Archive for the ‘Reputation Management’ Category

CANADA POST TO SENIORS: LET THEM EXERCISE!

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Sometimes really smart people say really dumb things. We got a perfect  example yesterday courtesy of Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra.

Appearing before the Commons Transport Committee to explain the corporation’s decision to eliminate home delivery, the head of Canada Post made a comment about seniors that showcased about the same tonal acuity as Marie-Antoinette’s “let them eat cake”.

Asked to explain how the cancellation of home mail delivery would affect seniors, Chopra replied that seniors had told the corporation that they wanted more fresh air and exercise in their lives. In other words, opined the Canada Post supremo, this was good news.

Any reporter covering the committee who had been wondering what the story from the daylong proceedings would be, had their answer when Chopra finished suggesting that seniors welcomed the end of home delivery because of the healthier lifestyle choices that would follow in its wake.

In addition to painting the corporation as woefully out of touch, Chopra’s unfortunate framing had the effect of burying Canada Post’s overall narrative and the business rationale for its decision at the bottom of the story.

But what became an embarrassing soundbite and headline for Canada Post and Chopra, could easily have been avoided–and that’s the takeaway–with a little preparation and a little humility.

It’s likely that having an emergency Transport committee hearing called after the House had risen caught the corporation a little flat-footed and contributed to a less-than-stellar public relations effort. But questions about the impact of the elimination of home delivery on seniors and people with disabilities were totally predictable and the Corporation’s public affairs staff should have prepared an appropriate Qs & As strategy as part of the CEO’s briefing.

There’s no doubt that “how will seniors get their mail”, is a tough question for a PR team to nail, particularly when you’re on the hot seat and your organization has yet to work out a credible answer.   But the better part of valour truly is discretion, and in this case it should have meant avoiding disingenuous answers.

In prepping Mr. Chopra for his committee appearance,  the Canada Post PR team should have done two things. First, they should have tried to put some bedrock under their answers by leveraging the long transition period before home delivery is abolished as the foundation for their messaging. Second, they should have advised their CEO that his demeanour had to balance decisiveness and humility;  that he would have to acknowledge that Canada Post had no ready-made answer to that particular question, and tell the Committee that the lengthy transition would allow for the fine-tuning of the corporate plan, and that he was committed to finding a solution.

Such an answer might not have made opposition politicians (or the boss) happy, but sometimes when you’re in corporate communications and are called in at the last minute to put a golden sheen on whatever the C-suite has hatched,  you just need to buy some time for yourself and for the organization. In those circumstances, it’s less about being a hero and  more about surviving to fight another day.

Had the Canada Post brass adopted that approach to their committee appearance yesterday, Mr. Chopra might not be seen today as the man with all the answers, but neither would he be the poster boy for monopolistic arrogance.

TAKE THE SOCIAL MEDIA PLUNGE AND LISTEN

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

It never ceases to amaze me how so many organizations still remain outside of the social media loop. And while most senior managers readily acknowledge the importance of digital engagement, many still will throw up their hands and respond with a litany of predictable objections and roadblocks when pressed on why their organization is still on the outside or failing to fully leverage social media’s potential.

But whatever the reasons invoked for not actively engaging in the conversations that social media allows with clients and audiences, there is no reason for an organization not to take the first step in social media engagement:  listening.

Unlike full blown social media engagement where an organization openly and transparently shares content, responds to comments and queries, and actually becomes part of a community, listening is just the first step in successful social media engagement.

As a general principle of social engagement, listening  uncovers the nature of the conversations within a particular community.

Think of it this way: Just as you would not arrive at a cocktail party unannounced and elbow your way into a conversation, listening within a social network allows you to determine how best to ease into conversations in a way that’s relevant to the community.

That simple step can be the difference between a campaign or product launch with digital sizzle, or one that fizzles.

Whether it’s from a business perspective, or that of a not-for-profit advocacy organization,  listening allows you to determine who the influencers are in a given community and what it is that makes them most relevant.

