Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Anthony Weiner Twitter Scandal: A Better Approach?

Background of Crisis

US Congressman Anthony Weiner is currently in crisis mode as he tries to manage the fall-out from the scandal of him sending a 21-year old a link to a photograph of his erection under his boxer briefs via his Twitter account. After initial attempts to cover-up the scandal proved futile by saying his account was “hacked”, Weiner eventually initiated a press conference on 6 June 11 (10 days after the scandal broke) where he admitted that the tweeted photo was not the work of a hacker but his own. Weiner then apologized to his family and his constituents, and admitted to having had exchanged "messages and photos of an explicit nature with about six women over the last three years.”

Let us analyse Weiner's management of this crisis from two perspectives – the Crisis Response Strategy and the Communications Plan.

Crisis Response Strategy

In terms of a Crisis Response Strategy (CRS), Weiner has adopted the “accept responsibility” strategy with the Theme of “human fallability”.  Weiner's CRS was however incomplete as it failed to provide information to help stakeholders deal with their “anger”. This is because while an admission of a mistake and the issue of an apology is important, stakeholders' sense of justice demand that Weiner “pay” for his actions and demonstrate contrition in proportion to the severity of his misdeed. Weiner, in my opinion, should have followed-up his apology with either voluntarily undertaking to perform community service as penance, or enrolling himself for “treatment”.  By holding himself accountable for his actions, it is likely to shift stakeholder anger to one of neutrality or sympathy.

Communications Plan

From the communications plan perspective, while Weiner made several mistakes, to his credit he also did somethings right. As mentioned in my research, in the era of social media, an effective crisis communications plan comprises 5 essential elements – open, timely, 100% truthful, broadly communicated and Internet present.

In this instance, Weiner's communication plan comprised 3 of the 5 elements i.e. he was 100% truthful and communicated his response broadly and on the Internet via a press conference. Weiner's decision to be “100% truthful” by readily admitting his other indiscretion is also the correct move. This is because it is inevitable that the other women would come forward and not being upfront would only add fuel to the fire.

Unfortunately, Weiner failed in being open and timely in addressing the scandal. Being open and timely is important as these 2 elements will not only frame the crisis to his advantage (i.e. human fallibility vs cover-up), but also demonstrate Weiner's willingness to hold himself accountable. While there are no hard and fast rules, a response time of 48 hours (2 news print cycles) can be used as a rough guide.


To me, the key lessons for Public Relations Professionals are these:

a. The Crisis Communication Plan must work in tandem with the Crisis Response Strategy. If the decision is to adopt an “accept responsibility” strategy, then a timely and open plan will reinforce the strategy and enhance the probability of its success.

b. Contrition is an important part of the “accept responsibility” strategy. Without it, stakeholders are less likely to accept the apology. Being accountable means “punishing” yourself when you have failed to live up to expectations.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Managing Your Online Reputation in the Era of Social Media

The ability of internet search engines to trawl the world wide web for information, and to present it collated and indexed, has effectively provided netizens with perfect information on almost anything. From major incidences to a person's past indiscretions, nothing is likely to remain hidden forever and once the spot-light is turned-on, everything related (both past and present) will be revealed and scrutinised.

In my earlier posting titled "not all websites are created equal", I argued that Public Relations Professionals needed to closely monitor the postings of influential websites. This was important as these 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) the perception that it is a credible source of information.

For example, on 24 Feb 2011, The Straits Times commenced its coverage of the High Court case between Dr Susan Lim and the Singapore Medical Council. 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 to overcharge them. 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 media, 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 was true and that Dr Lim had indeed been guilty of overcharging.

My point to PR Professionals is this. The organisations and the CEOs you work for are likely to have Wikipedia pages just like Dr Lim's. Hence, it is essential during any crisis to ensure that the "facts" as reported on influential websites like Wikipedia is accurate and if it is not, to refute it.

In fact, understanding the influence, and managing the use of social media is no longer the domain of Public Relations Professional. Every individual with a Facebook, Twitter or even eBay account must be aware that anything posted online is archived indefinitely and, can be collated to develop a profile of you.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Victim of Online Vigilantism in Singapore - What should you do?

Over the weekend, a sales manager became the latest victim of online vigilantism in Singapore. He was on his way to trading in his BMW 5 S...