© 2009 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 18,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
Editor's Note: Readers have responded with GREAT enthusiasm to articles related to online crisis management, so I'm going to continue to focus on this area as long as I have new material, such as the following two outstanding articles by guest authors!
Reputation Management: How to Survive an Online Attack
By Penny C. Sansevieri
If you've never been the center of an online attack you're lucky, if you have, you know what I'm talking about. The Internet has brought with it a lot of good things, but it's also brought a sea of citizen journalists who have access to some of the most powerful tools we've ever seen. If you weren't following the Amazon debacle on Twitter this weekend (search #amazonfail to get up to speed) then you missed quite a drama. Prior to that (a week or so ago) a publicist sent a letter to a blogger that had much of Twitter up in arms as well, our COO Paula Krapf blogged on this story, you can read about it here. The publicist who at one time was fairly under the radar, became center stage for a heated debate and, likely, ruined her career and integrity for a long time to come.
But it's more than just preparing for an attack that many of us will never experience, it's about reputation management which is key in an age of instant everything.
As ethical and careful as we all are, it can happen to anyone. It's one of those things that doesn't happen all the time (thank God) but when it does, you want to be ready, just like that earthquake preparedness kit that's collecting dust in your closet. It's there when you need it and much like understanding how to manage your reputation online, you want to know what to do when the Internet strikes. So what do you do if it does? Well, you don't do what Amazon did and hide under a rock, or this pr gal from Quirk who failed to offer a genuine apology. You get out there and start your own campaign to fix this. Here's how you do it:
- Realize you have no control over what happens: if you try and control all of the bad online press, it'll feel like trying to plug a damn leak with a piece of gum. Accept that something that ignites a flurry of tweets or blogs will get out of control very quickly. Take a deep breath and deal with it - beginning with where the noise is; for instance, if the crisis is limited to Twitter, then your strategy should focus on interaction with the Twitterers involved. There's no point in doing something on your blog or website if it's a specific social media site that's up in arms - if you respond to them directly, in their medium of choice, you're on the way to solving the problem. The longer you just worry about the flurry, the longer it'll take you to figure out a strategy.
- Accuracy be damned: with everyone being a reporter, remember that sources and the like don't matter - at least not initially - in the Twitterverse. During the Amazon mess there were rumors that it was a hacker (promoted by a hacker), a disgruntled employee, the stories ran the gamut.
- Monitor the Internet: always, always, always know what's going on out there. It could be something as simple as one blogger posting information on you that isn't 100% accurate, they like accuracy as much as we do so in a friendly way, set the record straight. That's what Google alerts are for - set them to your name, your business, book - whatever brand or brands you have that should be monitored.
- Be quick to fix this: don't wait and watch as your message spirals out of control, jump on this quickly and correct it before it turns into a wildfire of tweets and blog comments. In this era of social media, your silence will be filled by others all too eager to step in and offer their own answers, even if their information is incorrect. Then you've got a bigger problem - the conventional wisdom is completely wrong and now there's even an Internet footprint that makes the misinformation seem like it's real.
- Be sincere: we all screw up, be sincere and genuine. I think if Amazon had come out early on and been more transparent about their process, this wouldn't have caught fire the way it did. You don't want a bunch of people you don't know out there being your spokesperson. If you're not speaking up, someone else will do it for you (and review #4).
- Words are key, so is honesty: if someone is attacking you and you are really at the center of this mess, remember that now is not the time to try and come up with some politically correct answer. Be clear in your message and do whatever you have to do to fix this.
- Relationships: more than ever, relationships are key. Building relationships within your area of expertise will greatly help you manage your reputation and an attack, should there one happen. Get to know the people who specialize in your industry and let them know who you are by networking with them and being helpful. Having relationships in place is crucial to any campaign but when it comes to reputation management, it's much easier to go back to the friends you already have than try and build these relationships when there's trouble.
With all the ways to get media these days, you want to know what people are saying about you. Keeping track of the conversation will not only help you ward off an attack if one should ensue, but it will help you get to know the people who are important to your message. Keeping track of who's posting on you, reviewing your book, and featuring your articles will give you the chance to network and, as I pointed out in point #7, give you the opportunity to go back to an existing relationship and fix a problem if there's trouble. And that's being a savvy Internet marketer.
Penny C. Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most leading-edge book marketing campaigns. To learn more about Penny's books or her promotional services, you can visit her web site. To subscribe to her free ezine, send a blank email to: email@example.com. Copyright 2009 Penny C. Sansevieri
Inside a breaking online crisis:
How to monitor internet rumours about a large organisation and provide actionable data and strategy to senior management
By Will Critchlow
Earlier this year, we were approached by a large public company which was in the middle of a breaking crisis. We knew their external PR and crisis teams who were trying to work out how to deal with a new kind of breaking issue. Unlike many reputational crises, this was not only being reported online, it was actually happening online.
