An interesting piece in PR Week recently struck a chord with us in the Bluewood office.
It considered the extent to which social media is being used by corporate firms in order to mend damaged reputations in crisis situations. No doubt given the immediacy of the medium, the PR world is increasingly using social media to defuse crises.
Interestingly however, PR execs were also blaming social media for causing reputational crises in the first place.
‘More than 70% of agencies blamed social media as the main cause of igniting communications crises for clients, whilst 24% said traditional media ignited crisis situations.
Bloggers attracted the most blame for igniting crises (34%), followed by social networking sites (24%) and forums (8%). Half of all PR agencies (51%) had a client that had experienced a crisis management situation involving social media in the past 12 months. Some 61 per cent said the use of social media had exacerbated the story, while 45 per cent said it gave journalists easy access to disgruntled people.’
It’s a fair point that social media with and its immediate effects can cause and indeed fuel a crisis situation for any firm. Which is no doubt down to the medium’s honesty (given that it’s largely uncensored) and immediacy.
It’s probably also true that consumers are far more likely to comment online in response to a negative rather than positive experience that they’ve had. (Who rants about a positive experience?) Indeed, positive posts are largely met with scrutiny given that the chances are they were written by the firm in question under an alias…
But the biggest mistake for any firm would be to ignore it. Anyone with half a brain can see that social media is here and it is growing. The smartest thing that companies can be doing in response is getting to grips with, and importantly, using it, to the own advantage.
Better that firm is seen to be responding and acting to negative customer comment rather than be ignoring it. The immense value of demonstrating an online presence and demonstrating a positive proactive response via blogs and networking sites should not be underestimated.
According to the piece, experts disagree over the extent to which companies have gotten to grips with the medium.
Regester Larkin MD Andrew Griffin was quoted as having said: ‘Social media have really taken off in crisis management in recent months. Almost all the projects we are working on have some sort of social media element to them, primarily because it is so useful a tool for campaigners and so hard a tool for corporates to get right.’
One PR rep rightly said ‘Proactively assessing readiness for a digital media crisis is still something many companies have not embraced. We are starting to see them build elements of digital media into crisis simulation exercises and process development, but rarely do they test response capabilities.’
Want to learn how to make social media work for you?
No problem. Have a look at the social media training courses – we will have you up to speed in no time!
Gemma Carey, Bluewood Training Ltd
Along with the number of flights that allegedly got off the ground, British Airways would no doubt have been celebrating the union media campaign that never even reached the runway during the recent staff strikes.
According to PR Week, BA have their cunning digital PR campaign to thank ‘appearing in pastel shirts and casual jumpers, Walsh appeared a paragon of relaxation. Set in front of sunny open plan offices, his lilting brogue was the most resonant element of the direct to YouTube productions.’
BA of course gave a stong delivery ofthe positives; ‘it’s great to see people sticking with BA’. The key messages around ‘good atmosphere’ and ‘keeping BA flying’ were repeated to good effect. It was a strategy that by-passed the need to speak to those pesky journos, which in turn meant an avoidance of any difficult questioning on the reason the staff were striking in the first place.
‘TV news even ran the videos, circumventing the traditional route for crisis comms. A fine week in the face of left-wing turbulence.’
I have to say, I was sitting with a striking member of BA watching all of this on Sky News and his reaction was of total disbelief – “it’s a total farce! There are no where near as many planes taking off as he’s portraying and our side is not being represented whatsoever.” There was no communication whatsoever of the exact reasoning behind the strike which meant of course the there was no way the the general public would be sympathising with the BA staff. There was minimal union/staff coverage in the form of reporting from the picket line. If I’d been a BA customer without the full facts I’d have been furious.
Focusing on the customer helped BA to wins the hearts and minds of the public there’s no doubt about that. They certainly won that battle. But what of the long-term effect to BA’s reputation (not to mention the £45m it allegedly cost them)?
