Archives for posts with tag: reputation management

We’ve already talked about the many commercial uses for digital monitoring tools, how they are becoming increasingly valuable to public relations firms, marketing groups, customer service departments, product and brand management teams, CEOs, even investors. And we’ve only scratched the surface there, you we will have plenty of opportunities to dive a little deeper into those areas on this blog. The basic premise of every one of these discussions is that digital channels are simply sources of information. The more connected people are via these channels, and the more people publish information on these channels, the more we know what is going on in the world.

By “information,” we don’t mean people publishing photos of their sandwiches or their new shoes on Instagram. We aren’t talking about the infectious posting of political memes on Facebook, or pictures of super cars and outfit ideas on Pinterest, or sharing their current TV programming choice on GetGlue. All of those categories of publishing are great, they come in scales of value which we could discuss until we’re blue in the face, but what we mean by “information” is stuff that will become news within an hour, once news networks have looked into it and confirmed it.

One of the many game-changing aspects of digital media, especially social media, is that it has changed the way we find out about things. Being plugged into the digital hive puts us within earshot of a global grapevine. The result is that we can learn about events taking place in the world in real time, and in many cases faster than news networks themselves. If a 7.2 earthquake shakes a city in Turkey, we’ll know about it long before CNN reports it. If a SEAL team raids a terrorist compound close enough to a neighborhood in Pakistan, someone will tweet about hearing helicopters and explosions before the story ever breaks on TV. If a tornado touches down five miles from where a Texas resident lives, chances are that they will find out about it on Twitter before the emergency sirens ever go off. Whether you are a brand manager monitoring digital channels for signs of an impending PR crisis or a citizen monitoring digital channels for the latest piece of relevant news, having the power to control how and when information comes to you is becoming an expectation, a commodity, even. We all want and need fast, real-time notifications and information relating to pretty much anything that matters to us, professional and otherwise.

To get an idea of how social media – and Twitter in particular – have changed the information landscape in the last few years, let’s look at before and after snapshots of information velocity in regards to news creation and circulation:

 When we developed Tickr, our idea was to provide decision-makers and brand managers a tool that simplified monitoring and filled very specific functionality gaps in the monitoring solutions market. Whether an organization was still thinking about digital monitoring in terms of having a social media manager working with a couple of screens in a cubicle somewhere, or developing a state of the art dedicated mission control center with 10-15 giant screens and rows of workstations, we wanted Tickr to be the overwatch app, the one eyes fell on first. The one that would, in the blink of an eye, give you the most complete snapshot of what was going on in your world, good, bad and otherwise. We made it clear, we made it simple, we made it portable. What we hadn’t expected though is that people would start using Tickr for a lot of other types of monitoring, and not just to do brand management and business intelligence work.

We’ve seen everything from Amber Alert and Hurricane Alert Tickr pages to Zombie Apocalypse watch pages pop up in the last few months. We have also seen an increase in pages focused on keywords like terrorism, scandal, election, explosion, storm, even the word “breaking,” which is pretty clever. Someone shared an Iran Crisis Tickr page with us this week, even though there is no Iran crisis yet (and hopefully won’t be). When we asked the creator of that page why he built it, he told us that a lot of the Tickr pages he saves into his library are what he calls “what if” pages. He’s an online reputation management professional (which is to say he works in corporate crisis management), so that kind of forward thinking goes with the territory. He explained that he is also a news junkie, so his digital monitoring savvy bleeds into that part of his life as well.  Put Google alerts and Tickr side by side, and you have yourself a simple but very effective early warning system for just about anything you want. PR crisis, natural catastrophe, even missiles heading towards your house. And here, we come to the catalyst for this post: how Israel’s live-blogging of their missile strikes on Gaza might be a bit of a game-changer when it comes to the role social and digital media now plays in warfare, and how that affects both the role and importance of digital monitoring in 2013 and beyond.

This from All Things D‘s Mike Isaac:

The Israeli Defense Force, the official military arm of the state of Israel, has launched a full-scale combat campaign against Hamas, the Islamist party that governs the Gaza Strip area of the Middle East. But instead of holding an official press conference, as is protocol for events as major as these, the IDF took a different tack. It announced its campaign via Twitter.

[...]

It’s a fascinating case study into the realm of social media, and the ever-evolving role of the social channels in the political arena. Recently, Web-savvy political organizations wielded Facebook and Twitter as major strategic tools in the U.S. general-election campaigns. And during the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia in 2010, Twitter was methodically used to facilitate and organize demonstrations of civil resistance, ultimately playing a part in the toppling of multiple despotic regimes in the Arab region.