A loose network of individuals in other countries were forwarding false accusations about the company in question. These accusations were spreading like wildfire via blogs, on twitter, on other social media sites, via official company pages (e.g. on Facebook) and on hard-to-find foreign-language forums. The accusations were built on a repetition of old rumours but with a nasty new twist. Not only were there calls to boycott the company's products and services, but there were also nasty undercurrents of potential violence against employees and property.
The biggest immediate challenges were to get on top of what was being said. The board wanted to know what was being said. The corporate communications guys wanted to know what was being said. But they couldn't read it all - there was a large volume of discussion and they had important decisions to make.
Our perfect crisis response strategy involves planning for the crisis in advance. The problem with ďadvance' is that it's hard to do it when you are fighting the fire! So the first action in this scenario was to start gathering information and turn it into executive summaries (in the true sense of a summary that helps executives make decisions).
It felt very important to start thinking about response strategies and plan for future likely outcomes. It was critical, however, that the first step once the monitoring was running was to determine escalation actions. As an external agency who had been brought in as the crisis broke, we didn't already have the contact details of decision-makers in the company. Since there was a likelihood of serious threats being discovered during the monitoring process, we needed to make sure that we knew what to do if we discovered a credible threat. With the help of the client team, we determined a simple escalation process with a hierarchy of action based on threat ranges that went from "include in the next daily summary" through "email alert to designated contact" to "telephone calls to a set of security people".
So, our actions so far were to get monitoring rolling as quickly as possible and then immediately determine escalations of urgent / serious threats. From this point, we started working on the data elements that were needed to make decisions (volume of conversation, tone, new themes) before getting into the strategic stuff.
The two critical strategic elements were to determine response strategies and forecasts.
Response strategies have been widely written about and traditional crisis communications theory talks a lot about the possible repercussions of different actions. Decisions about if, how, when and where to respond can be the subject of another case study - I'll keep the focus on the internet questions.
We wanted to be able to provide management-friendly forecasts of what tomorrow's summary was going to look like. In order to do this, we considered a range of inputs - including volume trends, emergence of new themes, news coverage, brand evangelists defending the brand for them etc. Although we couldn't predict volumes with high levels of accuracy, neither was exact accuracy the critical factor. We were seeking planning for resource deployment and senior decision maker time at the appropriate levels. We were actually surprised at how effective this process was for that. While there are people with large amounts of experience in the offline news cycle, the spread of viral information is less widely understood and we found that the single most beneficial piece of data for senior management was the forecast of future trends.
In summary, while basic monitoring was critical (especially to pick up the threats) and response strategy was a big win of the project (but out of scope of this case study), the shape of the reporting was interesting. Our reports' structure was:
- Executive Summary
- Immediate Forecast
- Wider Trends
- Serious Issues Already Raised
- New Themes
- Important Changes to Existing Discussions (e.g. Facebook, Wikipedia Talk etc.)
- Samples of Other Discussion
Will Critchlow is a director of Distilled, a London-based firm specialising in online reputation management. Distilled built Reputation Monitor, a tool for monitoring online discussion of brands and people.
Bernstein Blogging Update
You don't have to wait for another issue of Crisis Manager to continue to receive crisis management insights. Visit us at at the Bernstein Crisis Management blog. You can also express your opinions there, to include providing a handy, SEO-improving "backlink" to your own website. Some recent topics posted there:
- Troubles at the TSA
- The Year in Crisis Management
- They Lost What?
- Pick Your Fights
- Creating Faith
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"Keeping the Wolves at Bay" is much more than another media training guide - it is perhaps one of the most concise, insightful, useful and savvy guides to strategic thinking about reputation issues available.
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Disaster Prep 101
Bernstein Crisis Management is pleased to present one of the most comprehensive and user-friendly family preparedness texts available today. "Disaster Prep 101." by Paul Purcell, goes above and beyond the simplistic "72-hour kit" concept and provides simple, yet detailed educational material that will drastically improve the ability of any family to respond to all manner of disasters or emergencies. This preparedness package contains over 400 pages of well-organized, original preparedness material written in an easy-to-understand, non-panic format; 80 pages of family data forms and worksheets (many of which are also useful to the employer); and a 2-CD set containing two interactive and searchable links collections for additional educational sources; all the family data forms and worksheets in softcopy format; and a complete emergency reference library of over 450 additional books and training manuals! US$59.95. Available here.
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ABOUT THE EDITOR & PUBLISHER
Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com, a national crisis management public relations agency providing 24/7 access to crisis response professionals. The agency engages in the full spectrum of crisis management services: crisis prevention, response, planning & training. He has been in the public relations field since 1982, following five-year stints in both military intelligence and investigative reporting. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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