Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Problem with Tiger's Statement

Tiger Woods has weighed in on his accident. He issued a statement to his website late Sunday afternoon. It's really a non-statement in that it answers no questions that people have about the accident. One sentence in particular stands out:
"This is a private matter and I want to keep it that way."
We all want many things.

Not to be a pessimist, but that's not going to happen. In my first post about Tiger's Troubles I wrote that all that Tiger had to do was to tell the truth. Nothing in his statement appears to be untruthful, it is simply 180 words that contain nothing of any substance.

The same reasons Tiger wants privacy are the same reasons that he needs to answer people's questions. The people Tiger wants to continue to buy the $90 polo shirts and $25 ball caps feel like Tiger is hiding something. Fame can be so inconvenient! This isn't about protecting Tiger's personal privacy, but to protect the corporate image of Tiger Woods.

In that way, Tiger is no different than any large organization under siege. He is in denial, hoping against all available indications that this will go away quietly. There were three things that I said were certainties in my first post:

  • The truth will come out
  • People will talk
  • The media (including new media) will be relentless until the story is finished

Tiger's statement has done nothing to stop any of the three. In fact, his statement will most likely aggravate the situation. The police report and 911 tapes will get more attention now than if Tiger had simply told us what happened.

Most irritating to me is that many of the people who are big Tiger Woods fans are people who run big companies that will find themselves in crisis. And when people like me come to consult with them, they're going to want to be just like Tiger... just like they do when they are on the golf course.

Then I will have to waste time explaining to them that there are two things Tiger does that they can't do.

Tiger said in his statement that he is human and not perfect. He's asking us to have a little faith in him. Tiger should have more faith in his fans. The people that love him when he hits a bunker off the fairway won't love him less because he hit a fire hydrant and tree at the end of his driveway.

Bill Salvin

The Most Important Thing Tiger Woods Can Do Right Now

Tell the truth.

No matter how embarrassing, that is his only salvation.

To recap, Mr. Woods was involved in a one-car accident about 2:30 am Friday. According the the authorities in Florida, Tiger's wife smashed the back window of Tiger's Cadillac Escalade with a golf club and Tiger was found laying on the street, bloodied and unconscious. The authorities report the truck hit a fire hydrant and a tree less than 100 feet from the couple's driveway. Tiger's wife Elin Nordegren (above), doesn't seem like she has the physique to drag the 6'1" Woods from the front seat of his SUV...into the middle seat and over that and then out the back window. So, did she crawl through the broken window to unlock the doors? Now the Daily Mail in the UK reports that two passenger side windows were also smashed. Smashing one window seems plausible. Smashing three seems angry or desperate.

Many publications have pointed out that there have been rumors of Tiger having an affair with a model and that perhaps Mrs. Woods was miffed and the pair got into a scuffle.

The key to successfully communicating in a crisis is to be honest, transparent and clear. Whether the news is embarrassing shouldn't enter into the equation. Although, it always does.

There are three things that are certain to play out over the next few days and weeks:

1) The truth will come out
Whatever the real story is, it will come out regardless of the wishes of Tiger, his wife or any of their handlers. A car accident is one thing. Domestic disputes, if that's what happened, are quite another.

2) People will talk
People connected to the story will talk. People who have nothing to do with the story will talk. Ultimately, the only person we want to hear from is Tiger. Until we hear from him, anyone will do. Truth has little to do with the story these people will tell. People want fame. (See: Reality Television; Balloon Boy)

3) The news media (including new media) will be relentless until the story is finished
Journalists are tired of doing the holiday shopping story and this is a lot more interesting that blogging about the ten hot new trends for Social Media in 2010. (Although, I am still working on a piece on personal branding)

The sad part about all of this is that none of us knows what happened. The window of goodwill that is currently open to Tiger will close very soon.

And it will take a lot more than a golf club to open it again.

Bill Salvin

Update: Tiger Woods issued a statement. Take a look at it here, but it will do nothing to stop this story. Good luck at your Tuesday press conference, Tiger. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No One Hurt in No Plane Crash-A Social Media-Crisis Comms Case Study

One of the huge perceived risks of Social Media is that anyone can say anything about your organization, and rumors or false allegations can spread like wildfire. It is a risk, but not an unmanageable one.

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak about Social Media and Crisis Communications with a group of public affairs officers from the U.S. Air Force in Washington, DC. They shared a great case study with me of how they used Social Media last March to crush false stories about a crash of a C-17 cargo plane. There was no plane crash. It's an understatement to say that the crash of an aircraft is a huge deal for the Air Force.

Here's the timeline from last March 23:

  • 1:35 pm (EST) CNN reports a C-17 plane has crashed near Olney, Texas. The story cited "callers to police" as the source of information about the crash. 
  • 1:36 pm (one minute later) The story of the crash moves to Twitter. You can see that this Tweep has already checked the Air Force's official Website to confirm the information and didn't like that there was nothing posted about the "crash." That tells you a lot about people's expectations of organizations in the Age of Social Media.

  • 1:45 pm (nine minutes later) Message boards pick up the story. Note that the CNN story now attributes word of the crash to a spokesman at Shepherd Air Force Base. 
  • 1:53 pm (17 minutes after the first report on CNN) The Air Force posts to its main Twitter feed that there is no crash. The PAOs at the Air Force's National Press Desk also reach out to CNN and other key media by phone and email. What this tells us is that traditional media relations skills and tactics will still be important even as we add Social Media tools to our response kit.