It seems, however, that the IDF is using social in a different way entirely. It is a veritable “Shock and Awe” online assault, with Israel live-relaying updates on the combat situation. Among the tweets are updates on the successful interception of enemy fire against Israeli troops, citations of Hamas-backed violence against Israel and briefs on sites inside the Gaza Strip which Israeli forces have attacked. Perhaps the most jarring of the IDF tweets came stapled to a single photo of a top Hamas leader; The IDF broadcasted the confirmed assassination of Ahmed Jabari (seen above), complete with Jabari’s headshot and a list of his alleged offenses.

If you are old enough to remember CNN’s live coverage from the first Gulf War in 1991, then you are old enough to remember that the world of news changed that day forever. In one night, CNN changed the news game forever. A decade from now, when we look back on this week’s live-blogging of Israel’s strikes on Gaza, we might think of it in a similar way. Whether it becomes a lesson about the wonders of real-time information or dangers of real-time digital propaganda remains to be seen, but the world is a little different today because of how the IDF used social platforms this week.

The lesson here is that media is evolving, and with it the velocity of information sharing. A hundred years ago, information came in the form of a newspaper or a magazine. Media was print. It took time. There were delays. Even with the telegraph and the development of the telephone, news traveled slowly. Seventy years ago, radio started to edge out newspapers in terms of the velocity of news. Then came television news, then 24-hour news channels, and the internet, then social, then mobile. Today, our portable devices ping us whenever we get an email or a text or a tweet or a breaking news item we care about. It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing. If we want to, we can be notified of any kind of development anywhere in the world on our phone or tablet. All we need is the right technology and a little foresight to set up our very own customized alert protocols. To put this evolution in perspective, take a look at the next timeline/graph (see below).

In 2010 66% of media consumption was digital. By 2020, that number will jump up to 80%. Look at the acceleration in media consumption in the last hundred years. Look at the shifts in channels and technologies.

If you know what you’re doing, and you want to keep a competitive edge, however you were collecting information, data and intelligence a year ago won’t be the way you will be collecting it a year from now.

But with all of this, a word of caution, again from Mike Isaac:

 The IDF’s updates are coming fast and furious, but the information isn’t necessarily being verified in real time. It is possible that the IDF could be spreading misinformation strategically.

 There is a difference between a vetted journalism entity like CNN, the Associated Press or the BBC covering a news event in real time, and a non-neutral entity publishing its own information in real time.

This may be a good time to remind everyone that there is a very big difference between monitoring and analysis. Monitoring alone isn’t enough. Whether you are focusing on a PR crisis for a brand or following a developing news story, be aware that as social media becomes increasingly integrated into corporate, special interest and government communications programs, propaganda and misinformation will invariably become more prevalent there. So far, most efforts to publish disingenuous information in black hat campaigns on social platforms have been foiled. Fake bloggers posting fake updates are increasingly easy to spot. But through trial and error, social misinformation campaigns will become more sophisticated, and there isn’t a tool out there that can automate the process of determining real from fake information. You will still need to vet your sources, confirm statements, do your research. Organizations and individuals with the right tools for the job and the right best practices in place will have an advantage over everyone else, but it takes forethought, it takes diligence, and it takes a thorough understanding of what tools are needed for the job.

If an hour is an eternity in the digital age, even two minutes could make an enormous difference in the life of your organization or in your own. That’s the new reality of the digital age we live in. The advantage increasingly goes to those of us – corporate and not – with the fastest and most reliable monitoring and analysis practices.

Food for thought.

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Digital Crisis management is hard work. It’s complicated work. But it’s also not rocket science once you understand the mechanics of the process. Today, let’s break down crisis management into five simple components (or phases) and briefly explore the structure of each one. Understanding how to break down a digital crisis management model that way, looking at what types of tools to use and how,  and going through a few general observations in regards to best practices will hopefully arm you with helpful guidelines should your organization ever find itself having to deal with… an unfortunate circumstance involving a lot of very angry people.

To illustrate how this works, we will look at screen shots of what @KitchenAid’s recent PR crisis looked like on our own dashboard. If you aren’t familiar with what happened and what the crisis was about, you can catch up here (just remember to come back).

Let’s start at the beginning:

1. Discovery

What the start of a PR crisis looks like.

One of the purposes of digital monitoring is to serve as an early warning system for PR crises. Every company should monitor social channels and news media for signs of a possible attack on their brand. The earlier a potential problem is detected, the faster it can be dealt with. It’s that simple. The question you want to ask yourself here is this: Do I want to be able to start working on fixing a PR crisis while it is still young, small, and easy to manage, or do I want to start working on it tomorrow, when it has already snowballed into a news story already being covered by CNN and the New York Times?

The more vigilant you are, the easier it will be to avoid major PR disasters. It really isn’t complicated. And thanks to modern digital tools, all it takes to set up an early warning system for your company is the will to do so, and a little bit of forward thinking on the part of your brand or product management team. (If you don’t want to do it internally, you can easily work with your agency of record to set something up.)

