Posts Tagged ‘issues management’

Five lessons for crisis managers – as taught by faux pas on the Election trail

In case anyone has been hiding behind the sofa in recent days, or indeed is currently residing outside the UK, then you may not be aware that it’s General Election season here. This means the next four weeks will see wall-to-wall media coverage of a small group (mostly men) talking to several other groups (mostly disillusioned voters) about the economy, healthcare, education and the ever unpopular expenses scandal.

This level of media exposure is something that most companies can only dream of. However, this exposure also presents a constant challenge for the political parties and their staff to maintain the 3 As for their key spokespeople: Appearance, Appeal and Ability to communicate.

The 3 As are particularly difficult for politicians on the campaign trail because, unlike the comfort of a broadcast studio, they’re at the mercy of the general public with whom they are interacting. Already in the past week we’ve seen two incidents which highlight the reputational problems this can present.

Firstly, on the day after the Election was announced, Gordon Brown encountered his first ‘heckler’ on the campaign trail. Brown chose to ignore his repeated questioning, instead heading for the sanctity of his ministerial car. Unfortunately the cameras caught the whole episode, and within hours the video was on the net and in the evening news bulletins. Cue the notion that the Prime Minister only listens when he wants to.

Then, it was the turn of the Conservatives to encounter public anger. When their home affairs spokesman, Chris Grayling, made some unfortunate comments about homosexual rights, the party was bound to encounter the wrath of gay and lesbian rights campaigners. What they perhaps didn’t foresee though was a demonstration outside party headquarters, swiftly organised via Facebook. Again, cue the cameras and subsequent reports on the evening news bulletins and next day’s papers.

In this second case though, the Conservatives at least made several of the right moves before and during the protest – they engaged with the protestors during the demonstration and also held meetings away from it with the protest leaders to discuss the issue.

Companies are often left with having to face and contain similar kinds of protests following job losses, poorly received pay negotiations or other unpopular decisions. There are no hard rules on controlling these situations to ensure a successful outcome. Nor are there any quick fixes or guarantees to avoid less than favourable media coverage of the event for your organisation.

What there are though are some good basics that can be done:

1. Dialogue – have meetings been arranged to try to prevent the demonstration or at least resolve the issues behind it? Will any senior company figures be available to listen to the concerns of the protestors on the day?

2. Briefing the staff - does everyone know about the demonstration? Do they know how to respond if/when they’re quizzed by media or protestors? Have you prepared Q&A documents, media statements etc for quick deployment?

3. Security – what measures and procedures do you have in place if things turn ugly?

4. Preparation – above all, have you anticipated and planned for this kind of event happening? If you have, great, but then ask yourself if you’ve tested or simulated such an event to see if you can really pull it off under pressure? If not, it might be time to think about doing this.

5. Future proofing – and finally, what have you done and what still needs doing to prevent the issues that lead to these kind of demonstrations in the first place?

Recession recovery poses crisis management risks for industry

On the weekend I wrote a post for our new Energy & Industrials team blog, titled Habitual behaviours force shippers and miners into crisis management mode.

The basis for the post was the correlation between:

 “…two seemingly unconnected events…25 people were killed in a West Virgina mine exposion [and] a Chinese coal carrier ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef…I say ’seemingly unconnected’ because geographically the two events are about as far apart as you get. The respective industries are also unrelated…”

The connection is actually in the habitual behaviours performed by the respective companies, and to learn more about those you should click on the link above and read the original post.

What I’m more interested in here is a quick look at the sheer volume of corporate crises that we’re seeing in 2010. At least four major car makers (Toyota, GM, Honda, Nissan) have had multi-market product recalls. At least two major consumer brands (Nestlé, Unilever) have had issues with palm oil. I’m not even going to touch anything that’s been specifically labelled as a “social media crisis” in this list of examples.

