Monday, August 19, 2013

Social Media Monitoring: A Crucial Crisis Readiness Strategy

Wisdom from the Crisis Guru # 995

From Chapter 7, page 214, of “Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management” by James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA

7.3.1 Develop a Monitoring Strategy

Because of the explosive nature of social media, developing a monitoring strategy and putting it in place as part of a crisis plan is essential. Of course, you could attempt to handle this monitoring yourself or assign it to someone on your staff. Or you could take advantage of companies like BrandProtect and Risdall.com, which provide reputational monitoring services. In either case, the message is: Have a listening platform ready for something to explode in social media.

Even if your company or organization is reticent to engage in monitoring right now, you might consider forming a SMART (Social Media Action Response Team) composed of people in your business that are smart about social media right now. They could be ready to step up should something happen and be the bridge to readiness if called for.

Today, many organizations most are likely marketing themselves via a website (and blog); email, social media (Facebook and Twitter); and traditional print, audio, and video media. These key channels to the consumer are also pathways for online activism that can:
  • Block public or private actions.
  • Bully and humiliate.
  • Spread corporate disinformation or misinformation.
  • Decrease or increase market capitalization.
  • Air legitimate problems that activists cannot get solved by other means.
  • Give voice to victims.
  • Publish just because they can.
  • Provide publicity for their cause.
  • Retaliate and extort.
  • Push social-political-religious-nongovernmental organization (NGO) agendas.
  • Target organizations to stop certain behaviors.
  • Empower whistle-blowers.
  • Foment shareholder issues.
Attack strategies can work quickly and build huge diverse audiences. Attacks – both now and even those that may have occurred in the past – raise lingering questions among key base audiences that must be corrected, clarified, or answered. In most instances, failing to respond can exacerbate the problem. Even minor inaccurate information published by a third party should be corrected as quickly as possible (most bloggers generally take the accuracy of their posts seriously and will correct errors of fact and misinterpretation). Why make the corrections? Attack sites persistently remain accessible – and searchable – for a long time. It’s your destiny. If you fail to manage it, someone will step forward and do it for you.

You stay ahead of instant news coverage by monitoring blogs and social media via searches using key words for your organization and senior management team on Google, Yahoo, Bing, Twitter, YouTube, and other social sites. These searches will provide the baseline of your digital and social media listening platform. Build a baseline of blog coverage using the searches provided by Blogpulse, Technorati, Ning, Getsatisfaction, uservoice, and blogsearch.google.com. Build a digital and social media matrix incorporating your baseline profile, and then create standing searches to monitor your key search terms, sending Google alerts via email or Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds to a Social Media Action Response Team (SMART) dedicated to monitoring your company 24/7.

RSS feeds enable websites to multiply the distribution of their content through free subscriptions, which push out content updates automatically by email, web, and other news readers. For example, keywords associated with a company and its business, products, and services at the feed site allow subscribers to select their topics and automate monitoring of news, blogs, and other items 24/7.

For a crisis, web monitoring services help you access the intensity, depth, interest, and emotion that surround your situation. Geo-locating sites can pinpoint the greatest concentrations of interest in your problem by geographical region. Keyword searches on Facebook, Google blog, search.twitter.com, LinkedIn and Yahoo, can tell you a lot about the volume of interest and type of comments the situation is generating. In a crisis, in order to drive readers to your site, buy Google search keywords as soon after the initial incident as they can be determined.

Protect your site content by copyrighting your site. Establish, use, and enforce an online posting/email/social media policy within your organization and with your outside advisors. Employees mean well, but they can hurt by trying to help, causing the worst damage.

Build a fan base. Social media sites consist of smaller communities of individuals, often linked by common likes or dislikes. A strong offensive tactic before a crisis is to use the most popular social media platforms to form your own communities around your news, products, services, innovations, and so forth. Develop a fan base and engage your fans in a regular dialog. Once you get involved in the discussion, you will become familiar with using the medium and comfortable discussion your business and news, as well as responding to issues and complaints.

Attach a blog to your website, and engage in similar dialogs with people who post comments or complaints. Become an expert in responding to issues without “fanning the flames.” Before posting announcements, bulletins, and other information, take care to have the content reviewed thoroughly by key functions in the organization, such as legal, human resources, marketing. Before executing a preemptive strategy, always apply the common sense test:
  • Are your employees talking about it?
  • Are your customers talking about it?
  • Have you seen any activity profile that can’t be explained easily?
  • Is there other chatter (on various other platforms) that includes references to your situation?
Some recommended purchasing “suck sites” and negative URLs (web addresses), which are variations on your company name and branded products and services to prevent online misappropriation and attacks. Try searching with terms like your company or product name with “die,” “sucks,” and “I hate.” It’s also a good idea to search for any suck sites related to your organization.