In the case of KitchenAid, the crisis was identified early. This allowed management to start working on it in that first hour, which is critical given that Mashable first reported on the incident about an hour after it happened.) Speed matters.

2. Analysis

The topic of conversation begins to change.

What does a budding PR crisis look like? What should you look for? How do you spot an avalanche before it starts coming down the mountain? It’s all actually quite simple. And… don’t think of it as an avalanche. Avalanches strike too hard and too fast. PR crises, for the most part, are more like waves. In regards to digital reputation management and crisis monitoring, fancy yourself more a surfer than an alpinist: along a timeline, crises look like waves. They’re swells. Your job, as a digital/crisis monitoring professional, is to watch the horizon for the next set of waves. Some waves are great. Some waves are dangerous. The trick is to learn which is which. (The metaphor stops here.) Here are some things to look for:

    • A sudden increase in volume of mentions.
    • A sudden increase in the number of retweets (RT).
    • A sudden change in sentiment (especially is the shift moves towards the red/negative.)
    • If you are using word cloud analysis alongside brand or product mentions to create context, watch for the appearance (and growth) of particular topics.
    • If one or more of your monitoring tools allow it, dig into the mentions, especially those that are negative, and see what people are talking about. On Twitter, pay particular attention to retweets. In the early phases of a PR crisis, people will be more likely to share a screenshot, a hyperlink to a blog post or a video than at any other point during the crisis. Chances are that whatever they are sharing will take you to the root cause of the crisis itself.

Note that in the KitchenAid example (see image above), blogs and social media channels were on to the crisis a lot more quickly than news organizations. The content window showing a Facebook conversation (orange circle) clearly focuses on the Twitter snafu, while the stream showing news item (green circle) still hasn’t caught up with the developing story. Multi-channel monitoring is key to spotting problems early and being able to dig into what is being said and why.

3. Response

A crisis hitting its peak. (Respond long before this point.)

How a company first responds to a crisis will set the stage for everything that comes afterwards. There is no room whatsoever for a faux pas. Incidentally, waiting to respond or not doing anything is a faux pas. The good old days of releasing a press release or statement in a day or two are gone. You now have under an hour to start responding to a crisis. If you really want to be on top of a crisis, you want to begin responding in under ten minutes.

Here is a quick primer on how to respond to a crisis quickly and effectively:

  1. Introduce yourself. Use your name and your title.
  2. Frame the situation for the public. State the facts. What happened? When did it happen? What is your position? Apologize of you need to. Don’t spin. Don’t lie. Establish trust and leadership.
  3. Communicate to the public what comes next and what they should expect.
  4. Communicate to the press the response schedule and structure, and the means by which they should obtain information from you.
  5. Communicate developments and milestones with the public as they happen (the frequency will depend on the crisis). Err on the side of giving them too many updates. Make them feel that you are dedicated to fixing the problem in the most expedient and transparent way possible.

To KitchenAid’s credit, this process is precisely the one that was used by Cynthia Soledad and the company’s crisis team, and it worked.

4. Management

Watching the crisis begin to slow down and deflate.

This part involves most of the heavy lifting. The crisis will hit its peak in this phase, so the volume of mentions will be higher than it has been in any of the previous phases.

How a company manages a crisis depends on a number of things: the crisis itself (type, gravity, potential market impact, etc.), its degree of preparation for such a crisis, its internal capabilities (technical, manpower, training, fluency), and its culture.

I should point out that it isn’t enough to take the pressure out of the balloon, so to speak. It has to be done properly, and in a way that makes sense for the brand. A simple way of looking at this: Say that Nike and Starbucks were to find themselves with a very similar crisis. And say that for the sake of argument, each of these companies had precisely the same degree of preparation, the same general guidelines, internal capabilities, fluency with crisis management, etc. One might expect that even with all of these similarities, Nike and Starbucks would respond their crisis differently. Why? Because each company enjoys a unique culture, a unique style of public outreach. Each company’s relationship with the public (some of who are fans and customers, while others are neither) is uniquely its own.

In that light, what is most important during the management phase  isn’t necessarily to have a crisis management plan (though having one would certainly help), but rather to have a thorough understanding of how to defuse public outrage, anger, criticism, even hatred, do so in a way that makes sense for the brand, and get through that process without antagonizing anyone. Companies have to walk a very fine line between defending itself and being in any way antagonistic. This requires that everyone on the crisis management team keep a cool head. No one can ever lose their temper. No one can get sucked into a public argument.

A note on internet trolls: Pay them no mind. As much as they may amplify negative sentiment during a PR crisis, trolls can only affect public opinion if they are given the power to do so. That power knows only one fuel: attention. The less attention a company’s crisis management team gives a troll, the less impact he or she will have on the direction, volume and duration of the crisis. It isn’t to say that trolls don’t, on occasion, need to be confronted and dealt with, but the management phase of a PR crisis is not one of those times. During this phase, a troll is just a voice in the crowd, trying to shout louder than anyone else. Try as they may, trolls can’t make waves in the middle of a storm. Remember that.