Looking at all of these, the common link is still habitual behaviours. Whether it’s cutting corners on safety or engineering standards, taking short-cuts on voyages to speed up transit times, weakening the supply chain by creating untenable bottle-necks or driving suppliers down to almost margin-less prices, or other unsustainable corporate behaviours…none of these things are “one-offs”. They are all tried and tested behaviours that have become ingrained in an organisation’s culture.

When the global financial crisis hit, many of my clients assumed I was run off my feet with crises. The opposite was true. One or two disasters in a recessionary environment will have a much greater impact on business managers than they would do in the good times. (RM, if you’re reading this, I was still busy!)

In the past 18 months we first saw a deluge of stories about banks’ risk managers being ignored, followed by story after story about careers in risk management being the new black. When the economy is in meltdown and your business is more exposed than ever before, you pull all the stops out to ensure crises just don’t happen. When the revenue tap gets turned back to a trickle, you cut “non-essential” operations – those pesky things like marketing budgets (where’s my ROI???), crisis training (why are we doing this if we haven’t had a crisis in three years???), media monitoring (we’ve cut our marketing, we don’t need to pay for media clips???).

Which is why we now have problems.

After 18 months of hyper-sensitive operational behaviour I think companies have forgotten what it’s like to have to deal with a crisis. Regardless of the growth in social media over the same time, the fundamental principles of good crisis management haven’t changed, but it seems the effective execution of those principles has gathered enough dust to make a real difference. This has been compounded by those bad habits being repeated faster, on a bigger scale, as companies try to trade their way back to the heady days of 2007.

There’s not actually any reason why so many of the high-profile crises of the past six months should have made the headlines to the extent they did.

I expect we’ll see still more high-profile crises rolling out before the end of the year. It should be a good year for crisis management consultants, because for every company in crisis today there are usually three or four who were lucky it wasn’t them. But that’s not good news for shareholders.

Supply chain is your business’s Achilles Heel

Last week I attended the latest Dow Jones Expert Series seminar, and at this point I’m about to lose 90 percent of the visitors who just clicked through from Twitter, because I’m not going to bang on about social media.

When it comes to being in business, your success or failure depends more than anything else on your ability to actually do business. That means having something that a customer wants, and being able to sell that thing at a profit.

If for any reason you’re unable to do that, you have a problem. Assuming for the minute that you have a market that’s happy to pay your price, it’s your “thing” that becomes all important.

Enter the supply chain. Whether you’re making chocolate bars, cosmetics, cars or fighter planes, chances are you have multiple suppliers all providing you with different ingredients or components. If you’re an international business, odds-on that you have international suppliers. And if you’re cost-conscious, I’ll put another each-way bet on the fact at least part of your supply chain is based in Eastern Europe, Africa, Central or South America, or Asia.

Right about now you should be starting to get a little bit squirmy as you realise the exposure your business has to events outside of your control. If not, here’s a tip: civil unrest, terrorism, despotic regimes, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis. Here’s another you may be increasingly familiar with. Ethical sourcing.

Interestingly though, these aren’t your most likely sources of supply chain disruption.

According to Dr Brian Squire from Manchester Business School, around 88 percent of publicly reported supply chain disruptions between 2000 – 2009 were due to human influences. Think user error, industrial dispute, cyber crime, corporate sabotage, ordering the wrong widget…

Even more interesting (I think) is that 40 percent of those were classifiable as “deliberate”. When I say “interesting”, what I really mean is “pretty bloody disturbing”.

