As we head into the end of the year (how did that happen!) thoughts inevitably turn to how we’re going to do things differently in a bright, new, 2011. I had this in mind when I presented to a group of corporate communicators at PR Week’s ‘An issue ignored is a crisis invited’ conference on the 20th of October. So, as part of my session I focused on five practical steps that reputation managers can take to restructure their comms approach, and move their teams’ skill-sets and mind-sets to a place where they are better prepared to handle issues and crises in the socially enabled world.
I took five well established pillars from the ‘Old world’ issues and crisis management text-book, and considered how they should be evolved to prepare brands for the demands of ‘New world’ social reputation work. The five existing pillars are on the left in the image below, and the evolved approach on the right.
So, taking each in turn.
1. From a communications team, to an engagement team
A serious reputational issue playing out in the mainstream media has traditionally been handled by PR specialists and senior management, supported by legal teams. These are still crucial people to have in the war room, but the demands of social media require some additional skill sets too. A well-rounded ‘Engagement Team’ will now include social customer relationship management specialists, technical teams able to optimise content created for your response, analysts with the ability to make sense of the online conversation around your brand issue, and experienced community managers with the appropriate skills to know if, when and how any engagement should happen.
2. From media monitoring, to active listening
If you’re reading about a damaging issue in your mainstream media press cuttings, it’s too late. Once an issue has been amplified out of social media and into the mainstream you’re already in a ‘reactive’ position, and many companies have been caught out because of this, for example, Capri Sun.
In contrast active listening puts you on a proactive footing, listening out for issues in a real-time and persistent way. It’s also ‘active’ because you intend to take action, or assess possible action, on the basis of what you learn. Each brand or organisation can set up an active listening solution that suits them. This could be a specialist tool like Radian 6, or Brandwatch, free tools like Tweetdeck, but crucially all of them require human eyes (and brains) to make sense of the data through analysis.
3. From press releases, to content creation
Drafting template press releases, which cover likely crisis scenarios, is a standard technique to save time during a crisis. So should you do something similar for social content? Draft some tweets? Pre-record YouTube videos? Frankly, no. A social reputation situation will move in real-time, and in a dynamic manner. Rather, invest in your team’s technical and content creation skills. For example, have you got useful brand outposts like Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube for your company? Do the team know how to use them? What socially enabled content could you create to tell your story during a crisis? Have you done the necessary preparation work with your legal team to speed up sign off procedures during a crisis?
4. From media and scenario training, to appropriate social behaviour
At a recent presentation on the future of journalism at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong, the Editor in Chief of Reuters, David Schlesinger, made the following comment. “The more you try to be paternalistic and authoritative, the less people will believe you. The conversation about the story is as important as the story itself.” This is an insightful backdrop against which you should re-apppraise how you prepare for reputational threats in the social age. Preparation is still the key to successful crisis comms, but you need to prepare in different ways now. It’s less about ‘front of camera’ and ‘press conference‘ skills, and more about social psychology. Remember you’re no longer talking to the intermediary of the mainstream media, you’re going direct to the public. They want transparency, authenticity, honesty and speed! Your team needs to be trained how to do this. The first step is to create some social media guidelines, then scenario plan and test the team’s ability to respond appropriately in a live environment. The n keep testing, learning, and getting involved in the conversation.
5. From stakeholder lists, to community influencers
The role of third-party advocacy to respond to a crisis remains as relevant as ever in the social age, it’s always better to be defended by others than defend yourself. In the pre Web 2.0 world a comms team would focus on individuals and institutions that could provide this advocacy through mainstream media. Now it’s also necessary to think about the online advocates you can mobilise. So how do you make this happen online? Work at it, and do so over time in the same way you might look to lobby important stakeholders over time. First, landscape who is influential around your brand and vertical, next undertake some community outreach and community building. Finally, grow some roots into that community, gain trust and understanding. As a result when an issue or crisis hits you have increased the likelihood of the community coming to your defence, the ultimate in crisis recovery. Preparation is now about preparing your community to defend you, not just your own people.
In summary, we’re in a situation now as reputation guardians where we have to think more broadly, and at the same time more rapidly, if we are to effectively protect and enhance the reputations of our organisation, or brand.
Would love to hear any comments. Happy Christmas!
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