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Brands for a social age

Archive for the tag “social crm”

Disney – where customer service dreams come true

I’ve been lucky enough to escape the chilly British ‘Spring’ with a visit to Florida over the past week or so, and as the owner of two young children the mandatory trip to Disney World was required.

Disney parade with Pluto!

Disney parade with Pluto!

Having experienced six different theme parks and water parks in a week we are now Disney World veterans. The entertainment experience comes in an assortment of guises – Space Mountain (exhilarating), Star Tours (immersive), Electric Parade (enchanting), Shark Swim (refreshing), and Indiana Jones Stunt Show (revealing). I have to take my hat off to Disney for the investment in content and storytelling details for just about every attraction (material for many posts!).

Consistent across every experience however is the quality of customer service. It is a cut above even the U.S’s usual high standards, and is an integral part of the Disney ‘magic’. So what sets it apart? Having had the chance to reflect on it for a couple of days I think it comes down to the following.

1. Broad ownership

Everyone at Disney takes responsibility for delivering great customer service. While there are Guest Services specialists, the idea that they are the only team to look after customer experience would be laughable. Whoever we spoke to with a specific customer service request was always ready to commit time and genuine effort to resolving the issue. It was clear that all ‘Cast Members’ (as Disney staff are known), have been empowered and trained to take personal responsibility for the customer experience.

 2. Broad and deep knowledge

Product knowledge levels amongst the cast are impressive and comprehensive. Regularly a Cast Member would be able to provide detailed information and advice about an attraction on the far side of a vast park, and answer more obscure questions. There was no ‘that’s not in my department’ mentality, and first time resolution was the norm.

3. Coverage

There are lots of Cast Members available, and these people are diverse in terms of nationality, gender and age. This provides coverage in two senses. Firstly, a density of staff numbers to allow rapid access, and secondly a wide-spread of individuals to mirror the diverse guest profile. For example, there was a higher than usual number of older Cast Members greeting guests at main park entrances, which provided a reassuring and familiar environment for families and young children used to grandparents. Another neat touch is that every name badge says where the Cast Member hails from, providing a cosmopolitan flavor and indicating language skills.

4. Empowerment

There is a sensible degree of empowerment for Cast Members to take small operational decisions that assist the customer experience. Personal examples were – a no quibble provision of a new locker at a water-park after a key went missing, and slightly early access to rides on the Fast Pass system. It was a pleasure to have these issues resolved immediately with no need for escalation to a supervisor, and this added to the positive perception of the Disney brand.

5. Tools to do the job

Disney invests heavily in its infrastructure. Aspects that particularly caught my eye were the smart card and finger-print scanning entry points, and the monorail system at Magic Kingdom that could service a small city! The modern and well maintained systems and infrastructure provides the canvas on which Cast Members deliver great customer service.

6. Proactive problem solving

Disney is good at providing information and services that pre-empt and prevent common problems. For example the issue of guests forgetting where they have parked in the vast car parks is addressed by a memorable parking space naming system, and constant reminders to record your car’s location. Similarly, for faster rides audio messages are played during the approach to the start point to prepare nervous riders and prevent mis-use and injuries.

The Disney experience can be hectic, but thanks in no small part to the on the ground customer service is also a magical one. At the same time Disney is beginning to extend this approach into the digital space with its ‘My Disney Experience’ iPhone and Android App that accesses park details in real-time.

There is a lot to admire here. Any brand adopting some or all of Disney’s customer service approach has the potential to generate increased loyalty, repeat business and advocacy.

For brands that are also considering customer service via social media there are plenty of useful and practical tips in this white paper.

As ever, I would love to have your comments.

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In conversation with Jeremiah Owyang

I had the pleasure of meeting Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang) last week, partner at social business and technology advisory firm Altimeter. I’ve always been a big fan of Jeremiah’s work, so it was a real privilege to hear some of his thoughts on the future of social business and technology. It’s fair to say that when we launched Headstream in 2006 it was the forward thinking from people like Jeremiah that helped support our idea that social was going to be big! Here are five key-points I took away:

Open will beat closed

The business models that will thrive are those which “work with the internet rather than against it”. Jeremiah believes that “open will win” and cited as an example Altimeter itself, which makes all its research openly available, compared to other research firms that charge for access. He sees Altimeter’s  business model, which gains its revenue from follow-on advisory fees, as more sustainable than the paid-for content model.

