Social Media Damages Brands – No Sh*t, Holmes

Now I know that this story, from Communicate Magazine’s super website, is more about social media exacerbating a crisis, rather than social media starting a crisis, but the principle holds true.

Social media, by its very nature – independent, free-thinking, anti-establishment, rapid-response, quick-to-anger, react-first-think-later and accessible by all sorts of random wingnuts – is dangerous. Everyone should have social media as part of their crisis plan – here’s my post on the subject – and they should have a rigid social media policy in place, governing what employees can and cannot do with it on company business and on company time.

In fairness, however, in the cases of KFC and Hennes, social media is not to blame.

It’s the stupid, stupid people who decided that running ads that could be misconstrued or shredding clothes rather than donating them to charity (respectively) were good ideas. And it’s the communications people who probably knew about this stuff, but didn’t have the authority, the gravitas or the balls to fulfil their role.

Which is to stand there, and in their best Alistair Campbell, shout “There is no f*cking way that you are doing that.”

Crisis Management – The Idiot’s Guide To Creating A Plan 10

Key to crisis management and business continuity – and, clearly, enshrined in the crisis management plan that (if you’ve been following this series of occasional diatribes) you’re on the cusp of completing – is employee communication, for reasons which should (really) be obvious. In case they aren’t, here’s a taste.

Your employees are your greatest asset and your largest potential liability – if they’re on side, then you have a network of ambassador/evangelists, spreading your messages. If they’re not on side, mind, then you have an uncontrolled flow of misinformation, biased opinion and perhaps even vitriol

When disaster strikes, your employees need to hear from you – preferably before they hear from anyone else

In the case of a crisis, your employees will need to know what to do and where to go, and they’ll need to know quickly

Most importantly, in the crisis scenario, your employees will need to know what NOT to do and to be reminded what policies and rules they are governed by, as employees

These are just a few of the things you should be considering, and incorporating within your plan, and within the communication process around the finished plan. I’m certain you can think of others. (And if you can’t, then sit in a darkened room, or have an ideas shower, or go and see your boss, or whatever it takes for you to be able to think of others. Because there are some others.)

So, briefly – because I know you like brevity, dear blog snorkellers – here’s some of the mechanisms you need to have in place and a selection of the communications issues that you might need to consider. It’s not extensive or complete – I want you to think for yourselves.

  • Have you got an ‘employee hotline’ number? This is a dedicated telephone number that any number of employees can call at any point in time to get an update on their employer’s status. That update is, normally, something along the lines of ‘This is the XXXXX Corp Employee Hotline – at the present time, it is business as usual’. Obviously, it would be best to prepare a selection of messages that can be put on to the hotline as soon as something occurs. ‘This is the XXXX Corp Employee Hotline – an event has occurred at/near the XXX site. All employees should remain at home unless otherwise directed. Further details will be available at (time).” Or similar. You get the idea.
  • If you’ve only got a few – or a manageable number of – employees, do you know where they all live? Do you have their telephone numbers and personal email addresses?
  • Does your workforce have access to the company’s computer systems when they’re away from the office – if not, is it something they should have?
  • Do you have, or is it worth arranging, some kind of text message alert system for your employees?
  • What are you going to say to your people – there might be different messages dependent on who it is and what they do – those who may be indispensable in a crisis and those who can stay in bed.
  • Who’s going to take responsibility for employee communications and welfare (because it might not be you, the communicator) and how is the interface between internal and external communications going to be handled?
  • How are you going to remind people of your social media policy and how they should be behaving?

Bear in mind that these are just a few of the things that you should be thinking about, and that there will be more – and that they will change and develop as your crisis unfolds. The key point here is about scenario planning – preparing everything before hand so, when the time comes (as it inevitably will) you can act immediately. An ill-informed workforce left to their own devices and free to speculate are at least as potentially damaging as any crisis or issue that your organisation may be facing.

Crisis Management – The Idiot’s Guide To Creating A Plan – Eurostar

Ooooooooh, ouch. Eurostar provide an object lesson for everyone in how not to do it. The reason I come to this now is because of this piece – which I have lifted from Steve Virgin’s blog (most excellent, by the way, wholly recommended) – which details Eurostar’s commercial and marketing reaction to the – well – cock-up, frankly.