I was really impressed with Nick Wildgoose, Global Supply Chain Product Manager, Zurich Financial Services, who also spoke at the event and provided some best-practice insights into identifying, managing and mitigating risks in the supply chain. Here are a few pointers that should be considered when you next review your organisation’s crisis management planning:

  • Is our supply chain likely to be impacted by natural diaster, such as pandemic or earthquake? (Tip: if you’re making stuff in China…yes)
  • Is our supply chain exposed to any single-source issues? (Tip: if you’re sourcing anything from only one supplier at any point, then yes. This is part of the issue with the glut of automotive recalls in 2010)
  • Do we, or any of our suppliers, have issues with trade unions? (Tip: if you have a unionised workforce and you’re in a manufacturing business then…probably)
  • Are we happy with our own, and our suppliers’, business continuity planning? (Tip: you probably shouldn’t be if Zurich’s statistics were anything to go by)
  • Do we have multiple points of contact with our key suppliers, or is our relationship purely transactional? (Tip: if your business is dependent on the survival and performance of another business, it’s probably a good idea to have multiple relationships with that business)

We’ll endeavour to add some further detail to this topic in the coming weeks, but as a starting point I’d strongly suggest asking the hard questions sooner rather than later.

Plug alert: Manchester Business School is conducting further research into supply chain risk and resilience. Please contact Dr Brian Squire if your organisation would be willing to take part.

Forget your social media strategy, how’s your business continuity plan looking? Five tips to help with next week’s rail strike.

Our UK readers are in for a particularly nasty headache next week, with members of the RMT and TSSA unions set to take strike action. Happily, the BBC saw fit to do away with the vitriole and publish this quick overview of the story.

If you want to read a different version that engages in a bit of union-bashing then Google News very kindly returns another 500 or so stories with varying degrees of that.

Now, I have a confession to make. I quite enjoy a good strike action, because it’s a manufactured scenario that mimics some of the conditions of a significantly nastier disaster. Except without the consequences that usually arise as a result of burning things to the ground, flooding them, or opening up a big hole in the Earth.

The conditions I’m talking about are things like:

  • Cutting your workers off from their place of business (pandemic, natural disaster, terrorist attack)
  • Cutting your business off from its workforce (pandemic, natural disaster, terrorist attack…sensing a theme?)
  • Cutting your business off from its supply chain (and we’re going to look at supply chains in a lot more detail over the coming weeks)
  • Cutting your business off from its customers

These kinds of things are all business-criticial. Social media, as I alluded in the headline, is not. In fact, the greatest irony in this scenario is that your social media gurus can probably do their job just as effectively at home, or on their mobile phone. Unfortunately…they’re not the ones making stuff, packing stuff, loading stuff onto various forms of transport, etc etc. Annoying.

Fortunately, a number of workers will be on holidays next week, taking advantage of the Easter long weekend to get a few extra days out of their leave, so that will help the congestion somewhat. But for the rest of us….ugh.

So, here are a few tips (five, since my headline commits me to it) to help triage your business continuity issues (in the event that you’re not already enacting your business continuity plan:

  • Reschedule meetings (or substitute face-to-face meetings with conference calls). Most companies have conference call facilities tucked away somewhere in the organisational brains trust. Dig your dial-in details out and circulate as necessary.
  • Establish an emergency working-from-home roster. If you need X number of people onsite, in your building, then that’s fine, but if some of your team can work remotely then now’s a really good time to encourage that.
  • Get your files in order. This might involve a special request to IT, as many companies don’t allow commercially sensitive information to leave the building (or to be sent to hotmail accounts!). Make sure you have all the things you need to work remotely (case in point, I’m travelling this week and forgot to take the document I was travelling specifically to work on. Yes, I’m daft, but fortunately a colleague was available to email me a copy, along with some thoughtful words)
  • Now’s the time to work out how to divert your landline to your mobile. Or to access your voicemail remotely. If you’re a team of 10 and only two people make it in to the office next week, then having them answer phones and retrieve messages (or forgotten files) is about the biggest waste of their time imaginable.
  • (Recycled) paper is the new black. The thing with business continuity is…it’s not normally one thing that brings you down. So if you’ve done everything above then that’s great, but what if the strike prevents your IT support people being able to get to work? And then, what if you have a server crash? And then, what if you need something urgently, something that you thought you had immediate access to, but now don’t, and the customer’s on the phone, media are calling and the police just knocked on your door…? Ah. Annoying. So here’s tip number five: print out the really important stuff.