“Make the market your marketing department”

By adopting an ‘open’ business model, distributing content widely, and providing individuals with the tools to link back to your content, the entire market can become your marketing department. A business like GiffGaff is a good example of a company where the customers are working for it in this way. (GiffGaff ranked highly in Headstream’s Social Brands 100 listing, published in March)

URLs will go away

As we enter the era of the social web i.e. an internet built around people rather than machines, the traditional architecture of the internet will change radically. Jeremiah sees a future where “corporate web pages go away, URLs go away, search as we know it goes away. We will know so much about customers that we won’t need those things. Data will be used so well that we can predict and anticipate what the market wants.”

Europe vs. the U.S

Jeremiah had two observations. First, Europe is 24 months behind the U.S. when it comes to adopting social business practices, and second, Europeans are much more decorous when it comes to conversations on Twitter, in the U.S. the Twitter ’noise’ is much greater!

Teaching people to shout

If you respond to unhappy customers on Twitter without a co-ordinated and in-depth social CRM strategy in place, you are simply “teaching them to shout at you some more”. Only those companies that are prepared to introduce a service culture throughout the organization e.g. Zappos, will be able to handle customers successfully. Jeremiah is wary of any company that says it wants to undertake social CRM if the executives aren’t prepared to get personally involved.

These are a few highlights from a wide-ranging and excellent conversation over a lunch organized by Neville Hobson @jangles, and supported by Dell’s Kerry Bridge @kerryatdell. Many thanks to them for making it happen, and to the other guests @sheldrake, @benjaminellis, @jas, @abigailh and @sophiebr, who made it such a great conversation. Lovely photo here.

Domino’s Pizza – bossing social

Domino’s Pizza, the victim of a social media inspired reputation crisis in 2009, continues to impress on its path to recovery.

Its latest transparency initiative is the ‘Domino’s Tracker’. The tool allows customers to track the status of their order, see the names of the Domino’s team involved at each stage, and to post customer feedback. This has been pushed into the public domain via a billboard in Times Square, to the delight of some staff members in the video here –

Impressive stuff. What I like is the use of real-time customer feedback to not only improve the service experience and product in the long term, but also motivate staff in the short term. It’s a good example of joining-up customer experience, brand, and product development through one platform. It also demonstrates a core principle of social, don’t think about what’s in it for you, but what’s in it for your customers.

What other industries could take this approach?  Telecoms, support services, software?

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Five practical steps towards better social reputation

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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Twitter – a force for good

There has been plenty of commentary today about Greater Manchester Police’s decision to tweet every call to its 999 call centre. Some of it has focused on the variety and diversity of calls on the @GMP24_1 account, some on the fact that it is a pre-emptive strike ahead of next week’s governmental Spending Review, and others on the spoof accounts set up.

But, for me, it’s shown the potential for social media in its best light. Let’s consider what it’s achieved. Firstly, huge amounts of mainstream media press coverage, secondly, a better understanding of what the police service is faced with everyday, thirdly, an insight into the rich tapestry of life in the UK, and finally, a heightened profile for the Greater Manchester police service. For my money that is a pretty impressive set of ‘metrics’ to measure the success of this simple idea against.

Perhaps more exciting is to think about the potential for this on a national scale. All UK residents would be able to see into the world of their local police force, it would build respect and understanding for the job the force does. By aggregating this data you would be able to draw out incredibly powerful insights on crime hot-spots, social trends, and police force service levels. At its best it could contribute to lower crime rates through public engagement and interaction.

When it comes to Twitter’s potential to do good, we’ve only scratched the surface.

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Maximising value from your social brand strategy

Headstream had the enviable job of chairing Brand Republic’s ‘Achieving Maximum Value from Your Social Media Strategy’ conference (#brsms) in London last week (01 July). It was a day full of insight and practical advice thanks to an excellent selection of speakers, and a format that included plenty of interactive panel and workshop sessions. Here are some of the highlights:

The day kicked off with British Telecom’s Vincent Sider . This is the second time I’ve heard Vincent present, which confirmed my first impression that he’s one of the smartest thinkers in the social arena. Responsible for developing and implementing a social media customer service strategy for BT Vincent gave a sneak peek of ‘Debatescape’, the bespoke listening tool BT has developed to service its social customer service efforts.