Listening also allows you to  determine what content is most relevant,  what it is that makes it sharable, and on what platforms it is likely to be shared.

Most importantly, listening allows you to hear what people are saying about you, your brand or your issues.

There are a number of social media monitoring tools available, and these range from simple listening to advanced brand and reputation management platforms.

The point is that with the ever-accelerating growth of social networking and social media, organizations cannot afford to wait on the sidelines.  Whether the problem is figuring out the return on investment of social media, or uncertainty about its relevance within your marketplace; there is only one way to answer those concerns, and that’s by listening.

Take that first step, listen to the conversations, identify the online communities most relevant to your organization, identify who the movers and shakers are and why. Most of all, listen to what is being said about you in those communities. Whether your organization or brand is creating a buzz or total silence, you need to know and understand why. That’s the first step in either leveraging a positive vibe, or fixing a problem.

NEW RCMP SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY MISSES THE MARK

Monday, August 27th, 2012

A news story out of Vancouver, says the RCMP  warned its employees against identifying themselves as members of the force when posting personal comments on social media sites.

If the story is correct and the force’s warning goes beyond a reminder of members’ code of conduct obligations, then the RCMP, an organization with over 28,000 employees, is depriving itself of as many potential and powerful online ambassadors.  With the RCMP brand tarnished by news reports of bad behaviour, the organization’s focus should be on sharing its stories to put a human face on the red serge, not stifling social interaction.

But the RCMP is not alone in its digital skittishness as fear of social media seems to have replaced fear of reporters in many organizations.

In some ways, this is understandable. It is the nature of social media that content, good or bad, can be shared and viewed almost instantaneously. This is what makes it such a powerful communications and marketing tool. It is also what makes it potentially very damaging to reputations, brands and bottom lines. And it is what spooks many organizations, public and private.

There is no doubt that the real time nature of digital communications makes responsive damage control very tricky. Just  ask United Airlines who in 2009 got caught in the  social media turbulence created by a disgruntled passenger and his now iconic video, United Breaks Guitars The airline saw the value of its shares tumble by almost $ 200 million and its reputation take a hit it is still struggling to recover from.

That is why many organizations batten down the hatches when it comes to social media engagement.   Their fear of the digital faux pas, forces them to adopt stringent social media policies and practices that limit direct engagement and impose top down message control. And so doing they deprive themselves of their best tool for countering negative stories and bad PR: their community.

One of the reasons (and there are several) United failed to contain the online firestorm was that it was unable to mobilize the thousands-strong army of Twitter followers and YouTube susbscribers–all potential brand ambassadors–to share, amplify and most importantly, validate its message.

Where were United’s brand ambassadors in its time of need?  They were on the sidelines watching the airline they trust to move them safely, efficiently and economically, being grounded by a story and catchy tune gone viral.

In United’s case, it was less a matter of existing social media policies hindering their ability to mobilize potential support and more a lack of community building and engagement coupled with poor tactical execution.

But for many organizations, the very policies they develop to mitigate and manage risk,  hamstring their ability to respond effectively to online communication crises and attacks on their brand.

In theory, social media policies are easy to develop. Most organizations have policies governing just about every aspect of corporate and employee behaviour. From the size of their cubicle, to what they can wear at work, to the type of car they can rent on company business, policies spell out what employees can and cannot do. And in fact,  more and more organizations are adopting precisely those kinds of policies to govern social media interaction. The problem is that many of them miss the mark, like the RCMP’s new policy appears to do.

Effective social media policies should allow the emergence of brand ambassadors within and outside an organization by providing clear, common-sense principles that facilitate engagement.

The difficulty in implementing effective social media policies lies in the very essence of social interaction: spontaneity. Throw up a wall around what people can say or do online, or when they can say it,  and you limit spontaneity and genuine interaction.