At the end of the day, if you do find yourself stuck at home, connected to the internet and wondering when you’ll be able to get back on a train…there’s always facebook.

Nestle, Greenpeace, social media, crisis management, facebook, YouTube, Twitter. PR measurement. Interested?

Prediction: we should see signs of Nestlé’s share price recovering from its latest issue within about 15 days.

Prediction 2: at some point this year, 2010 will be named the Year of the Social Media Crisis. So I’m doing it now just to be the first. (If I’m not the first then please let me know so I can link to that person’s blog and boost my traffic But it didn’t come up on Google today).

Last week Greenpeace kicked off the latest element of its ongoing campaign against the use of non-sustainable palm oil, lining up the cross hairs on Nestlé, and in particular the iconic Kit Kat.

What started out as a fairly run-of-the-mill campaign (Greenpeace has run similar palm oil campaigns in the past), took a bit of a turn when social media gurus jumped on Nestlé’s response to criticisms on the company’s facebook fan page. This was the point at which I started to pay a bit more attention as it was no longer just the Greenpeace campaign that was fuelling the issue (and thanks to fellow H&K blogger Matt Muir for flagging it to me on a Friday afternoon!). Interestingly, the official video in question still only has around 80,000 views on YouTube (sorry folks, one of those is mine).

The problem the company now faces is that the story of its engagement with stakeholders via social media has, as was probably expected by anyone with a facebook account, overtaken the original issue of its sourcing practices, as highlighted by this PR Week story.

Since there are 90,000-odd people out there all with an opinion on that, I’m going to leave that particular debate alone. I’m more interested in what’s happening with the company’s share price, which, as you’d probably expect, has taken a bit of a dip. (Hopefully on Monday our IT wizards – or Matt – can explain to me how I insert that as an actual image – to be updated…).Now updated with actual artwork.

While that’s not wonderful for the company’s shareholders, it’s useful as an in situ case study. As mentioned previously on this blog, good crisis management can have a remarkably positive impact on shareholder value.

The Knight & Pretty study on which that assertion is based shows that companies that recover well from a catastrophe tend to show the start of an upward trend returning to their share price around 10-15 trading days post-disaster (recoverers are the top line):

Figure 4 from Knight & Pretty's "The Impact of Catastrophes on Shareholder Value"

This recovery is largely attributed to the performance of company management in the early stages of the recovery. I think Nestle is the kind of company that will be able to manage its way out of this fairly promptly. However, there are some additional challenges the company will face in getting there (I think):

  1. Getting the facebook thing right will probably involve a bit of sword-falling. But that’s no good unless you mean it (which means there has to be some kind of behaviour change first, before the public perception piece will work).
  2. The marketing sub-set of social media guru-dom will continue to feast on its young, until more tech-savvy marketers take the point of view expressed by @mediaczar (thanks @Matt_Muir yet again). Great example of Twitter as a debate platform. In the meantime, watch the carnage continue.
  3. Institutional investors will remain all over the shop courtesy of having to work out how the economy works again after a global financial crisis. The upturn in value I think will be affected by just how much brokers and analysts value the impact of social media vs. the old fashioned kind.
  4. They’re still going to have to do something about the palm oil. Incidentally, so are thousands of other companies because it’s remarkably pervasive stuff – you wouldn’t believe how much of it’s out there, and ever since we all got scared of trans fats in our diet, palm oil’s been making a comeback in ingredient lists.
  5. Supply-chain scrutiny is going to return to the fore. We’ve not long ago finished Fairtrade Fortnight, when Kit Kats across the world were celebrated for the appearance of the new logo. The ease with which this issue has captured public opinion will, I think, galvanise a lot of other interest groups who have previously struggled with highlighting labour/sourcing/deforestation practices in the past, having another crack.