He made the interesting point that however sophisticated the technology, nothing can replace human analysis when it comes to sentiment tracking, and that “sentiment analysis remains the biggest issue” when it comes to online listening.

Vincent’s ‘big idea’ is that game mechanics (by which he means the behaviours of recognition, reward, and building status over time seen in multi-player computer gaming environments) will become the model for the whole of the social web. Individuals will build their profile and status over time, and brands that enable these individuals to realise their goals will be  the ones that succeed. He gave an example of Knorr Canada’s ‘Salty’ (link) campaign that created a community, enabled dialogue and rewarded participation.

Vincent’s steps to successful social activity are: Plan you story. Listen. Publish. Listen and reward. While I’d argue that that listening should be the first activity, the reminder to listen again and then reward is very apt. A lot of brands miss this step.

According to Vincent underlying all activity should be one fundamental principle: “Listen and engage with kindness”. Forget that and problems occur because, “you aren’t kind”, or “you don’t deliver”.

Next up was Trevor Johnson, Head of Strategy and Planning Facbook, EMEA. Trevor is always worth a listen and made a strong case for the benefits Facebook brings to brands as an advertising and engagement platform. Pointing out that “earned media only happens in social media”, he said only Facebook provides the opportunity for brands to “integrate people into adverts” with ‘social context’ formats e.g. ad copy which shows if you friends have ‘liked this’, or video tailored with an individual’s profile picture.                     

Trevor pointed out that engaging a community through a Facebook brand page has allowed Starbucks to create dialogue with nine million people. He also sounded a note of caution around leaving  the responsibility conversing with this community to a junior in the organisation.

“Your comments on Facebook should be as important to your CMO and senior marketers as your latest television ad is, it’s the same profile of communication, as Nestle discovered”. (Nestle reference is to the brand’s recent disaster  handling its Facebook community.

Citing the examples of Spotify, and Levi’s Friends Store using Facebook Connect to allow individuals to import their ‘social graph’ into the website experience, Trevor concluded that Facebook is all about “serving information based on people’s friends, to make experience richer”.

Overall, a fascinating insight into Facebook’s direction of travel. The company remains way ahead of anyone else, and even the likes of Google are still in ‘catch-up’ mode.

Headstream’s own Chris Buckley then presented his thinking on the principles that brands should have in mind when embarking on social media strategic thinking. He touched on the importance of appropriate behaviour in social spaces, win-win relationships and introduced the concept of ‘social currency’.

After a series of roundtables to give practical advice to delegates on social strategy, thanks to everyone who joined mine, the afternoon session was dominated by some excellent panels.

It was a particular highlight to have Will King, founder of King of Shaves, involved in the panel on building communities around content. Hearing a business owner and entrepreneur’s perspective gave some clear focus on the business imperative for being involved in social.

One of his killer insights, covering both his approach to business overall, and social, was: “Your biggest competitor isn’t actually your competition, but not knowing what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it.”

His point was supported by the ever effusive Maz Nadjm ,Sky’s Community Project Manager, who impressed on the audience the need to identify “What is important to you and what you stand for, before embarking into social media activity”. Having established ‘why’ you are getting  involved the next step is to secure internal buy-in, a task that shouldn’t be underestimated. Maz spends 70-80 pct of his time ‘educating’ internal, and external, audiences on the benefits of social.

Next up was that perennial favourite ‘How to measure the ROI of social media’! Fortunately the excellent panel; Nadine Sharara, Head of e-Commerce at Space NK, and Ricky Chopra, Speedo’s Digital Marketing Manager, focused on their practical experience running campaigns. A common theme was the importance of focusing on who the genuine influencers are, and “focusing down on the active and proactive people”, according to Chopra. Similarly, for Space NK  blogger outreach activity has seen them “Understand who the real influencers are…who are the top five who influence everyone else?”.

Chopra was insistent that ROI is measurable if you are prepared to make the investment in measurement and analytics. Speedo have adopted a ‘score card’ approach to assess on a month by month basis how they are tracking in social, through a variety of criteria e.g. how many unprompted actions have there been, how many positive mentions, how many negative? According to Chopra it’s down to a willingness to work at it “Don’t be lazy, you can measure it (ROI on social) using a blended approach as you would have done with a traditional integrated campaign.”