This may not be a problem for organizations that see social media as something that should be managed and controlled. But for organizations that recognize the potential of employee and community online engagement, developing policies that do what they’re supposed to do should be a priority.

A few months ago, while developing a social media policy for a client, I came across a great social media policy database that provides examples of the best and the worst policies around.

I found the best policies to be ones that eschewed highly prescriptive language and focused on four things: trust, clear principles, common sense and simple rules.

In the case of the RCMP, and most police organizations, the code of conduct should form the base of the policy framework. This is what governs police officers’ behaviour in and out of uniform, it governs how they should interact with the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect, and it is what should govern their social media interactions. This basic framework would need to be augmented by proper social media training along with socialization of the critical role that sworn and civilian members can play in supporting the organization’s standing in the community through their online engagement.

Like most corporate policies, rules governing corporate social media use cannot cover every contingency or situation. Policies that are too stringent will only serve to discourage online interaction or render it stilted and lacking in spontaneity.

Social media engagement is like casting a pebble in a pond: Networks grow in concentric circles. Policies that force officers to shed their uniforms before engaging with their friends, family and peers, fail to tap in the networks and communities closest to the organization.

The best police social media policy is one based on clear principles that empower and guide the exercise of discretion. Policies that impose limits above those contained in members’ code of conduct risk seeing the organization forced to fend off PR challenges through corporate spin and traditional media, while absent from the channels where the conversations are taking place.

CORPORATE SOCIAL MEDIA ENGAGEMENT NEEDS C-SUITE BUY IN, PARTICIPATION

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Social media engagement is like casting a pebble in a pond: Networks grow in concentric circles. For any organization  looking to build its online presence, the networking and socialization should begin from within, and start at the top.

An interesting study released last spring by Austin-based PulsePoint Group, illustrates the importance of the “C-suite” in fostering organizational buy-in and excellence in social media use and engagement.  Notably, it found that:

  • Two-thirds of the  organizations  achieving the highest returns reported that their  C-suites are active advocates– that is, they commit to social engagement  as a strategy and they reallocate resources to make it happen.
  • However,  a full 28% of C-suite executives still don’t believe in social  engagement. And the number one reason? The inability to gauge ROI (45%).  For engagement to work, the C-suite has to believe in it and see  measurable returns.

For an organization exploring social media as a way to connect with its clients or audiences, the place to begin should always be with its employees and associates and the initial pitch should be made by the boss.

Enlisting your employees to be part of the conversation has a number of advantages. It allows you to tap into their networks and a large ready-made community of interest, and  synergize ongoing conversations to help project your brand and message. It  serves to bolster internal communications and create an organization-wide sense of empowerment and ownership of a new strategy.  It  also helps staff internalize and articulate the key organizational values, ethics and goals that make up your corporate brand.

This exercise can be formal or informal. Anything from training workshops to “lunch and learn” sessions will do as long as these provide the time and space to freely discuss the organization’s social media strategy and policies,  its benefits and costs, and everyone’s role in its implementation.   The most important point of these sessions is that they are opportunities for the organization’s leadership to share and discuss their goals and vision for the organization, how social media can help achieving these and explain how employees and other associates are key to achieving those goals.

In any hierarchical organization, a disconnect from the corporate leadership can cause uncertainty among the rank and file, stifling initiative and lead to a fallback to the safety of the status-quo. In a rapidly eveolving and competitive  environment, this can cause a brand to sputter and fail. And while in the past organizations embraced a tightly controlling spokesperson policy in the name of message discipline, in a communications environment where your audience becomes your medium, engagement and conversations must be the norm.

Making an organization’s chief executives its evangelists-in-chief and the face of online engagement will send a powerful and empowering message  to its employees.  Effective online social engagement is all about the capacity to engage and converse based on genuine caring about your community. A corporate social media strategy that begins from within, serves to empower employee engagement as brand ambassadors by bringing them into the corporate loop and recognizing the importance of their participation.