Time will tell if I manage to fluke at least one of these (or my two predictions). I have a feeling there’ll be a hat eaten at some point this year…

As an adjunct to all of the above, I think communicators/marketers/crisis managers and PR students should spend some time with a PR text book and the Greenpeace website.

Professionally I have a lot of time for the sophistication Greenpeace brings to its campaign activities, because they show all the hallmarks of strategic, issues-led communication campaigning. PR measurement isn’t rocket science (well, only rocket science is really)…point being, if you set your PR or communication objectives properly, measurement becomes a binary thing. Either you achieve your objective, or you don’t. Pretty simple stuff, and yet remarkably difficult to do well – usually because we get side-tracked by things like events, press clippings and “we want to do a viral video”.

What I should have said about crisis management at our change communication event (Part 2)

Yesterday I started to follow up a question from last week’s panel discussion about the relationship between organisational change and communication, in particular the idea that internal and external audiences should be given the same information.

In this post I’m going to expand on the idea of information security.

This particular issue came up in the case of an organisation undergoing some changes to its workforce (it’s fair that most of the world’s companies probably are at the minute, so timely…). The challenge presented was around the implementation of the change program – if, as per my contention, we’re supposed to tell everyone the same thing at the same time, how can we expect the changes to be implemented with minimal external disruption?

Good question, and having had a week to think about it, the exact answer I keep coming up with is…you can’t. To clarify, I think you should share the same central theme with your stakeholders throughout, contextualised to suit their needs. And broadly speaking you should try to communicate in as timely a fashion with each audience as possible.

That’s not to say tell everyone everything, all at once. Rather, if you have information that’s sensitive to the change program internally, and relevant to external audiences (e.g. customers or suppliers), then try to coordinate the information flow so that the right people get the right message at the right time. I like to think of it as giving people the information they need to do the job they need to do with it. Knowing what that information is…that’s the job of the change manager. Sorry.

This isn’t an issue of trust. It’s one of effective project management, and it’s one of balance. If you’re asking a team to implement something, and there’s a clearly defined process for them to follow, then they need as much information as it will take to achieve the outcome. If, however, you have an outcome but want the team to devise the implementation, then they need different information (and probably more freedom as well).

As Scott McKenzie often says: “Your employees are adults. Treat them like it.” I agree, but adults also get speeding fines, take documents out of buildings when they shouldn’t, email things home that they shouldn’t, have affairs, go to the pub, leave stuff on trains, have the occasional brain explosion…whatever it is, chances are it won’t be all that life-threatening. But if incorrect or incomplete information lands in the wrong hands, or the right hands at the wrong time, then a day-spoiling phone call won’t be far away. Shortly after that is when many organisations go from a well-intentioned change program to a call to our Issues & Crisis Management team (usually about half an hour after news crews have already lobbed on the doorstep).

I think it comes down to being sensible with what you share, when, and with whom. You’ll always have a knowledge gap between the change manager and their team, and the rest of the organisation and its stakeholders. By securing information until such time as the organisation’s ready for it to be released, you’re just helping to streamline the process. It’s a question of balance.

Tomorrow we’ll have a look at the social media ramifications of change programs in Part 3.

Eurostar was not a social media crisis

Back in December when this was still a gaping wound we promised to take a look at the Eurostar rail crisis in detail, to identify some lessons that could help us and our readers learn from this high profile crisis. As we said then, we’re not going to pass judgement on the situation because we weren’t in the room, and frankly there are a lot of Monday morning quarterbacks already on that case. Instead, let’s look at a few key areas that we can all put to some constructive use.

After watching the story unfold, quiet down and revive itself over the past month, we thought it was time to make good on that promise. Unfortunately, there were so many things we wanted to look at we’ve had to stagger our analysis over a few posts, so if you’re not completely alienated by what’s about to follow then you’ll have to come back again.