In a separate PR Week article, it was argued that despite an improving share price, the issue of ongoing strikes has damaged the public perception of airline British Airways. ‘Ongoing strikes and the threat of further action have seen British Airways lose ground to rival Virgin Atlantic in the eyes of the public, according to new research. ‘When asked which airline they would prefer to fly with, 49 per cent of the 3,000 respondents to PRWeek/OnePoll’s latest survey chose Virgin Atlantic. When asked what characteristics they would associate with BA, 42 per cent cited industrial disputes and 55 per cent said the airline was ‘expensive’.
Just nine per cent associated it with value for money – which is significant, as 56 per cent of respondents said price was the most important factor when choosing an airline. While 31 per cent said threat of strike action made them less likely to book a flight with BA during the strike period, 40 per cent said it made them less likely to book a flight with BA in the long term. The ongoing industrial disputes have had a negative effect on the reputations of BA chief executive Willie Walsh, the cabin crew at BA and trade union Unite. In total 70 per cent said none of those had enhanced their reputation during the spat.’
On PR representative summed it up nicely ‘BA has a mountain to climb if is to win back public sympathy. Its tone needs to be more humble, it needs to rebuild staff relations, and it needs to invest more in customer service.’
Survey of 3,000 members of the public conducted by global research agency OnePoll.
Gemma Carey, Bluewood Training Ltd
Interesting article on the Sky News site today about body language to look out for in the Leaders’ debate tonight.
For example; Brown “Brown has a habit of dropping his lower jaw, which may look like a yawn but is actually a sign he is breathing in deeply while under pressure… Cameron often licks his lips, which is a common response to stress… Liberal Democrat leader has a tendency to pull his lower lip up, making his mouth into an upside-down “u”, Dr Collett said. While this may look like a determined gesture, it is a defensive action he uses when he feels attacked”.
The quoted expert goes on to say “body language is unintentional it is much more honest and revealing than speech”, what on earth can they be suggesting with that remark!
Read the full story here: http://tinyurl.com/y7aenea
Will Edwards – www.bluewoodtraining.com – April 2010
Nice work by veteran Conservative MP Nicholas Winterton this week. I’m sure his PR is fuming after he alienated an entire swathe of standard-class rail travellers in one fail swoop when referring to them as a ‘different type of person’.
Already on a very thin ground, Winterton called the new expenses culture “infuriating”, moaning that he may no longer be able to claim for first-class train travel and complaining about the “totally different type of people” in standard class. He was arguing that MPs would not be able to get enough work done in standard class because of the noise and disturbance from children.
Unsurprisingly, the Tory party moved to distance itself from Winterton, saying that he was “out of touch”. Not half.
You’d think an MP with his expense track record would think much more carefully before commenting on this kind of thing. Winterton previously claiming parliamentary allowances with his wife Ann, who is also an MP, for rent of £20,000 a year on a flat they transferred to a family trust after paying off the mortgage.
Winterton said MPs needed to be able to work in peace when travelling between parliament and their constituencies. “If I was in standard class I would not do work because people would be looking over your shoulder the entire time, there would be noise, there would be distraction.”
Referring to standard-class passengers: “They are a totally different type of people. There are lots of children, there’s noise, there’s activity. I like to have peace and quiet when I’m travelling.” Though he denied saying that MPs were better than ordinary people. “I didn’t say they weren’t as good, but they are in a different walk of life. They are doing different things. Very often they are there with children.
“I believe that the facilities extended by the rail companies to travel first class are very valuable for businesspeople and I include in that category MPs.”
Of course, his comments prompted a strong online reaction. By mid-afternoon that day there were hundreds of comments on the BBC website. “Live in the real world like the rest of us,” said one. “I regularly travel from London to Liverpool and am also expected to work on the train. I go standard class and manage fine.” Others pointed out that there are “quiet carriages” in standard class. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said on Twitter: “Sadly some MPs still just don’t get it.”
The Conservative party’s spokesperson responded that Winterton’s remarks were “the out-of-touch views of a soon-to-retire backbench MP”, adding “they do not in any way represent the views of David Cameron or that of the Conservative party and should be treated as such.”