Control the message. Control the situation. Don’t get sidetracked by anyone whose aim is to distract you from your job.

There are essentially to main pieces to the management phase. The first is a continuation of the “update the public” function that began in the response phase. This can involve the creation of a crisis page and a Twitter account alongside existing communications channels. (BP did this during the Deep Sea Horizon crisis.) The second is the direct interaction between the company and the public across social platforms. That is where community management, the creation of discussion groups and tabs, the publishing of fact sheets becomes very important. In some cases, (like the posting of an offensive tweet) a quick explanation of what happened and an apology will do the job. In other instances, the problem goes far deeper than that and will require more work.

Examples: An investigation by a major news organization just uncovered that your company employs child labor in a number of countries around the world. A report from a global ecological watchdog paints your company as being a major source of air or water pollution. Your CEO has just found himself connected to a damaging corruption scandal. The batteries in your latest device can explode and injure your customers. (Things that won’t go away with an apology.)

By engaging with the public and listening to their complaints, a company can identify key topics they need to focus on. These topics will frame the conversation that the public ultimately wants to have with the company. The more focus exchanges have, the more likely it is that they can be shifted from pointless noise to purposeful signal.

Once a company has identified topics and themes, it can dig deeper and identify specific complaints that relate to them. Once these complaints have been clarified, the discussion process can now be shifted from conflict to collaboration. Remember that every complaint simply identifies a problem. Once a problem is identified, all the company has to do is acknowledge it, drill down into the details of the complaints around it, and ask the public how it would solve it. In doing so, the company’s relationship with the public shifts from one of conflict to one of collaboration.

The next step is to come to an agreement with the public as to what should be done about the problem, and how to move towards some measure of resolution that makes sense for everyone. Rededicate your company to fixing the problem, even if the best you can realistically offer is an incremental process that could take years. Make this a new point of focus for your company – an initiative. Pledge to work on this, and make it happen. Recruit the help of the public. Partner with them. Make them part owners of the solution. reward them for their help.

We could write a whole book on this topic, so it’s probably best to stop here… or this could turn into a VERY long blog post.

5. Post-crisis monitoring & advocacy

The crisis looks over, but is it really? (Make sure.)

This part is simply the follow-through. Now that the crisis itself has ended, it’s time to button things up. What did you miss? What did you learn? What comes next?

Don’t let the deflation of the wave of mentions be your only guide. News cycles are short-lived nowadays. People will grow bored of a scandal or PR crisis after a few short days, no matter how effective a company was at addressing and managing it. Just because people have moved on to another topic doesn’t mean that your troubles are over. Don’t mistake changes in the volume of mentions for resolution.

If the root cause of the crisis was not resolved, it will stick. It will become part of the brand’s story. It may even become the defining feature of the brand for years to come – a stain on its reputation that won’t easily go away once it grows roots. You don’t want that. A crisis can’t just go away. It has to be resolved.

What things look like two weeks later.

Drill down into the conversations. What do you see?

The only way to find out if it has been resolved or if it has just gone away for a while is to monitor conversations about the brand once the crisis has subsided. There is a short term piece to this, and there is a long term piece as well. You want to gauge the impact of what you’ve done, and make adjustments along the way until you can be certain that the crisis, its cause, and the expectations of the public have been worked through. Once that has been done, look for people who are not aware that you have resolved the problem, and politely, kindly engage them. Show them the progress you’ve made. Link to what you have done and what you are doing. Inform, inform, inform. Whom you inform, when, how and why can’t happen in a vacuum. Monitoring for specific types of opinions and conversations can help you target the right people at the right time with the right information. This allows you to get your message across quickly and effectively without requiring major media buys and hit-or-miss campaigns. Think major cost-savings, sure, but think also of speed and effectiveness.

To close our example, a quick look at the @KitchenAid crisis Tickr page two weeks after the incident shows no significant activity that might suggest a resurgence of the crisis. Digging a little deeper, we see that conversations have shifted from the incident to more routine, benign topics about the brand and its products.

How is that for using Tickr as a PR crisis overwatch platform? Not everything about digital monitoring and crisis management has to be complicated. We like to make things easier for everyone. It’s what we do,

As always, we would love to hear your comments, especially if you have PR crisis stories to share with us. What happened? What did you do? What did you learn in the process? Do you have any questions? Can we shed some light on anything? (Process, technology, best practices?) The comments section is all yours.

We’re also on Facebook and Twitter, so we can have that discussion there as well.

And if you aren’t using Tickr to monitor the web yet (social or not), you can start using the basic version for free in just a few minutes. (If you need more features or more horsepower, the Pro and Enterprise versions don’t take much longer to set up either .) Start here.