Here’s the first thing we learned. What transpired was not a social media crisis. What actually happened was this: a few trains broke down. In no way was that caused by the internet, nor was it caused by a sweeping movement of social change that brings unprecedented power to the voice of the individual. It was caused by snow (in response to feedback received in our Comments, I’m updating the “cause” of the train breakdown to “caused by condensation shorting out electrical systems as the trains moved from extremely cold conditions outside the tunnel to warmer temperatures inside.” However, according to this AFP story that states: “the company blamed the ‘wrong kind of snow’ for causing problems with its trains’ electrics”, I think it was a fair error to make – GS.). The second thing we learned was this: business operations and communication functions must be intrinsically linked in order to provide any semblence of good communication in a crisis.

Now before you start sharpening your pitch forks, let me give you a bit of perspective.

If you’re on fire (yes, physically alight), then you have a crisis on your hands – it’s stopping you going about your day to day life. What you want in this case is an operational solution to your problem. You want the fire put out. Ideally, fairly soon. A communication solution requires you to find someone to ask to put it out. An operational solution involves…putting it out yourself, however you need to.

If you’re stuck on a train in a tunnel, where in the best of my experience you can’t get mobile reception or a decent wifi signal, then what you don’t want is to read on Twitter that your train is stuck in a tunnel. In face, you probably already have a hunch that this is the case. What you want…is someone to get you out of the tunnel.

In the meantime, you’re probably going to settle for a) knowing what’s going on, b) knowing how long it’s likely to go for, c) knowing how that’s going to affect your life in the foreseeable future, and d) knowing how the people responsible for your wellbeing are going to make the experience as painless as possible.

At this point, communication starts to have a role to play. Communication in a crisis is all about facilitating the flow of information, and the very human thing to do is to focus firstly on the people who are immediately affected by the crisis. In this instance they are the passengers stuck on a train, closely followed by the people waiting for them at their destination, who are probably on par with people waiting to get on a train themselves. Frankly, everyone else is a spectator.

The priority should be (should always be) to communicate first to the people most directly affected by the crisis, in this case the passengers on the trains, followed by the people waiting for them at the other end.

This information will always “leak” anyway, so if you’re responsible for communication you need to get this bit right first. The best social media strategy in the world would still be useless in this case when you’ve got actual passengers tweeting about pools of vomit, starving babies and over-flowing toilets.

When it comes to actually getting information to our previously identified audiences there are so many other channels that would make for a more targeted (effective) communication of the breakdown information – arguably more appropriate as well. Here are a few:

  • PA system on trains
  • Actual train staff
  • Arrival boards at stations
  • PA systems at stations
  • Information desks at stations

For passengers or greeters who haven’t left home yet to catch their train:

  • A company website interstitial page that re-directs people away from the corporate site for information about the delay (helps stop servers crashing and is just as transparent if you badge it properly)
  • Direct to customer emails/sms to advise of the issue

Not until all of the above channels have already been tapped would something like Twitter become a relevant consideration. Although at this point all of your connected audiences who got their information from one of the above channels will already have tweeted about it, and you’re probably already getting media enquiries…so what really are you going to say that’s any different? And isn’t that up on your crisis website anyway? Where people can already get all the information?

Yes, you should absolutely be providing information to external sources, and if you get out there early enough then the world’s news media will happily go and write their stories and then tweet about them – leaving you to get on with fixing the crisis. And if your company has an existing social media strategy that is actually appropriate for communicating crisis information, then sure, go for it. But don’t be fooled for a second that a #hashtag with your brand attached to it is going to make life any better for a three-year-old sitting in a tunnel.

From a crisis management perspective I’d venture that Eurostar not using its (unbranded, push-marketing focused) Twitter account @little_break to provide updates was the right thing to do in this case. As so many of the social media commentators have noted, this is a marketing account with no link to customer services. Why then should it be a considered channel in the first hour of the crisis?

A bigger problem according to many of the eyewitness accounts was the flow of information at all. Had the company got Twitter right, they just would have alerted a bigger audience to the fact there was a problem at all. You know what – that’s why the media exists. To report news. Let professionals deal with that – company focus should be on fixing the problem.