Winterton, who has been in the Commons for 39 years, told Total Politics magazine that he was now “looking forward” to standing down as an MP at the coming election.
His wife is also standing down.
This was probably something very few people had considered when bragging about their holiday plans on Facebook. According to Confused.com, using Facebook or Twitter in this way ‘could raise your insurance premiums by 10pc’.
And when you think about it, it does make sense. Publicly-accessible services such as Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Buzz can alert criminals when users are not home. Foursquare, for example, shows that people are in a specific spot and, more importantly, that the user is definitely not at home.
The head of home insurance at Confused.com, said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if, as social media grow in popularity and more location-based applications come to fore, insurance providers consider these in their pricing of an individual’s risk. We could see rises of up to 10pc for people who use these sites. Criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their information gathering, even using Google Earth and Streetview to plan their burglaries with military precision. Insurance providers are starting to take this into account when they are assessing claims and we may in future see insurers declining claims if they believe the customer was negligent.”
Their advice to users of social networking websites:
1. Never post your home address or other personal information such as your home phone number on social networking sites.
2. Don’t follow people you don’t know on social networks and use block others from seeing your profile if you don’t know them.
3. Turn off location-based services on Twitter and Facebook unless you absolutely need to use them.
And whatever you do, don’t do what this brainless burglar did and lead the police directly to you by accessing a Facebook profile at the scene of the crime (!). The Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department didn’t have to look far after a burglar committing a daytime robbery logged in to his Facebook profile WHILST in his victim’s house and he fled the scene leaving the page still open on his victim’s computer.
Gemma Carey, Bluewood Training Ltd
There was a rare and refreshing piece of openness from a CEO a few weeks ago that we just had to mention.
According to the Wall St Journal, Jon Rubinstein, CEO of Palm – the firm that makes personal digital assistants, recently addressed his staff with the following letter (in full, below) to address the issue of the firm’s flagging sales.
In what appears to be a gesture of openness and honesty with staff, he sent out the following in a company-wide email:
This morning we announced preliminary results for our 2010 third quarter. Since the quarter has not yet closed, it is too soon to offer exact numbers, but we stated that we expect to report revenues for Q3 between $300 and $320 million. We also announced that we expect our revenue for this fiscal year to fall below the guidance we gave to Wall Street, which ranged from $1.6 to $1.8 billion. As we mentioned in our press release, our softer than expected performance is due to slower than expected customer adoption of our products, which in turn has prompted our U.S. carrier partners to put additional orders on hold for the time being. On a positive note, we expect to exit the quarter with over $500 million in cash on our balance sheet. We’re scheduled to announce our full financial results in March.
I realize this news is difficult to swallow. We made this announcement today to prevent a surprise for Wall Street when we announce quarterly earnings in March. In the meantime, the entire executive team has been working extremely hard to improve product performance, and have implemented a number of initiatives to increase awareness and drive sales.
Dave Whalen and I just returned from a very successful meeting with Verizon Wireless, where they acknowledged that their execution of our launch was below expectations and recommitted to working with us to improve sales. To accelerate sales, we initiated Project JumpStart nearly three weeks ago. Since then, nearly two hundred Palm Brand Ambassadors, supplemented by Palm employees from Sunnyvale, have been training Verizon sales reps across the U.S. on our products. Early results from the stores have already shown improvement on product knowledge and sales week over week. You may have also seen a growing number of Palm ads on billboards, bus shelters, buses, and subway stations—all getting the word out about Palm.
All of these efforts are examples of how we are working to accelerate adoption and grow distribution of webOS. In the next few weeks, your management will work with you to make sure your priorities are laser-focused, primarily on helping to increase sales, improve product quality and differentiate the Palm product experience.
Our goals are taking longer than expected to achieve, but I am still confident that our talented team has what it takes to get the job done.
We’ll schedule an all-hands meeting after our earnings announcement in March, and I’ll be happy to answer your questions.
In addressing the staff directly, and specifying what the company intends to do to doing to turn things around, one would assume that the CEO went some way towards changing what had probably been a rather uncertain climate amongst the staff at Palm.