It mentions their social media concerns and demonstrates that social media was not included in their crisis management plan. Oooops.

It simply isn’t something you can ignore. Be prepared – or be prepared for the consequences.

Crisis Management – The Idiot’s Guide To Creating A Plan 9

In this post – number 9 of a series, and, dear blog snorkellers, if you’ve missed the rest, you might want to read them just for context – we’re going to have a look at the role of social media in both creating and handling a crisis situation.

Before we go any further, by way of declaring my interests, I must say that I am not a fan of social media. I do not believe it is a valid (or valuable) communications/marketing tool. I believe there are still too many unknowns and thus it remains more of a threat than an opportunity. Those who are rushing headlong to embrace social media appear to have forgotten one key learning from traditional media. It can bite you. There is no reason to suppose that social media is not the same. As of yet, there is very little evidence of any business, brand or organisation actually getting a return on their investment in social media. On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of businesses, brands and organisations getting into trouble because of social media. All this being said, social media exists – no-one can or should ignore it. The best you can do is limit your corporate exposure to it, by controlling the part of it that you can control, which is your interaction with it.

Social media can create a crisis for you, or can propagate one when it happens to you. And it never takes time off – it’s on all the time.

Ill-advised comments or content posted to a social media site by your employees – eg Dominos Pizza in the US and the UK electrical retailer, Dixons Stores Group – can cause you problems, as can commentary from unhappy customers, or trading partners. Decisions you take as a business, marketing material you produce, changes to your product line-up – all these can spark off a backlash via social media. Because of social media – and the wider internet – everyone has a voice, a voice that is instant and has global reach.

And this voice can be equally active in the case of a crisis that’s not driven by social media. In the case of an incident at your premises, or an accident involving staff and/or customers, or a problem with your product, or a gaffe by a senior executive – these things will be posted to social media within minutes. Mobile device penetration by population in the UK is over 100% – some people have two or more, d’you see? – which means that there’s always someone with a camera and internet access.

In terms of dealing with social media in a crisis management plan, you’ll be glad to know it shouldn’t be that difficult. It’s simply a question of incorporating elements of your social media policy into the plan. (And if you haven’t got a social media policy, now is the time to get one.)

Policy – your policy should (amongst other things) outline how your organisation and your employees interact with social media, when you’re using company facilities and are on company time. It should also contain information and guidelines around social media usage ‘best practice’ – both in and out of work – which should be promoted as an employee benefit.(Helping you to protect yourself and not f*ck up!) Most importantly, there should be a clause which specifically deals with crisis situations, where employee posting to social media is expressly forbidden, on pain of dismissal. Some people will say I’m being too draconian – but this is the only way to ensure your employees are not tempted to ‘participate’ – even with the best of intentions.

Monitoring – you could outsource this to an expensive outfit of social/digital media gurus, who will blind you with science and then steal your wallet. On the other hand, you could save your money and – once a day – spend half an hour on Google, searching for a selection of key words pertaining to your business. These could include your brand names, your company name, the names of your external communications staff, and the names of your c-suite. This is, of course, not scientific, and stuff will slip through the net, but if the issue’s big enough, chances are you’ll see a mention of it. Once you’re on to an issue, it becomes easier to track down where its epicentre is.

Reaction – things move fast with social media and in the blogosphere. Your standard, pre-prepared response statements (neatly filed at the back of your crisis management folder) will not suffice here, however. They’re OK and they’ll work with journalists looking for an early response to a crisis situation, but social media is not staffed by journalists – it’s populated by individual members of the public, none of whom want to listen to a corporate message. What you’ll have to do is translate your reserve statements into social media speak – humble, to the point, on a level, using language that everyone will understand (jargon-free). Put your case, and if there’s something your company/organisation needs to do to set things right, then do it. As quickly as you can. On the other hand, if you’re being mistreated, say so, and seed that message as far as you possibly can. You may have to set up your own Facebook group or Twitter feed – make sure you know how to do it, and what the basic rules of engagement are. Make sure that instructions on how to do it, and the rules of engagement are in your crisis management folder for everyone to see. Remember that social media is not a sales tool, does not tolerate corporate bullsh*t and is the soul of brevity. Ensure there is only one message coming out of your camp.

