionals needed that closely monitor the postings of influential websites.  This was important as these are websites have the power to sway public opinion and Wikipedia is one such website.

In my opinion, Wikipedia's influence is based on three factors: (a) its high-ranking in search engines; (b) its massive "knowledge based" covering practically any topic under the sun; and (c) its reputation as being a credible source of information.  In Dr Lim's case, a search of "Dr Susan Lim" on google returns a Wikipedia link on her within the top 10.  Clicking on the link then brings us to a biography of Dr Lim.  Interestingly, the biography ends with a paragraph stating that she was accused in Feb 2011 of overcharging her patient and that she had offered to "waive the entire bill if the patient's family would withdraw their complaint but the family did not agree to do."

From what I have read in the main stream news, this last statement has not been proven.  Hence, to the casual reader, this statement in a "credible" source like Wikipedia would give the perception that it is true and that Dr Lim is indeed guilty of overcharging.

My point to PR Professionals is this.  The organisations and the CEOs you work for are likely to have Wikipedia pages like Dr Lim's.  Hence, it is essential during any crisis to ensure that the "facts" as reported on Wikipedia is accurate and if it is not, to refute it.  The influence of Wikipedia cannot be ignored and PR Professionals must not neglect to communicate to stakeholders via this platform.

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