Monday, February 4, 2013

Being relevant means doing things in real-time

My good friend Cheryl Bledsoe has already put together a pretty good analysis of the lessons learned for SMEM (social media in emergency management) from the Superbowl on her blog. I still feel the need to add my two cents worth.

I have said that in the era of social convergence, two things guide our response to incidents and threats to an organization's reputation:

  1. move at the speed of your audiences (social networks) ... or you'll be irrelevant
  2. use the tools your audiences (mobile devices) ... or you won't be heard ...
Pretty simple stuff really but much harder to actually implement in any large organization, particularly in the public sector. The key reason: approvals and delegation of authority.

I believe we can take some measure of encouragement by the fact that most public entities now realize the need to communicate as fast as possible when an incident impacts its constituents ... but even with the best intentions, that can still take a couple of hours ... Well, in the era of real-time. that's waaaaaaaaay too long! 

View image on TwitterThere are many lessons to be learned from the agility, preparedness to react, social listening skills displayed by the private sector during the Superbowl. Seizing the opportunity shouldn't just be the purview of marketing professionals. 

Crisis communicators should also put their organizations in a posture that will allow them to react in real-time to incidents, good or bad. There are few more brilliant example of how the makers of Oreo Cookies (and their marketing firm) reacted to the power outage during the big game.

A few things can be transposed to the realm of crisis communications ready posture:
  1. monitor social networks and the web
  2. involve your comms team in the incident management process
  3. empower your team to react, delegate authority
  4. accelerated approvals process
  5. engage in real-time
You don't need a full "mission control" set up ... just a few experienced, trained professionals with a strong, well-exercised crisis comms plan will do! 

In other words, the key is preparation ... There are few things more dangerous than improvising in a crisis. Case in point, how the Applebee's restaurant chain in the US is reacting to an online/social media crisis that's destroying its reputation.

Picture 67

The people responsible for Applebee's social media accounts have made so many mistakes it's a study in ineptitude and could almost be seen as deliberate in its disregard for the intelligence of its audiences.

Again, preparedness is the key. Every social network has its own peculiarities, its own communities of users. You MUST know the difference between them. How to post updates on Facebook for example and how to react to comments. How to craft a comment moderation policy well in advance of any crisis ... something that will be solid and not seem improvised and poorly executed.

Some key points:
  1. identify in advance which social networks you'll use for different types of crises and responses
  2. determine how you'll craft and disseminate your messaging
  3. train your people in responding to online criticism 
  4. for God's Sake ... don't do it in the middle of the night ! 
  5. don't take your audiences for idiots 
Enough said ... I know that chances are I'll be eating Oreos rather than having a meal at Applebee's ... bottom line is that a lot of people are thinking just like me ... and that's going to hurt the restaurant chain's bottom line ! 

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