Have you or your organization been the target of online activism? Have you experienced activist/contentious attacks; bullying; customer complaints; or whiny, disgruntled people? Or, have you been lucky, with no attack… yet? In any case, it pays to monitor and review “gripe sites” that mention your organization or even your direct competitors. (Note: For more about dealing with online activism, see Chapter 8 of Jim’s book.)

By James E. Lukaszewski

***

James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at Amazon.com.

Learn more from Jim by attending one of his many upcoming seminars or webinars. On September 27th, 2013, you can hear Jim talk about Crisis Plans in 10 Steps: Proven Templates and PR Best Practices for Managing Crises in the Digital Era, a 90-minute webinar with Bulldog Reporter.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The PR Fur Flies in Dallas, But Fur What?


A former TV anchor-turned PR executive ruffled a lot of feathers by admitting that he posted opinions on websites and blogs using a phony name while being paid by the controversial construction project company to do just that. A lot of folks, including the New York Times, have their shorts all wrinkled up about this behavior. The perpetrator resigned from his own PR firm, resigned from the account that hired him, issued a number of limited apologies, and his firm collapsed a few days after his departure.

On the one hand, we could talk about what he shouldn't have done, but even a nine-year-old gets that. Those of us with strong ethical concerns can make a case for further discussion. But before we launch forth on such a discussion we need to understand the ground rules around free-speech in America. First ground rule: Our Constitution, unique in the world, grants essentially limitless freedom of speech. With just a couple of exceptions imposed by law or legal precedent, anyone in America, even non-Americans, get to say just about anything they please. The First Amendment fails to mention limitations like truthfulness, honesty, integrity, forthrightness, and identification of speaker or writer. The second ground rule concerns Codes of Ethics, all of which put conditions on speech such as truthfulness, integrity, and the like. When it comes to freedom of speech, the PRSA Code as an example, like many other codes of conduct is essentially the voluntary self-imposed limitation of the speech rights granted in our Constitution.

When PRSA members pay their dues and sign the pledge card, their First Amendment rights are retained, but PRSA member professionals agree to a variety of rules and guidelines that limit and control behaviors, such as ethics, morality, truthfulness, honesty, integrity, forthrightness, and content source identity. None of which appear in the Constitution.

We can argue for a long time that the behaviors, rules and expectations established by the PRSA Code are in the public interest, they are; serve important public needs, which they do; and improve our profession. You also must argue is that these limitations are limited to those with PRSA membership. The individual I question here is not listed as a member of PRSA. Therefore, as much as we might detest his behavior, and his rather lame explanations for it, especially having spent such a large part of his professional life in the search for truth as a reporter, he had no obligation to do any of the remediative things he did, including apology and resignation.

It is helpful to remember that using fictitious names in public and private discussions is a tried-and-true American tradition dating back to our revolution. I need only mention the Federalist Papers, a robust series of articles and documents which discussed and debated the various drafts of our Constitution at the very beginning of our republic. It is true that very famous people, including Alexander Hamilton, used phony names on the documents that fostered a robust public debate.

Few Americans would rise to defend using a false identity. Certainly his former media friends and colleagues wasted little time in exposing, embarrassing and humiliating him into denigrating himself. BTW, the word “apology” does not appear in the first amendment, or anywhere in the Constitution, or in many if any Codes of Conduct.

We are almost ready to start the debate. But wait, one more observation. In America, we have an extraordinary cross section of views on everything, every day. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal cover most of the same stories every day. But to read their coverage, you’d think they were in different countries, from different cultures, talking about people we think we recognize. Watch coverage of very similar topics on Fox News, CNN, CNBC, and one of the legacy networks, then finally your own local news. After all that you still have to ask the question, what is the truth? Welcome to American democracy where finding the truth is really up to you, because there is precious little recognizable help, but tons of information to choose from. Heck, the SPJ Code of Conduct for Journalists authorizes them to use deception in pursuit of important stories. At least one journalism textbook spends a 30-page chapter teaching deception in the pursuit of truth.

And what do most of us in Public Relations do every day? We write for and script others who will use our words, thoughts and creativity under their own names, labels and Logos, as their own.

