Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Zika in Singapore – Choosing the harder right than the easier wrong
It is interesting to observe how alternates can rapidly detract even the most straight-forward of Government communications.
Singapore had its first confirmed case of Zika on 28 August 2016, and the Singapore Ministry of Health (MOH) issued a press statement on the same day and called for a press conference the next day. Unfortunately, when it comes to managing issues concerning viruses (especially when the symptoms are mild and can be easily misdiagnosed) retrospective diagnosis is not uncommon. Thus when further testing on previously undiagnosed cases were done, the number of confirmed Zika cases rose literally overnight. When these additional numbers were subsequently made public, alternates were quick to accuse the MOH for deliberately hiding information from the public.
What is disconcerting is that these unfounded allegations against the Government hinders the proper and effective flow of important health information to the public. Instead of focusing the public on what they should and can do to protect themselves from the Zika virus, the public is distracted to focus on a non-existent witch-hunt. Valuable government resources are then diverted from dealing with the crisis to dispelling unfounded rumors.
As communications consultants, we constantly advocate for information to be released as soon as possible to stay ahead of the social media cycle. However, we also advise clients to balance the need for speed with the need for accuracy. This is because false positives can cause unnecessary panic (especially in instances concerning public health) and this will affect the credibility of the organization and any subsequent message that is released.
Not being privy to what the MOH knew, or the thinking behind their decision, we can only speculate. What we do know is that when dealing with a crisis, there are usually trade-offs when deciding what to communicate with the public. In the case of Singapore’s first confirmed case of locally transmitted Zika, we assess that the MOH needed to decide whether to unnecessarily alarm Singaporeans (and visitors to Singapore which will impact the economy), or to allow the Government to be accused of a cover-up. Rightly or wrongly, we noted that the MOH chose to be responsible and opted not to cause alarm.
In all fairness, the MOH did try to address the issue of a Government cover-up in their initial media release on 28 August. In the fourth paragraph of their media release, the MOH hinted that the numbers could rise as they screened the patient’s close contacts and others living and working in the area who have symptoms of fever and rash. Unfortunately, this was in the fourth paragraph of its media statement and was extremely subtle.
All in all, we think the Singapore Ministry of Health did well to balance the needs of the public with that of the Government. While we will never know the intent of the alternates to disparage the Government in a time when the country should rally together, the key lessons for the communications practitioners are: (a) the need to choose accuracy over speed; and (b) there will always be trade-offs to be made in communicating with the public and one should always choose the “harder right than the easier wrong”.
Friday, August 26, 2016
If you doubt the importance of good communications during a crisis, the Ryan Lochte Rio Olympic incident is more proof that it can hurt your bottom-line. In the wake of the scandal, Ryan Lochte has reportedly lost all his major sponsors including Speedo USA and Ralph Lauren Corp.
This is because sponsorship and endorsement deals usually include a "morals clause" that will allow a sponsor to terminate the deal if the athlete's behavior conflicts with the values of the sponsors.
Although some may argue that Lochte would have lost his sponsorship deals even if he had not subsequently lied about the incident, we believe there is a significant difference. The former could have been managed as a "moment of weakness" under the influence of alcohol, while the latter cannot be easily dismissed. This is because lying goes to the character of a person and while people can easily forgive a person for making a mistake, they will not easily forgive one who has an integrity issue.
Thus, if Lochte had come clean and admitted his mistake in the first instance, we believe that he would have been able to keep most of his major sponsors. Additionally, the task to rebuilding of his personal brand would be quicker and easier.
At CW Fong & Associates, we advocate that in instances where the organization is directly responsible, it is always best to accept responsibility, apologize and offer contrition. Attempting a cover-up will usually fail and will turn what is a forgivable mistake, into a crisis of integrity.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
STOMP yesterday revealed that the online threat, by a jilted lover, to release a sex video exposing her boyfriend's identity after he disappeared after having sex with her was a marketing ploy by a Hong Kong moon cake brand.
Like many, we were intrigued by the story (sorry we are humans too) and talked about it both online and offline. Score one for the digital marketer that thought this up. Good try at using sex and curiosity to drive likes and shares on social media.
Unfortunately, the final reveal of the company's name lacked impact as nobody likes to be used. Netizen's disappointment in this instance is justified as they were tricked into using their social media network for a commercial purpose. In fact, just look at the negative publicity that the Rebecca Lim false retirement generated and the reputational backlash she suffered.
In our opinion, the company could have done better using subtle product placement in their quest for greater brand awareness. Viral marketing campaigns are effective, but digital strategists need to avoid making their customers feel that they were used and their feeling cheated. This may alienate the people you are trying to engage.
P.S. We doubt that STOMP is an innocent "victim" of this viral campaign. We believe they were paid to run it.
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For the latest insights and discussions on branding, digital marketing and crisis communications, like our Facebook Page.
Saturday, August 20, 2016
[Crisis Communications] Can Suing Your Customer Ever be the Right Thing to Do?
Feline Wedding Studio is in the news again four months after gaining infamy over poorly taken wedding day photographs by their professional photographer. This time, the fiasco with another couple over a sour deal which the couple took to the bridal studio’s Facebook page to voice concerns over what they alleged were unethical business practices. This led to the bridal studio suing the couple for defamation and the couple counter-suing.