And fixing the problem comes back to our earlier point – business operations and communications need to be intrinsically linked. The communication team can now describe in vivid detail how the outside world perceived this crisis, and hopefully the operations team will take a good look at how passenger comfort might be maintained in the event of a future scenario, followed by communicating to passengers and greeters appropriately.

I don’t believe any agency, be that PR, social media or anyone else should get to take credit for either of those. They should be business-critical activities, not crisis PR.

How to avoid a Dappy moment for your organisation

The use of prominent, well-known celebrity figures as spokespeople to front a campaign is a standard tactic amongst comms teams looking to create impact for their campaigns. Not only is it standard, but it’s also usually highly successful in enabling organisations to connect with their target audience and deliver the right message.

However, as last Friday’s incident involving the musician Dappy (from N-Dubz) demonstrates, if a negative issue arises involving your chosen spokesperson, then there’s a fair chance your organisation will be referenced, thus creating a negative impression.

The choice of Dappy by the Deparment for Children, Schools and Families to front their anti-cyber bullying campaign last autumn was certainly bold, but also not without logic or merit given the audience the Deparment was trying to reach. Unfortunately, as this incident demonstrates, with the best will in the world you can’t legislate for what happens once their work with your organisation is complete.

There are however, some good basic tips that you can adhere to when deciding on a potential spokesperson for your campaign:

1. Does your campaign really need a spokesperson? Assess the likely impact that your efforts would have with, and without, a well-known figurehead before you commit to one. Also, seek a third-party opinion on this given that you’ll likely be very close to the project.

2. Assess what you want them to do for you. Will it be a simple photoshoot, a series of interviews, or something more ambitious? This will help determine the type of person that you’ll likely want to employ.

3. Who is your target audience? It can sometimes be easy to get wrapped up in who you think you’d like as your spokesperson, rather than properly considering who your audience will respond to.

4. What have they done over the past couple of years that’s relevant? It goes without saying, but a proper check of any previous activity, soundbites, quotes or anything else that relates (positively or negatively) to your organisation, industry or your customers is essential.

5. Take the time to properly prepare them. Invest the time to meet with your chosen spokesperson and brief them well in advance of the event/activity. Consider media training them as well, especially if they haven’t worked in your product/brand area previously.

Are you really using Twitter for crisis management? Really?

Here’s a really interesting post on the Marketing Pilgrim blog, looking at a recent eMarketer report on the uses that companies are putting social media to.

Of immediate interest was the finding that more than forty percent (40% ?!?) of respondents claim to “Monitor Twitter for PR problems in real time”.

While it’s encouraging to see so many organisations recognising the benefit a platform like Twitter can provide from a monitoring and issues management perspective, I’m not sure I believe the 300-odd respondents who said they’re actually doing it. It’s always easy to answer a survey question in the affirmative if you think that’s what you should really be doing – case in point, *of course* I get my five-a-day every day.

I think what I find more believable is that only around half of the respondents that claim to monitor Twitter as an issues management tool actually respond to the tweets they’re picking up on. This is a worry in itself.

If you’re not going to do something about the problems your stakeholders have with you, then all monitoring does is take away the element of surprise when one of those niggles becomes an actual issue or crisis. And it gives you some time to start updating your CV.

As our Digital team constantly reminds us, monitoring and listening are great places to start, but the important bit is actually doing something to fix the underlying problem.

This is one of the topics that Gaylene Ravenscroft and Candace Kuss cover in our Social Media Workshops, which we’ve been running with numerous clients to great effect (having sat through one of these myself I can vouch for the quality of the content – it’s actually part of the reason we started this blog).

And for those readers who are on Twitter, you can follow Hill & Knowlton London. Relevant crisis-related posts have a #HK_crisisUK hashtag for easy reference.