In the next session on ‘Embedding social into an organisation’ Paul Hood from the Daily Mirror gave some interesting insights into the Mirror Group’s approach as a “legacy business’ coming to terms with the disruption of social.

“At the Mirror our focus is on our content being appropriate for social spaces. We are taking small steps, identifying content verticals and ‘passion centres’ amongst our audience, and focusing on them first.”

Sandra Leonhard, Director of Web Strategy and Business Development for TUI Travel, and MD of Cheqqer, described social as the “second major disruption for the travel industry”, matching the advent of budget airlines for impact. Her advice was for organisations to approach social media at the “brand level” and ensure there is no “silo mentality” where one part of the organisation works in isolation.

The ‘graveyard shift’ went to the panel exploring,  ‘What’s next. Going beyond Facebook and Twitter & Looking to the future. The panel of Martin Verdon Roe, Trip Advisor, David Courtier-Dutton, from Slice the Pie, and Ilicco Elia, Reuters, made the usual gag about “if we knew that we’d not be sitting here, we’d be making billions”, and then indulged in some crystal ball-gazing.

Martin saw the future as mobile and that “globally, mobile will be the big driver for growth”, alongside increased social graph elements such as ‘Trip Friends’.

But the last words have to go to Illico Elia, who envisioned a future that rings very true with me.

“What you (brands) have to realise is that your sales effort is going to have to become more and more personal. Every person in an organisation will need to become a brand advocate, it’s not about building new resource, rather it’s making sure everyone (in the organisation) takes responsibility for being a ‘face’ for the organisation.”

Absolutely. 

A framework for social media measurement

With demand growing for social media activity to clearly demonstrate ROI this interesting deck from U.S. based research group Altimeter provides a neat, and compelling, framework. Some interesting real life examples referring back to Dell, Nike and Best Buy campaigns . 

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A cultural approach to social media guidelines

Examples of company employees creating Social Reputation issues or crises are numerous. A common theme is for staff to attack their customers in a conversation with friends, and/or colleagues, on their personal social networks. These  comments get picked up by the crowd and amplified online. When they achieve enough momentum mainstream media run with them as an easily acquired newsworthy story, giving further legs to the sorry tales of customer hatred. Staff at each of  Ryanair, PC World, and Virgin Atlantic all gained infamy in 2009 for their comments about customers. In the case of Virgin Atlantic thirteen cabin crew were sacked.

So, as an employer, how can you prevent this happening to you? Sorry, but you can’t. There is always the risk of unintentional slip ups, ignorance, or rogue staff with an axe to grind, putting your organisation in a similar position. 

But you can mitigate the risks through a set of Social Media Guidelines. These Guidelines are designed to provide staff with a framework for what you consider appropriate behaviour within social media.  There is a huge range of guidelines out there, ranging from several pages, to just a few words.

This diversity reflects the unique culture of every company or organisation, and culture should be the key consideration when you’re creating them. So don’t spend weeks drafting policies in an ivory tower, dig into the culture of your teams, think about your customer service approach, your brand and your overall tone of voice. Talk about it, run some workshops to find out what your frontline staff think, kick out a set of guidelines that are a ‘living document’ and take feedback.

In this way you’ve got a chance to create something that can be ‘lived’. And that just might stop you joining the growing list of self-inflicted crisis case studies.

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How social media can save British Airways’ reputation

The acrimonious labour relations dispute between British Airways (BA) and its cabin crew staff is reaching boiling point. Initial strike action is scheduled for March 20-22, and as the dispute becomes a political football in the run up to the UK’s General Election the likelihood of a negotiated settlement recedes. BA’s Chief Executive, Willie Walsh, has been vocal about the ‘extensive contingency plans’ in place to try to keep services up and running during the strike, but is BA prepared for the reputational storm ahead in social media?

A quick look at the discussion boards shows that volume and sentiment is already running high. To BA’s credit it has already put some basics in place. Brand outposts are established at YouTube where BA has its own channel, on Twitter, and  its official Facebook fan page. The company has also taken a first step into content generation with a video from CEO Walsh prominent on the BA.com home page, and YouTube.