From a crisis communications perspective, taking legal action is often seen as a proactive approach to defend your company’s reputation as it sends a strong signal that you have been wronged. This is because legal actions are likely to result in counter-suits and media scrutiny that only an “innocent” company can withstand. Thus, if you sue, the perception is that you are right.
In view of the above considerations, we at CW Fong & Associates believe that a company can and should sue a customer for defamation if the company can conclusively and objectively prove that their actions are above reproach. Sure there will be mud-slinging and “he said she said” comments circulating, but in the end if the Court finds the company has been defamed, the verdict will stand the company in good stead.
In the context of Feline Bridal Boutique, we however do think that their decision is foolhardy. They are just recovering from a recent scandal that tarnished their reputation, they have (from what we can gather online) a history of poor service, and they cannot conclusively and objectively prove that their actions are above reproach. Whatever the verdict, Feline Boutique has already lost the war for perception and if the debacle four months ago did not kill the business, we believe this latest controversy will.
A company suing a customer for defamation is thus not necessarily wrong. In fact, in the era of social media, robustly defending your company’s reputation is a must. Companies should however ensure that the desired outcome of a protected reputation is not destroyed in the process. Let’s not miss the forest for the trees.
Friday, August 19, 2016
One of the biggest challenges a business faces is how to promote its product and services to its market segment. Prior to social media, businesses had to rely on old fashion advertising and PR techniques that were costly. The proliferation of social media has changed all that. Businesses with the right knowledge can now effectively promote itself for practically zero cost. One of the best marketing asset that a business has is its employees.
Unfortunately, most businesses do not use this as they are afraid that the employee will reveal company secrets, post or say something that will tarnish the company's brand or, god forbid, attack a competitor. While all these are valid fears, they are exaggerated and something which a proper social media policy will prevent.
Statistics show that the average Singaporean has an average of 412 Facebook friends. Thus assuming that your company has 3 employees, that means that your company has an automatic reach to 1,236 potential customers. Even assuming that only 10% of your employees' friends like or share your company's contents (which in turn then reaches their 412 friends), you are looking at a reach of over 50,000 people on Facebook alone. And, if your employees are in the same demographics as your market segment, then you reaching the right people.
Employee Advocates are powerful assets which businesses can and should tap on. Unfortunately, some bosses have unfounded fears. A quick look at the numbers show that your employees cannot be ignored and they need to be made into brand ambassadors. If you are not already leveraging on your employees' network, you need to.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Marketing Interactive today released an article discussing Singapore Airline's decision to delete several badly taken pictures of their tribute to Joseph Schooling from their social media platforms.
In short, the pictures did not accurately portray Singapore Airline's intention and where flamed by Netizens. The article sought the views of several social media consultants and they criticized SIA's decision to delete the pictures on the basis that: (a) whatever is put online cannot be taken back; (b) it has already been circulated so it is pointless to delete it; and (c) deleting it would only generate more interest.
While these points are valid and sound like good professional advise, they are misleading. This is because this advice deals with the here and now of the crisis and does not take into consideration the future impact the images will have on the SIA brand.
While deleting the images will generate interest, the temporary interest will allow Singapore Airlines the opportunity to clarify and get its side of the story out. And, even if the picture have already been circulated widely, keeping it on your own website only serves to continue to remind people (and new visitors to your site) about your mistake. This does not help in any way build the company's brand.
Thus, contrary to what the social media consultants on Marketing Interactive have weighed in to say, we at CW Fong & Associates believe that Singapore Airlines made the right decision to delete the unflattering pictures. The key lesson for the crisis communications practitioner is that managing a social media crisis is not only about the present, it is also about managing for the long impact on the company's brand.
In a crisis management situation, there are multiple stakeholders to manage. In fact too many. But of all the stakeholders, your key stakeholder to manage is not the media, but the next-of-kins (NOKs) of your employees - especially if the incident results in death.
The NOK is your key stakeholder in the crisis management plan as their relationship to the critically injured, or deceased, employee gives significant weigh to their words and actions towards your company. If the NOK speaks positively of the company's response and role in the incident affecting their family members, no outsider can possibly say anything negative about the company with any credibility.
NOKs as affected third-parties are therefore influential spokespersons during a crisis management situation. Properly managed, the NOKs can help the company successfully protect its reputation by speaking up for it, or at the very least not make damaging accusations before formal investigations are completed. It is therefore imperative that your company's crisis management plan include a NOK Management sub-plan where trained Family Liaison Officers are deployed to engage the NOKs.
As NOKs are not your employees, you do not have direct control over what they say to the media. Early and professional engagement of the NOKs is therefore necessary to bring them on the side of the company. In crisis after crisis, experience has shown that the company that can win over the hearts and minds of the NOKs, will have the greatest chance of successfully managing a crisis.
Contrary to what most people think, the media is not your key stakeholder in a crisis. The NOK is.
If your company does not have a NOK Management Plan or trained staff to act as Family Liaison Officers in a crisis, do contact us for a discussion. We are the only company in Singapore that provides NOK Management Training Courses.
Saturday, August 13, 2016
CW Fong & Associates is proud to have been selected to conduct an intermediate social media workshop for OnePeople.SG on 6 August 2016.
30 members from the various Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCC) attended the workshop where they were taught:
- Use a systematic approach for content planning
- Apply insights to developing content strategy
- Create content for social media
- Publish content generated
- Promote content on social media
- Measure content success
- Learn from best practices
We congratulate participants on their successful completion of the intermediate social media training and wish them success with their own IRCC pages.
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