Codes of Conduct are only as reliable as those who profess them, perform them, practice and abide by them. Like it or not, the ‘offender’ here was behaving under a broader and more powerful Code called the Constitution of the United States.

Okay, now the debate can begin.


***
James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at Amazon.com.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Becoming A Strategic Counselor

As seen on the IABC MN blog, posted 8/5/13.

BECOMING A STRATEGIC COUNSELOR

Advising others on the issues, problems and situations that truly matter is one of our most challenging professional activities. It takes a special breed of individual to counsel those who do important work affecting the lives, lifestyles and well being of other people, organizations, cultures, even societies.

Because it’s useful to examine the principles and behaviors that drive the advice these unique counselors and consultants provide, let me distill my observations of these special people into some serious guidance and key principles to help the staff who coach, counsel and befriend those having operating responsibilities.

THE COUNSELOR’S PRIME DIRECTIVE

The prime directive in all advice, counseling and staff work is to serve others first − for their benefit and from their perspective. The primary role of staff functions is advisory and consultative.

Supporting that directive is the commitment to provide simple, sincere, sensible, and constructive advice and counsel.

• Simple counsel means doing only the important things, the most crucial things, first. It means striving for the successful forward increment rather than the global solution. Incremental progress is far more readily achievable than either the silver bullet or big idea.

• Sincere means providing advice and counsel you can talk about with others with a straight face, that you know works based on your experience and the experience of others, and that other powerful forces can endorse.

• Sensible advice means fundamentally sound advice. This is advice that at first glance, second glance and third glance is unchallengeable and unassailable. It makes sense, even though it may infuriate some or seem over-simplified to others.

• Constructive advice means avoiding criticism, which is always negative, always remembered over anything else the counselor or coach provides, and turns out to be confusing and generally destructive. Criticism is easy and cheap. Anyone can do it. The counselor who inspires is the counselor who can translate adverse events and circumstances into helpful, positive, constructive advice.

There are three tests useful advice meets. Such advice is practical, pragmatic and purposeful.

• Practical advice means just that − tasks that are achievable, positive in nature and that employees and even critics can endorse to some degree.

• Pragmatic advice recognizes that only certain outcomes are possible, that no matter how spiffy, creative, or exciting your ideas might be, those affected by the advice as well as those acting on the advice will look at it from the perspective of whether it can actually work in their real world.

• Purposeful advice has self-evident forward focus and positive momentum. Counselors and consultants are strategic operational assets. When activated, strategic assets are fundamentally positive and energize the organization and its constituencies.

There are lots of distractions in consulting, and lots of clients who have great difficulties, problems, shortcomings and blind spots. The consultant’s obligation is to identify and provide candid, constructive advice that fills those deficiencies, while stabilizing or moving the organization ahead. Only advice that moves the organization in a forward direction is actually helpful.

CLIENT EXPECTATIONS

From the client’s perspective, the expectation is that consultants will contribute frequently; provide focused, useful information; be forceful enough to move their recommendations through the organization; and be fair in the application of their ideas and concepts.

• Frequent contribution means the successful consultant is the individual who makes frequent incremental, often unsolicited recommendations and suggestions.

• Focused advice means just that, advice that is understandable, shows the way, helps the client or customer think and act in the future tense, and works toward a few (or one) important goals everyone recognizes.

• Fair advice means that which is politically acceptable (as opposed to factionally correct) and politically useful (as opposed to politically disruptive). It provides information that is useful (as opposed to manipulative) to many stakeholders.

SPECIAL TALENTS

• To successfully serve others requires special talents: initiative, intuition, ingenuity, inspiration, imagination, urgency and loyalty.

• Initiative: The most common criticism I hear about outside and inside advisors is that though ideas abound, few seem capable of picking up an idea, developing it and moving it forward without prompting or specific direction.

• Intuition: Those who run organizations, especially large organizations, have a limited tolerance for intuitive solutions and recommendations. Ration your intuition. Build support for what you intuitively believe or suspect. Present intuitive recommendations using a process approach so that you can be understood and your ideas acted upon by those you counsel.

• Ingenuity: Everyone, especially clients, loves nifty approaches and interesting ideas. Ingenuity comes from using already known information to develop new and different approaches to resolve old and persistent issues or problems.

