Sunday, May 29, 2011

M1 Service Disruption: Separating a Good Crisis Response from the Great

On 18 May 2011, Singapore's MobileOne (M1) experienced technical difficulties with one of its client management server that resulted in service disruptions to many of its subscribers. M1 promptly released press statements acknowledging the issue, apologising for the inconvenience and assuring subscribers that it was doing its best to rectify the problem. On 24 May 11, M1 issued a press statement apologising for the the 18 May disruption and offered 1 day of free local calls as well as SMSes and MMSes to all its customers on Wednesday (25 May 2011).

From a Public Relations perspective, M1's handled the potential crisis well.

Firstly, the timely release of a statement acknowledging the issue, apologising for it and assuring subscribers that they were working on the problem sent a clear message of “professionalism”. Nothing irks, and reduces customer confidence, more than a company that denies a problem exists and tries to cover it up. Customers want to know that they are dealing with companies that are professional in the way they do business. Hence, in issues where there is clear accountability on the part of the company, the correct crisis management strategy is to accept responsibility and help customers deal with their anger.

Secondly, M1's decision to offer 1 day of free local calls as well as SMSes and MMSes was the correct gesture to help subscribers "deal" with their anger. As I mentioned in an earlier blog posting (John Galliano's Outburst: Racist Rant Crisis), stakeholders not only expect apologies to be authentic and sincere, but also expect it to involve some act of contrition in proportion to the “wrong” committed. Hence, in this incident, M1's gesture was positively received by their subscribers and, in my opinion, maintained their brand image.

Overall, kudos to M1 and their Public Relations Team for managing this crisis well.

I however have 1 point to add. While M1 had done well to manage this potential crisis and maintain its brand image, I however felt that M1 could have capitalised on the issue to build and enhance its brand image. M1's decision to give 1 day of free calls is proportionate to what their subscribers was denied and, to a large extent, the minimum expected. I therefore assert that if M1 had gone 1 step further an offered an additional day of free calls, M1 could have turned this potential crisis to its advantage and enhanced its brand image with its subscribers and those currently with others. This last step of capitalising on the incident to enhance brand image is often overlooked by management and the Public Relation Team and, in my opinion, separates the good from the great.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Organisations: Delay Using Social Media at Your Own Risk

In a recent presentation to the Public Relations Department of a large multi-national organisation, I asserted the need for organisations to actively engage their stakeholders via Social Media. While acknowledging that it was inevitable for his organisation to do so, the Public Relations Director expressed his fear that his company was “not yet ready” to do so. This was because he believed that his organisation had a lot of detractors and using Social Media would open an avalanche of negative press which his organisation could not adequately respond to.

Unfortunately, the Public Relations Director's fear is typical of most large organisations. I then asked him the following series of questions:

- Do you think that by avoiding a presence on Social Media, your organisation will keep your detractors comments and views off the Internet? If no, then in terms of issues management, would it not be better if you knew every negative thing that was been said about your organisation?

- Are all your detractors complaints and grouses valid? If yes, would it not benefit your organisation to know what they are so that you address them? Do you think that engaging your detractors and offering your point of view can convert some of them? If not all your detractors complaints and grouse are valid, then would it not be good for you to clarify the mis-perceptions?

- Do you think that your organisation can ever be ready? If no, then will there ever be a “right” time?

So the bottom line is this. Social Media's impact on your organisation is real and it is occurring with or without your participation. As such, it is best to participate so that you can at least tell your side of the story. Next, being aware of all the complaints and grouses being levelled at your organisation has advantages as it will allow you to address the valid ones and clarify the false. In addition, a Social Media presence will enable you to centralise everything into one place for ease of management. And, finally, since no organisation can ever be ready, delaying ones participation serves no purpose and it will allow your detractors time and space to continue their attacks against you and enlarge their support base.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Crisis Communications Workshop/ Training in Singapore

The proliferation of Social Media has changed how effective Crisis Communication is done. Unfortunately, many business owners and Public Relations Professionals have not fully understood the impact of these changes and are essentially using out-dated strategies and techniques. Research has shown that a poorly managed crisis can wipe out as much as 15% of a company's value, while a properly managed one can add on average 5%.

I have done extensive research into the subject of Crisis Communication in the Era of Social Media and one of my key findings is that effective Crisis Communication plans must be open, timely, 100% truthful, broadly communicated and Internet present.

As a lead-in to my consulting and training services, I am pleased to offer interested organisations and companies a complimentary 1-hour workshop on Crisis Communication in the Era of Social MediaIf you are keen to consider my offer, contact me fongchengwah[a] for a no obligations discussion.


Tin Pei Ling: National Youth Forum 2008 Publicity Video

On 16 May 2011, Yahoo! Singapore News carried an article by Jeffrey Oon titled the “Buzz over new Tin Pei Ling Video”. In his article, Jeffrey reported that the 39-second amateur YouTube video was shot and uploaded in September 2008 and was likely made in conjunction with the National Youth Forum 2008. In the approximately 24 hours since, 808 comments have been received on the Yahoo! Site with, all but a handful, flaming Ms Tin Pei Ling and the People's Action Party (PAP).