This is only the beginning – you’re going to want to go away and think about this (oh yes you are) – and you’re also going to want to think about how you ensure your people know about what you’re doing in a crisis situation. Your people are your greatest asset and one of your greatest liabilities – I’ll deal with them next time.

Crisis Management – The Idiot’s Guide To Creating a Plan – Supplementary

This post – the latest in an occasional series about crisis management, the importance of having a plan and what you should think about when creating a plan – was to have been about social media, its place in the anatomy of a crisis, and how your social media policy (you do have one, don’t you?) should have strong links and cross-reference with your crisis management plan.  I promise faithfully that I will post with my thoughts, but in the meantime, have a look at:


It’s long, but it’s definitely worth the read, and it makes all sorts of interesting points, which anyone thinking about crises should be bearing in mind.


Crisis Management – The Idiot’s Guide To Creating A Plan 8

Last time, I went through a crisis scenario – one that I dealt with myself, involving glamour models, murder and steak and chips (this is what I love about this industry – that fact that you couldn’t dream most of this stuff up if you tried) – on a gene-molecule level.

Well, in fairness, I probably missed loads, but I hope it gave an idea of the questions you need to ask, the things you need to prepare and the actions you need to take in the event of a crisis – involving customers, media, emergency services and staff – happening to you. I hope I also managed to communicate a) just how full-on it all is and b) the fact that loads of people are – and should be – involved. If any of this is news to you – go back and have another look at it.

This time, I want to do a fly-past of three incidents – not all mine and all very different – each of which contains a key learning that might help in the future when you’re in the middle of it. (I can’t reinforce this enough – it’s not a question of ‘if’, dear blog snorkellers, it’s a question of ‘when’. It IS going to happen to you.)

The first one is the Kegworth air disaster. For those who don’t know, Kegworth is a small English village in the county of Leicestershire, not terribly far away from the M1 motorway, a main arterial road link. In January 1989, a British Midland 737-400 passenger aircraft crashed some few hundred yards short of the runway at East Midlands airport, into an embankment of the motorway, killing 47 people. “A remarkable” 79 people survived however and, as you can imagine, the media were all over it like a rash – let’s face it, a passenger plane, in bits, lying on a motorway makes good television.

No doubt about it – this was a disaster both in terms of the incident and for British Midland the company. All sorts of stuff came out – the plane, for example, had recently had some upgrades and the pilots had had something like one half-hour briefing on the changes. The cause of the crash was a problem with one of the engines – the pilots shut the wrong one down, turning the aircraft into a 50-tonne glider. It was messy, and yet the company’s reputation survived – thanks to the actions taken by its chairman. It seemed like minutes, but it must have been hours, when Michael Bishop first appeared on the scene. He went straight up to the media and said (something like) “this is a dreadful incident, and we’ll get to the bottom of it as quickly as we can – in the meantime, I’ve got to go and help those people” and off he went towards the ‘plane. In that moment, he swung public opinion on to his side, on to the side of the company. Sheer brilliance.

Secondly, we have a product recall situation at a brewery. The ‘contamination’ of one particular batch of a very famous beer product was reported by quality control in the brewhouse – because of a worn component in the pipes, bacteria had escaped the regular cleaning process and were present when the beer travelled through the lines. Unfortunately, such was the turnaround time that the batch in question (amounting to as many as 1 million pints) was already in pubs and shops nationwide.

‘Contamination’ is such a strong word, don’t you think? What was really wrong with the beer? Well, actually, as it turns out, nothing, other than it may taste a bit funny – no-one was going to be made ill, no-one would be shouting Ralph in a pub car park, in fact – whisper it – no-one might actually notice.

We were prepared to do the recall and we were ready for all the fall-out. In the end, it was much, much simpler – and much, much cheaper – not to. The point is that one should always think through every situation before taking the obvious course of action. Sometimes you’re better off not doing anything.