Effective social media engagement  requires a more horizontal, less hierarchical, and more trusting approach to external communication.  A critical part of this approach must involve bringing the c-suite and all employees into the social fold, and into the conversation–internally and externally.

USING SOCIAL MEDIA TO CREATE MAINSTREAM MEDIA BUZZ

Friday, March 30th, 2012

In an earlier blog, I wrote that social media can transform how organizations operate. One important way it can do that is in helping create mainstream media (MSM) buzz in support of their brand. For any organization, this involves taking advantage of a changing media landscape which is characterized by: 1) a growing MSM online presence; 2) changing news cycle; and 3) reporters’ growing reliance on social media channels for story ideas, breaking news, background and fresh voices.

Today, not only is real-time monitoring of social media chatter a must for news organizations, but traditional media organizations have begun using all of the tools in the social media toolkit to maintain market share and relevance.   Strategies such as search engine optimization of stories, social amplification, and increased use of shareability-enhancing video, are being used by MSM to leverage social media traffic and influence and push their own online and traditional content.

In response to this changing media environment, organizations that in the past monitored traditional media channels and coverage as part of their environmental scanning, are now turning their attention to the monitoring of media chatter on social platforms.  They are also using social media platforms to engage in conversations with reporters and news outlets, or push out statements, news releases and background information.

The most popular of these platforms is Twitter.Twitter is ideally suited for the real time nature of the modern news cycle. In fact, the immediacy of Twitter has contributed to changing the news cycle.

Before the rise of social media, radio was the medium that provided the greatest flexibility and ability to cover breaking news. Twitter has now outgrown its role as amplifier of mainstream media news to become a “news breaker” as seen in story of Osama Bin Laden’s killing by U.S. special forces.

For organizations looking to use social media to enhance their MSM reach, Twitter can provide an important and direct channel to news rooms but it also means competing for attention on what is becoming a very crowded platform.

This means your interactions must be fresh, interesting and newsworthy. And it means building your network and community BEFORE you launch your campaign.  Invest in getting to know editors, reporters and producers.

Tips on using Twitter for MSM relations

  • Use Twitter Search to identify reporters that cover or are interested in your issues and start following them
  • Listen. Use Twitter to learn about specific journalists’ interests, needs, styles
  • Build an early  rapport, engage in conversations, be genuine
  • Respond to queries in a timely fashion
  • Provide value; become a trusted source for information, story ideas
  • Be available for on-the-record comment, including online
  • Use Twitter to inform reporters of upcoming media opportunities (press conferences, product launches)
  • Post your news releases on Twitter
  • Do not use Twitter to pitch your stories directly; paticularly if you have no rapport with a reporter
  • Don’t neglect personal, face-to-face interaction with reporters

Success in this new environment means being nimble  and responsive, and it means understanding the reality of the modern news room: fewer resources and more pressure to break stories. Failure to do so means running the risk of being left behind when your story breaks.

In practical terms, this means all organizations have to take stock of their internal media relations procedures and streamline decision-making.  It  means empowering front-line communications staff to engage with reporters, frame the story and provide comment.

In this new environment, organizations–private or public–no longer have all day to ponder the text of a statement,  news release, or Tweet. Overly cautious or bureaucratic media relations procedures will fail in the hypercompetitive real-time world in which MSM outlets operate.

ONLY ONE ONLINE PERSONA: YOU

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Call me old fashioned, but when I do business with someone, I like to know who they are. Online personas, avatars and other forms of identity cloaking are the stuff that online trolls and teenage bullies use, not professionals.  And isn’t social media supposed to be all about genuine engagement and transparency?

Yet, today, in another twist in the bizarre robocall saga, RackNine, the company that provided the automated calling service to the mysterious “Pierre Poutine” acknowledged that one of their employees uses an online pseudonym when dealing with clients.