So a decent start, but things are about to get much tougher. During the unpredictable days of the strike when customers may be let down at short notice, the story will shift to how BA is handling the disruption. Any perception that BA isn’t doing everything it can to assists customers would result in heavy online criticism, and strengthen the hand of the strikers. However, with the right strategy the social media battleground is an area where BA can potentially score a big win.

So, what should the comms team be doing in the days and weeks ahead to find the ‘opportunity’ in this crisis .

1. Ramp up active listening, and train social CRM teams

BA is clearly listening to conversations on Twitter, offering advice and answers to customer enquiries through @British_Airways. BA should ramp up this activity by  using a real-time social media dashboard to monitor the entire web, identify issues, and respond to them. In order to be able to impress in this area BA should use the coming days to train up additional staff to deliver this ‘social CRM’, and signpost customers to the appropriate resources. Listening to the flow of comment on-line will also give BA access to valuable real-time intelligence around how the social media conversation is developing, and how this will affect the mainstream media’s handling of the story.       

2. Work out a compelling content strategy

BA is in the lucky position of having time to prepare for the strike days. This is a great opportunity to ramp up the content creation beyond the relatively corporate-feel video that has been published to date. How about getting some other BA staff talking about their mission to keep services running on strike days? Create some testimonials from loyal customers? Or, a technical explanation of just how flights will be kept moving during the strike? If Walsh was up for it, a camera crew following him to each of the affected UK airports on the strike days as he empathises with customers, would make for compelling content with high shareability. By creating a stream of content that moves the story forward hour by hour BA would increase its ability to keep control of the news agenda. 

3. Mobilise supporters

If it hasn’t done so already BA should landscape those influential travel, business, aviation, etc bloggers who are sympathetic to its side of the argument. These individuals can be used to seed the BA created content into the social sphere, increasing the opportunity for it to achieve widespread coverage. Handled correctly these supporters can also play a crucial role in defending  BA’s reputation from the powerful position of third-party advocates.   

4. Create a hub away from BA.com

BA’s strategy to date is to signpost customers to a specific strike information page on their site. When the dispute gets into full swing a more dynamic approach would be to set up a Tweetmeme hub similar to the Toyota Conversations page set up by Toyota to aggregate comment and content around its recent car recall. This is a bold strategy as it streams all comment, negative or positive. However, it demonstrates a transparent and open approach, gives a further platform to stream BA’s own content, and shows a company willing to listen to all stakeholders.

5. Move fast

As mentioned on these pages before, speed is of the essence when it comes to reputation management online. To act fast you need to be well prepared, and then execute your plans seamlessly. BA’s responses to any major developments or a groundswell of discontent online, need to be up in a matter of hours, and then constantly monitored. The BA team will all have to know their role, and ideally have trained for this scenario.   

In summary, if BA can successfully put the customer at the heart of every communication, and use social media to demonstrate it is ‘walking the walk’ as well as ‘talking the talk’, it can emerge from this crisis with its reputation enhanced.

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A reputation attack a day – the new normal?

What makes a good news story? At its heart is the classic ‘who, what, why, when and how?’ from your journalism school 101. Add in the premise that ‘bad news sells’, and you’re on the same page as the editors at mainstream media outlets across the globe. Since the advent of the real-time web mainstream media journalists are being presented with these core facts on an hourly basis, combined with ‘instant case studies’ of the people involved. By tapping into these sources (and at the same time saving the extensive legwork and fact checking of the past) journalists have a ready stream of compelling copy. As a result the grievances of dissatisfied customers are increasingly finding their way into the public domain, requiring  companies to be in a constant state of readiness to manage these conversations.

In an excellent article in the Washington Post on the subject Bernhard Warner points out that ‘a genuinely timely and transparent response’ is now required, rather than the ‘spin’ of the past. Good advice for online crisis comms, but we believe it goes much further than that. Management teams brought up on a diet of  business thinking that glorifies the organisation are now being forced to re-think their entire approach due to the power of the social web. Some inspirational thinking in this area comes from social media commentator Umair Haque . He believes that companies need to go from ‘Great to Good’ , and rediscover their principles, to thrive/survive in the social age.

It’s going to be a long road for the majority of companies to adopt the authenticity, transparency and humbleness required to deal with these new ways of working, and new rules of engagement. For those willing to take that road the investment will pay off as dealing with online reputational threats becomes a day-to-day normality for every company.

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