Twelve tips of Christmas: #1 Protect your customers

In the lead up to the holiday season we’re rolling out the tried-and-tested “12 days of…” formula for our Hints & Tips posts. As today’s the first of December, it seems like a good time to start, and this story from Australia has provided the inspiration for this morning’s post.

JB Hi-Fi, one of the country’s most popular music and entertainment retailers, was the victim of a server hack. The result: users were reportedly re-directed from the company’s website to Chinese websites loaded with malware (for those non-techies who’ve never been infected, malware is malicious software – it does pretty much what it says on the tin). For this reason we’ve broken with convention and not linked to the site, as we’d hate to be responsible for exacerbating the problem.

In fact, most of the websites mentioned in the article on The Sydney Morning Herald website have experienced malware problems recently, including Whirlpool (a broadband discussion forum), Overclockers Australia (an online community for computer enthusiasts), and OzBargain.com.au (a discount online retailer). Each of these sites is frequented by tech-savvy visitors and in that respect the users are probably lucky in that they’re inherently better prepared for the trauma of a malware attack.

However here in the UK, online shopping is far more prevalent, and far less the domain of technophiles. Online commerce is easier and more pragmatic – products shipping from Birmingham to London arrive more quickly than they do in Sydney, for example, so the lesson for local retailers is clear. Protect your customers.

The holiday season increases the risk of infection many times over for three key reasons. Firstly, more trades will be conducted, so the law of averages says sooner or later someone’s going to get infected. Secondly, occasional users trade more during holidays, so you have a larger population of inexperienced users throwing themselves into the mix. Thirdly, with more trades, and easier victims, it’s a great time for hackers test their skills – it’s an opportunity for big, quick gains.

We’re not technical advisors, so in the first instance, check/flag any issues with your server manager. Send them this link (http://www.smh.com.au/technology/security/jb-hifi-website-served-malware-20091201-k2p3.html) if you need to.

From a crisis management perspective, here are five things you can do this week to help improve your chances of successfully managing a malware attack beyond the technical fix (should you be so unlucky):

Familiarise yourself with the Information Commissioner’s Office. As a regulatory authority it’s there to protect consumers, which means it’s in their best interest to help you do exactly the same. It also means that if you don’t manage a crisis well then you should expect a call, and it’s always better to know who you’ll be dealing with. In the first instance a visit to the Data Protection Act guidelines is a good idea as well. Dry reading, but important.

Increase your online monitoring. The great thing about malware attacks is they spike discussion forum traffic, and this can help you spot a potential issue well before it ever hits your system. So get your digital monitoring team or web agency to work enhancing your monitoring for the next few weeks. Suggested search terms to add (there’ll be plenty of others you can look for, including specific program names): retail, hacking, malware, data theft, data loss, server hack. Please post suggested additions in our Comments section.

Understand what your continuity plan is. In the event that you do experience a malware attack (or any other kind of online crisis really), it’s essential to know if and how this part of your business can continue to function. It’s time to buy your server manager that beer you’ve been meaning to.

Plan your communications in advance. Regardless of the nature of the problem, there aren’t really that many ways it can turn out. Among the most common are likely to be: infecting customers with malware, sharing of customer information, loss of customer information, loss of e-commerce functionality, loss of website. While it’s true that the details may be important on the day, you can save yourself a lot of time by planning in advance how your business is going to respond to each of these scenarios.

Put your crisis team on notice. This includes your agency support if you have it (and if not, now’s a really, really good time to get some). It’s holiday season – chances are half your team will be away. Know in advance who their deputies or alternates are, and make sure everyone’s briefed on management and contingency plans before you break up for the holidays. If you’re in a business that closes down between Christmas and the New Year, or runs a skeleton staff, know who’s going to be available to help fix any problems that arise.

As always, if you have any questions about the tips outlined above, or if you need a hand with preparing your organisation to handle a crisis over the holiday season, please get in touch. And happy holidays!