• Inspiration: This is a quality that can be learned and developed. Those who inspire help others see (from their own perspectives) truths and choose beneficial behaviors and beliefs. Identify those who inspire you. Learn how they do it. Focus on how they do it. Then use that knowledge to develop your own inspirational style. Inspire others.

• Imagination: Louis Pasteur, the great French scientist, was reputed to have said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” How prepared are you to hypothesize useful ideas, alternatives and insights about the issues, concerns, problems and work of those you coach and counsel? Do you read the publications they read? Do you consume information of the same type and nature that those you counsel do? Can you hold a conversation on an operating topic that informs the other person?

• Urgency: Can you bring substantive intensity to your work? Can you drive issues, questions and individual forces forward? More importantly, can you give useful information on the spot, every time? If you need time to think things over or to develop or refine a document, you have yet to become a truly strategic staff person.

• Loyalty: Advising at very senior levels automatically makes you the eyes and ears of those you counsel within the organization. Advising and coaching senior people means being utterly candid. Do you observe and report, or hide and ignore?

THE COUNSELOR’S WORK STYLE

Serving others requires a work style that is:

1. Independent, but able to act and think aggressively.

2. Cooperative, but focused on the goals of those you serve.

3. Goal and accomplishment oriented on a daily basis.

4. Systematic and positive in approaching tasks, work and problems.

5. Pragmatic focus on doing the doable, getting the getable, achieving the achievable, and seeking the findable.

THE COUNSELOR’S COMMITMENT

Those who successfully serve others have a work attitude that says:

1. When I am here; working for you is number one.

2. I plan to be here a lot and, if necessary, available the rest of the time as well.

3. I am committed to independent reading, discussion, issue sensitivity and personal learning that is of value to those I coach and counsel.

4. I will take the initiative to help those I coach and counsel move in useful new directions and rely far more on foresight than hindsight.

5. I recognize that going even a small extra distance will be the difference between mundane and magnificent results. Extra effort, extra sensitivity, extra focus is what makes the difference from the client’s perspective.

6. I am committed to relentlessly pursue personal positive incremental progress every single day, for myself and for the clients I coach and counsel.

7. I will provide information beyond the client’s knowledge, on the spot.

THE COUNSELOR’S VERBAL TOOLBOX

Leaders lead through their ability to verbalize the future, explain a direction, and describe a destination. The counselor also works in real time to help leaders lead in real time. The counselor’s verbal skills should be models the client can learn from and imitate.

The counselor has six powerful verbal tools:

1. Facts. This means data and authoritative information, developed and delivered appropriately and promptly, verbally.

2. Stories: These are structured verbal examples leaders use, which take audiences through ideas, concepts, problems, or situations vicariously, yet teach lessons, morals, or self-evident truths audiences can use to their benefit.

3. Questions: These are questions the leader can use to help engage others in discussions or conversations that move the organization forward. (It’s also helpful to provide suggested answers.)

4. Comparisons: This could be a best practice discussion or, more importantly, sharing your perception of how another leader or leaders handled similar problems from different perspectives.

5. Recommendations/Options: The currency of consulting and counseling is recommendations. Unless the way is absolutely crystal clear, it’s often helpful to propose a choice of options ranging from doing nothing, to doing something, to doing something more. Recommending options is a process that keeps clients and consultants engaged with each other. Recommending a useful series of actions along a timeline allows clients to generate momentum and forward motion.

6. Constructive Confrontation: Better to challenge thinking, ideas and concepts promptly. The ability to constructively change an individual’s direction, for their own benefit, is one of the most refreshing and important achievements a counselor can obtain. It is also one of the most challenging tasks.

Lots of mistakes are made in coaching and counseling. But, if you focus on those techniques and practices that do work and are helpful to clients, you won’t have much time to make mistakes and you’ll be invited back time and time again.

RESOURCES

Here are five extremely useful resources for learning about consulting and coaching CEOs and leaders:

Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used, Peter Block, Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer, latest edition.

The Flawless Consulting Fieldbook and Companion: A Guide to Understanding Your Expertise, Peter Block, Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer, latest edition.

• Anything by Peter Block

Coaching for Leadership: How the World’s Greatest Coaches Help Leaders Learn, edited by Marshall Goldsmith, Laurence Lyons, and Alyssa Freas, Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer, latest edition.

Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will, Noel M. Tichy and Stratford Sherman, Currency Doubleday, latest edition, the story of Jack Welch’s leadership.

For more information on this and other communication management topics, visit the author’s Web site at www.e911.com.

***
James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at Amazon.com.

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