Rather than keeping the staff in the dark, his memo works to inform and reassure them.
Bluewood Training Ltd, March 2010. www.bluewoodtraining.com
A rather kind Duncan Bannatyne enlisted his 54,000 Twitter followers to look for a lost travelcard recently after a young woman made the appeal, knowing that a similar plea had also just worked for him.
Alex Schillemore had lost her £4,000 season ticket and remembered that the Dragon’s Den star had used Twitter for an appeal in a similar situation when his wife had lost a dress on a train – he actually managed to get it back after the appeal spread the word.
‘I thought he would be sympathetic to my cause so I sent him a message. He “re-tweeted” for me.’
The train company staff apparently would not give her a replacement because she had already lost two tickets in a year (to be fair to her – once when her handbag was stolen and again when she moved house), so she tweeted Bannatyne saying ‘Please RT… I lost my 4k ticket on the 16.30 from Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour…’ and within a few minutes, he had posted her message on his own page so it could be read by the 54,000 that receive his updates.
Bannatyne’s spokesman said he was ‘trying to use the strength of his following on Twitter. It worked for him, so he probably thought it might work for her’.
Very nice of him. What’d be even nicer would be him buying her another travelcard (!) but here’s hoping it turns up…
Gemma Carey, www.bluewoodtraining.com, March 2010
BARELY a Bluewood media training session goes by without mention of Tony Blair. And not in a good way. Last month, he was doing what he was most well known for as a Prime Minister – talking. But he doesn’t just talk. Blair was responsible for a whole new top-down comms delivery style.
We do a pretty good imitation here at Bluewood. First, the mouth-closed grin (if there can be such a thing) and the momentarily closed eyes. Second, the flat-handed gesture, back of the hand outwards, like he’s showing you how big Prescott’s paunch is. Then comes the ‘Look…’, before he skips away from the question he’s just been asked.
It probably didn’t even work on the 100 or so members assembled at the Trimdon Labour Club at the end of March – and it didn’t work on the political journalists analysing him, his words, and his delivery in the papers the next day.
Cartoons, sketches and columns mentioned Tony’s ‘orange tan’ (Mail, Telegraph) and Transatlantic accent. Ann Treneman’s political sketch focused not on Blair’s message, but his delivery. “One by one, he introduced his trademark hand gestures,” she wrote in The Times. “The gunslinger pointing fingers, the thumb-to-forefinger circles…” This latter one is classic sign of a heavily-trained speaker. The Guardian’s sketch also picked up on “finger-jabbing theatricals.’
Treneman, meanwhile, moved on to his verbal delivery. “The voice came back with its cadences and wry asides, the little exclamations such as ‘Look!’ and ‘OK!’.
In fact, watching him do his ‘thing’ was to remind ourselves of how much better most politicians have become at delivering sincerity and engaging with ideas. With his big pauses for effect, the conscious reach for the everyday phrase, and possibly worst of all the rictus smile – captured on the front of The Guardian and accompanying the other write-ups of the speech – Blair looked, and sounded, less convincing that we probably remembered him.
When he left office, Blair had run through his bag of presentational tricks, like a footballer who has done the stepover so often that the opponent expects it. But footballers adapt – they use their experience, they change their approach, they drop the stepover and they start to pass the ball to new talents with new tricks. In Sedgefield, Tony looked a lot like a great performer who was performing – the press realised it, and so too, probably, did the public. Andrew Gimson, in the Telegraph, came to that conclusion: “Mr. Blair looks and sounds like a parody of his former self.”
Written by Matt Guarente – journalist and lead Bluewood media trainer.
This could make for an interesting TV event; we finally have the confirmed dates for the main political parties leaders’ debates:
1. Thursday 15 April: First debate, on domestic affairs – ITV
2. Thursday 22 April: Second debate, on foreign affairs – Sky News
3. Thursday 29 April: Final debate, on the economy – BBC.
With any luck these will be informative rather than dull… but you never know.
written by Will Edwards – www.BluewoodTraining.com – April 2010