Setting off a crisis
This hasn’t been a fun couple of weeks for President Obama. Republicans and even members of his own party are gunning for him over the IRS, AP phone records and Benghazi debacles.
Starting with the IRS, several mid-level career IRS employees in the Cincinnati office targeted conservative sounding groups like the Tea Party for extra scrutiny when considering their applications for tax-exempt status.
Apparently, their instructions for screening these requests weren’t clear – at least that’s the IRS’s defense.
Doing a Better Job
Politics aside, the Administration could have done a better job handling the IRS debacle. Then there are the other still festering inquiries. For example, whether the staff and U.S. Ambassador who were killed in an assault on the embassy in Benghazi could have been rescued, and the Justice Department’s review of AP journalists’ phone records.
If the White House has a crisis communications plan in place they blew it.
Regarding the IRS scandal, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney sounded pretty lame when he claimed that insiders knew about it but didn’t think to inform the President.
That was mistake number one in handling the crisis. You’ve got to know you have one. The President’s inner circle of advisors should have recognized immediately that this information would get leaked to the press and it did. A red flag should have gone up when they discovered that the Tea Party was specifically targeted.
The President learned about the IRS misdeeds from media reports. Talk about being blind-sided. That’s akin to the CEO of a company turning on the TV and discovering that customers are getting deathly sick from one of his company’s products.
Crisis Communications Planning
If you’re in charge of communications for your company, don’t wait for a crisis – or multiple crises — to test your plan or think it will never happen here. Take these steps to avoid a crisis when something goes terribly wrong for your company.
- Recognize a crisis when it comes. As the White House learned, it’s almost impossible to regain control of the controversy and misinformation once the media gets hold of the story.
- Be alert for anything that could impact negatively on your business.
- Develop a plan for your crisis team, establishing communication channels and assignment of duties. Make a list of all those who should be notified, especially the CEO.
- Be sure your spokespersons are media trained to handle reporter inquiries.
- Review the plan periodically. Select a crisis scenario and talk it through.
- Contact key audiences quickly with accurate information about what has happened. Tell them what steps have been taken, and will be taken, to address the situation and how the incident may affect them.
- Establish an emergency nerve center where the senior communications professional handles all media inquiries and distributes updated information to the company’s target audiences. Advise employees to refer all inquiries to people staffing this nerve center.
- Keep employees informed of continuing developments.
- Tell employees what they can do to help.
- Reward/acknowledge heroes, those who went out of their way to resolve the crisis.
- Investigate preventable causes and include results in best practices.
- Take steps to restore trust with all key audiences.
Clearly, the Obama Administration will continue to be under fire for its handling of these ongoing crises. But that’s the nature of the office.
You could argue that the White House is always in crisis with the continuing violence in hot spots around the world and ongoing domestic issues like the environment and the economy.
This post is not about politics. It’s about how to manage communications during a crisis, whether it’s the White House or your own company.
How do you feel the White House has handled the current IRS, AP probe and Benghazi crises? Where did they go wrong? What could they have done better?
By Zoe Fox, May 22, 2013
Nearly one million people are affected by natural disasters each year. In the U.S. alone, some 400 people die from disasters that cost the economy $17.6 billion. Helping respond to these cataclysmic events, social media is now a go-to tool for those effected by disasters.
One in five Americans has used an emergency app. Of those Americans effected by natural disasters, 76% used social media to contact friends and family; 37% of used social media to help find shelter and supplies; and 24% used social media to let loved ones know they’re safe.
This infographic, created by our friends at USF’s Online MPA, details how social media has revolutionized communications during natural disasters.
At the bottom of the infographic, you’ll find a FEMA tweet sent during Hurrcane Sandy, which exemplifies why social media is becoming the best way to spread information during dangerous events: Phone lines can get congested, so updating social networks can be the ideal way to let loved ones know you’re okay.
Have you used social media to communicate with loved ones during a storm, hurricane, earthquake or forest fire? Let us know in the comments.
Is Social Media Advertising or PR?
Who manages your company’s social media?
The social world for marketers remains a space where rules are yet to be written. But whether you think of social media as PR or marketing matters: It changes the tenor and the implications of your interactions, not to mention what you get out of them.
Most companies view their social efforts as a form of PR, thanks to the dynamic nature of the interaction between their brand and consumers. But as social media objectives evolve from “creating buzz” to delivering return, it’s important to view social media through the lens of what you want to accomplish to determine who on your team should own your social media efforts.
The PR argument is simple. Social media is a real-time, open dialog between company and customers. This environment requires the kind of rapid turnaround and message controls that PR groups excel at. PR knows how to stay on message and manage a diverse group of stakeholders to deliver a message across a variety of touchpoints. They have the press and media relationships to make sure the message spreads more organically. And PR knows how to conduct damage control when this all goes horribly wrong, which it inevitably does at times. Clearly this is a PR function…
…But not so fast. Social media is maturing, evolving quickly from just a place to communicate to an environment that can help sell and inform messaging. Many people “like” and follow companies not to be part of a community, but to stay connected to products, promotions and developments. For instance, while they have a huge Facebook audience, few people “like” Charmin on Facebook to share their thoughts on toilet paper usage. The real interaction is around sweepstakes and promotions that drive activation. Increasing business investment in social media is coming in conjunction with new capabilities that enable tracking through conversion. That’s clearly an advertising metric.
So the argument for viewing social media as a form of advertising is simple: Advertising is far more connected to day-to-day business strategy and the objectives associated with specific products and services. Advertisers are focused more on achieving measurable results and meeting actual sales goals. As investment in social increases, return on investment will become an increasingly important metric. And social media will need to be closely aligned with product news, promotional offers and customer segmentation to drive real success. In other words, the expertise required for future tangible social success clearly lies with the advertising team.
So what’s the right answer for your company? It really comes down to what you are looking to accomplish in social in the first place. The best way to decide is to look at the goals you use to define success. Are share of conversation, buzz generated or customer care metrics the ideal measures of success? If so, your efforts may be more PR oriented. But if you look ahead and see social playing a greater role in generating response, sales and other metrics that you would typically associate with advertising, then you’re thinking of social as advertising and should be developing plans, metrics and messages as part of your overall marketing communications efforts.
Scott Elser is co-founder of NY-based Launchpad Advertising, a full service ad agency focused on redefining market opportunities for brands in transition. A member of the 2012 Inc 500, Launchpad has helped drive growth across a wide range of businesses, from startups to Fortune 500 companies. Scott is a marketing consultant, entrepreneur and business coach who spent more than a decade on the marketing team at AT&T as well as holding executive posts at McCann and Grey before opening Launchpad in 2007. @scottlpa