From the crisis communications perspective, the PAP's decision to remain silent on their selection process that enabled a seemingly unqualified candidate to be elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) is dangerous. As mentioned, in my earlier postings, not framing the crisis is dangerous as it will allow the issue to spiral off into tangents which may be detrimental to the ruling party. In this instance, some netizens are already claiming that Singapore is an oligarchy and that Tin Pei Ling is a lead-in for the inclusion of the Prime Minister's son in the next General Elections. Whether truth or fiction, all this does not benefit the PAP. And judging that Tin Pei Ling is an active user of Social Media, more videos and pictures will continue to surface.

So what can the PAP do to manage this crisis?

Using my proposed Framework for Crisis Management as the model, it is clear that stakeholders have attributed responsibility for election of Tin Pei Ling into Parliament to the PAP. Thus, the appropriate Crisis Response Strategy (CRS) is for the PAP to accept responsibility and provide stakeholders with information to deal with their anger (the aim being to shift stakeholder emotions from anger to neutrality, and eventually (if possible) to one of sympathy). Only when the crisis has been “managed” should the PAP attempt to “build” Tin Pei Ling's reputation. Any attempts to do so prior to managing the crisis will likely be viewed negatively.

As a Public Relations Professional, my proposed Crisis Response Strategy is as follows:

Step 1: The PAP to accept responsibility for making a “mistake” in fielding Tin Pei Ling. This they can do my explaining their selection process and, in particular, explain the specific factors that led them to select Tin Pin Ling over other “more qualified” candidates.

Step 2: Next, and most importantly, the PAP needs to acknowledge stakeholders' anger by showing empathy and then suggesting ways that the stakeholders can deal with any unhappiness they may have with dealing with Tin Pei Ling as a MP. This may be as simple as appointing a “senior” MP to supervise Tin Pei Ling during her Meet the People Sessions, or even instituting regular surveys of constituents on how Tin Pei Ling is performing her duties as an MP.

The bottom line is this. Perception is reality and stakeholders have already “decided” that Tin Pei Ling is unqualified to be a MP. Remaining silent does not help and will only add fuel to the fire. And a fire left uncontrolled, in the worst case scenario, will consume everything it is in contact with. The PAP must therefore act and act quickly to frame the crisis to its benefit and mitigate further fall-out that may impact the party as a whole.

(To stay up to date on the latest thoughts on crisis communications, 'Like" us on our Facebook page.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

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How Aljunied GRC Was Lost: Importance of Correctly Identifying the Opponent's Theme

Much has been reported in the Main Stream and Social Media on how the People's Action Party (PAP) lost the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) to the Worker's Party (WP). To the Public Relations (PR) Professional, the key lesson here is the importance of correctly identifying the opponent's Theme. Failure to do so, will make your responses ineffective and may result in serious consequences.

Allow me to explain ...

During the Singapore General Elections 2011 (GE2011), the PAP adopted the Theme of “Proven Leadership” as the basis of their value proposition to the electorate, while the WP adopted the Theme of “Transparency and Accountability”.

At the start of campaigning, the PAP's narrative focused on telling the electorate that they had the experience and quality of candidates to ensure Singapore's continued success in an uncertain future. At the same time, the PAP sought to counter (what they assessed, albeit wrongly) was the WP's Theme of a “First World Parliament” by highlighting the dangers and inefficiencies of a two-party system. On the other side, the WP's narrative focused on telling the electorate that they did not question the experience and quality of the PAP, but that it is in Singapore's interest to have someone to hold the PAP accountable for their actions. The WP's narrative also sought to counter the PAP's narrative of being “proven” by highlighting the high cost of living, high cost of public housing and congestion on the public transportation systems. As campaigning progressed, the PAP noticed that their responses to the WP's narrative was failing to address the electorate's concerns. In their belief that the electorate was responding to the WP's Theme of having a “voice in parliament”, the PAP responded by acknowledging that they were not perfect, apologising for their mistakes and assuring the electorate that the PAP has heard them.

This is where the PAP went wrong. If the WP's Theme had been a “First World Parliament” so that people had a “voice”, the PAP's adjusted narrative would have stemmed the support for the WP. Unfortunately, the WP's Theme was not about having a “voice in parliament”, but about Transparency and Accountability. Thus, while the PAP apologised for their mistakes, they stopped short of being transparent on how they went wrong and how those responsible were held accountable. This, in my opinion, is the key factor that prevented the PAP from winning over the electorate.

In summary, during a crisis, organisations may find themselves trying to gain the information initiative against well organised opponents. In such situations, correctly identifying the opponent's Theme is essential as missing it will render your Crisis Response Strategy ineffective. And as this example proves, sometimes costly.

(Footnote: The WP must be credited for their insightful identification of the electorate's “vulnerabilities” by assessing their attributes, attitudes and conditions)

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