The true identity of one Rick McKnight became an issue Monday when reporters, digging around the edges of the story, became intrigued by this person, who notwithstanding a massive online footprint, didn’t seem to cast a shadow.

RackNine decided to reveal the mystery man’s true identity and end media speculation. Rick McKnight–who has (had?) some 500 Facebook friends–is actually Rafael Martinez Minuesa, a Spaniard who works in web design and marketing for the firm.

In a statement, Mr. Minuesa said “Rick McKnight is a name I came up with to work with RackNine’s clients online and offline. I use this to discuss projects with clients, and online because it’s just convenient to have a persona for all the different social media sites.”

His boss, RackNine chief executive Matt Meier, says there’s nothing wrong with practice of using an alias when dealing with clients.

“We’re happy with people choosing whatever name they like. As a matter of fact, one of my tech support staff right now is named Timo.”

Now,  my name, like Mr. Minuesa’s, might not roll off the tongue as smoothly as say, Rick McKnight; and I may have to repeat and spell it from time to time, but it carries with it  the baggage–bad and good–of  five decades of personal and professional experiences and interactions.  Professionally and socially, one’s name should be their bond.

Creating an online persona to compartmentalize and cloak personal and professional experiences and social interactions is not only bad online form, but a terrible business practice.

Call me old fashioned, but whether they’re dialing our number, reading my blog or checking out  my LinkedIn account or our Facebook page I think our clients have a right to know that the ”persona” they’re dealing with is the real McCoy.

SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY:PRINCIPLES TO LIVE BY, NOT RULES TO TRIP OVER

Monday, August 29th, 2011

It is the nature of social media that content, good or bad, can be shared and viewed almost instantaneously. This is what makes it such a powerful communications and marketing tool. It is also what makes it potentially very damaging to reputations, brands and bottom lines.

The real time nature of digital communications makes responsive damage control very tricky. Just  ask United Airlines who in 2009 got caught in the  social media turbulence created by a disgruntled passenger and his now iconic video, United Breaks Guitars and was unable to respond effectively.   The airline saw the value of its shares tumble by almost $ 200 million and its reputation take a hit it is only now recovering from.  

But managing external hits to one’s online reputation will be the topic of a future blog, today I want to look at one way organizations can protect themselves from self-inflicted online damage: social media policies.

In theory, it’s simple; most organizations have policies governing just about every aspect of corporate and employee behaviour. From the size of their cubicle, to what they can wear at work, to the type of car they can rent on company business, policies spell out what employees can and cannot do. So, why not policies telling them what they can and cannot do on social media?

In fact,  more and more organizations are adopting precisely those kinds of policies. The problem is that many of them miss the mark.

Effective social media policies should allow the emergence of brand ambassadors within an organization while setting boundaries that facilitate engagement by providing a knowledge safety net for staff and others.

The difficulty in implementing effective social media policies lies in the very essence of social interaction: spontaneity. Throw up a wall around what people can say or do online, and you limit spontaneity and genuine interaction.

This may not be a problem (and in fact may be seen as a good thing) for a company that sees social media as something that should be managed and controlled. But for organizations that recognize the potential of employee and associate online engagement, developing policies that do what they’re supposed to do is a priority.

A few months ago, while developing a social media policy for a client, I stumbled on a great–if somewhat dated– social media policy database that provides examples of the best and the worst policies around.

I found the best policies to be the ones that eschewed highly prescriptive language and focused on four things: trust, clear principles, common sense and simple rules.

Like most corporate policies, rules governing corporate social media use cannot cover every contingency or situation. The best policy is one that rests on clear principles that empower and guide the exercise of discretion by staff and others, while providing clear direction in critical areas. 

Policies that are too stringent will only serve to discourage online interaction or render it stilted and lacking in spontaneity. At the end of the day, how can an organization expect its employees to become effective brand ambassadors if  social media policy is so prescriptive, they feel like they need to consult a lawyer before they tweet?