Finally, Domino’s Pizza on YouTube. Well, you can read my post on it. Some say they handled their crisis well, others say they didn’t. Certainly, following on from the incident, their UK team has made a little hay while the sun was shining (or otherwise). It’s an ill wind, as they say. The reason I cite this here is because this was one of the first incidents that was created by social media and which – rightly or wrongly, to a greater or lesser extent – was dealt with via social media.

The point is that whether we like social media or not – and I don’t – it has changed the landscape of communications and the way that information gets around. It is a threat and (apparently) an opportunity – what’s certain is that social media needs to be dealt with in your crisis management plan – and I’ll get to this next time

Crisis Management – The Idiot’s Guide To Creating A Plan 7

If you’ve followed this series through parts one to six, then you’ll know that I’ve promised some examples of real scenarios which (I hope) will illustrate the points I’ve tried to make. At the very least, you’ll be able to decide whether you would have done it better, which may get you thinking. As I’ve said before – this isn’t meant to be the definitive, one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of formulating a crisis management plan – this is the seed and it needs the fertilizer of your thoughts. So here you are – the following example is real, and one I dealt with personally:

2130, Friday night. Call comes in via the company’s main switchboard from one of its restaurants, at which a fatal stabbing has just taken place. The restaurant is in the Liverpool area, the police are on site, a media enquiry has been received and it’s believed a journalist and photographer are en route. The suspected attacker is female, the victim male. The restaurant was roughly a quarter full when the incident occurred, and the manager evacuated those present immediately. Some have left, others remain outside. Six staff are on duty, one was serving the attacker and victim.

Questions? Has the area manager been notified and when will he arrive? Is there any further information available about the incident, the victim or the attacker that might help in formulating a corporate response? How are the emergency services dealing with the incident – they will have closed the restaurant – can they give us any idea of how long it may be closed for? How are the staff members reacting? Have they been reassured and offered support and/or counseling through the company’s HR resource? Was there any apparent trauma or upset amongst other guests – will we have to offer compensation in one form or another? Have the emergency services spoken with the guests who remain? When are the media expected, if they’re not there already?

Actions? Event is in Liverpool, HQ is in London – no member of the corporate communications team can be there within thirty minutes. Call area manager, ensure that a call has been put into the Ops Director, who can escalate upwards to the executive committee or board, as deemed appropriate. Area manager, already media trained, is briefed to handle media enquiries, using text of reserve statement – also liaises with emergency services.

Restaurant manager is briefed that neither he, nor his staff, are to talk to the media. Even if ‘doorstepped’ they are to say nothing more than ‘sorry, I’ve nothing to add’. Name and telephone number of on-call communicator to be supplied to all staff members, for giving to media if necessary. Restaurant manager (alone, not staff) briefed to deal with enquiries from public. Authorised to respond to guest complaints/issue with offer of refunds or discounted meals at other restaurants, plus provide central contact number for owning company, for further issues/complaints. As media will be prevented from accessing restaurant by emergency services, area manager authorised to supply ‘stock’ external restaurant shot – thus presenting premises in best light. Notify HR – HR to speak to individual staff members to offer support/counsel. Notify media monitoring agency to cut for media mentions of incident. Use holding statement, tailored to specific incident, to answer media enquiries. Assure media that, if there is anything further to say, that they will be contacted. Prepare incident report for circulation.

Outcome? Transpired that the attacker was a glamour model, out for dinner with her boyfriend. Following a minor argument, she picked up a steak knife and stabbed him – her aim was quite good, and he died from a single stab wound. Media coverage majored on the incident and the characters involved – no staff were interviewed, no statement was made other than the reserve statement, no spokespeople or employees were named. No other guests were involved, while one or two were interviewed by the media, they had nothing to add and thus did not contribute to the coverage. Staff members were all contacted and offered counselling, none took it up, but all were reassured of the company’s ‘duty of care’. A small minority of guests took the company up on its offer of refunds or discounted meals – this built customer relations. Media coverage limited to local press and brief mention on local radio. Restaurant re-opened after three weeks, with little fanfare – its business was undamaged.

OK – yes this is an isolated incident. Yes – it’s very out of the ordinary. Yes – it might be seen as reasonably straightforward and easy-to-handle. But it might have gone so very horribly wrong – and it didn’t. That’s a result, as far as I’m concerned.

I’ll do another example next time.