  • 2:31 pm (55 minutes after the initial report) CNN posts a story that the search has been called off because the report of the crash was false. 
Every crisis is different (even crises sparked by things that don't happen) and every company needs to incorporate Social Media into its crisis plan in a way that enhances and quickens the response cycle. I believe there are three key things we can learn from the Air Force in this case:
  1. People expect your organization to be present in the Social Media space. Your presence in social media will be a key channel for getting information out in a crisis. Establish your presence now so people know where to find you when a crisis strikes. 
  2. Traditional means of getting out information during a crisis are still important. The Air Force didn't abandon its traditional means of getting to reporters. PAOs picked up the phone and called their contacts to get the word out that there was no crash. Traditional media are still important and relevant for crisis communications. 
  3. The risk of misinformation is manageable. As the Air Force's experience here shows, organizations that are engaged with their stakeholders and present in the Social Media space stand a much better chance of getting their message out successfully in a crisis.
Note: A huge tip of the hat to USAF Capt. Christina Sukach, (@csukach), Chief of Emerging Technology at the Air Force Public Affairs Agency for sharing this case study and Chris Isleib, (@cisleib), the Deputy Director for Media Operations for Air Force Public Affairs for inviting me to speak.  

Bill Salvin

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Last Person on Earth who Should Own a Social Media Policy

I read a blog post by "CIO in Training" Anjuan Simmons that tries to make the case for the CIO to own the corporate social media policy. It's been a while since I have so vehemently disagreed with something I read online. All I can hear in my head is John McEnroe screaming "You can't possibly be serious!"

Simmons makes his case with three arguments:
  • The CIO Holds the Keys to the Kingdom
  • The CIO is the Best Monitor
  • The CIO can play Angel's Advocate
Let's take a look at each of those and why I think the CIO is the wrong owner of the social media policy.

The CIO Holds the Keys to the Kingdom
This is the same argument we used as kids. Why do I get to make the rules during the neighborhood game of football? Because it's my ball, that's why. Simmons argues thusly:
If an employee accidently unleashes a virus onto the corporate network by using Facebook at work, who do you think will be contacted to resolve the problem? It won't be PR or marketing.
If the virus impacts systems that touch customers or the public does Simmons really think that the CIO will be doing the press conference? Or writing talking points for managers? Or responding to calls from reporters? The CEO won't be asking the CIO what the key message should be. With this logic, imagine all the company's janitor will be in charge of since he unclogs the toilet.

Let's remember, it was the IT geniuses at Amazon who created a system for the company's Kindle product that allowed anyone to photocopy a book, upload it and sell it to people. When the owners of George Orwell's copyrights for 1984 objected to a blatant infringement on their rights, Amazon deleted the offending books from people's Kindle devices without notifying them. Funny, but I didn't see the CIO anywhere near that crisis.

The CIO is the Best Monitor
This is really a derivative of Simmons "my toys, my rules" argument. He writes:
Since most of that content is done on corporate networks, CIOs have access to tools (many of which are probably already in place) to track social media behavior.
Personal use of social media while at work is one part of a social media policy. How the company will use social media to listen to, talk with, connect to, collaborate with and energize employees, customers, stakeholders, investors are critical parts of the policy about which Simmons is silent.

Again, just because you have the tools, doesn't mean you get to make the rules.

The CIO can Play Angel's Advocate
What Simmons argues here is that the CIO can be the grand arbiter of the binary choice of outright ban on social media use or social media free-for-all.
Instead of knee jerk reactions, CIOs can come up with structured yet flexible policy guidelines that allow employees to enjoy the fun of social meda while protecting the company's strategic assets.
So, the computer geeks (or head computer geek, in this case) get to determine how much "fun" I can have at work with social media? This is nowhere NEAR the point of a social media policy. The point of a corporate social media policy is to set the strategy that aligns social media use so that the company can reach its goals. Goals like sell more stuff or deliver better service.

So, who should own the corporate social media policy? My vote is for the head of the PR or Communications function. Great social media use comes from great content and communicators are content creators. The CIO may the Lord of the Hardware, but great content comes not from hardware, but from people.

If the CIO doesn't like that, they can pack up their TCP/IP and go home.

Bill Salvin

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pot, Breasts, Sex and Disaster

Watching the news Tuesday seemed very strange, surreal and jarring. A veritable cornucopia of chaos assaulting my news junkie senses.

Medical marijuana seems like a big story. There are votes scheduled in Los Angeles and several other states to legalize pot for medicinal purposes.
This story ran next to the controversial recommendation from the US Preventive Services Task Force that women under 50 do not need routine mammograms and that breast self-exams are mostly ineffective.

At least if a woman gets breast cancer and lives in the right place, she'll be able to blaze up a doobie to ease the pain.

The Fort Hood shooter is still in the news. Today's stories focused on internal probes being undertaken by the Army and the Department of Defense to figure out how the shooter, a Islamic extremist and Army Psychiatrist "slipped through the cracks." This came on the same day the Army reported that suicides for the year will break last year's terribly sad record.

Note to TV people: Just because both stories have the word "Army" in them doesn't make them linked. Even if they do make your show "flow."

Note to Army and Air Force people: Pull your help wanted ads for psychiatrists for for a while. I'm nowhere near Fort Hood. How tasteless must they appear to those close to that tragedy?

Plenty of Sarah Palin today. She willingly walks into television studios to bathe in the media spotlight while bashing said media for coverage that she claims is unfair, sexist and mean.

She is like the relative who comes over for Thanksgiving and does nothing but bitch about the food you serve. It didn't look like Oprah held a gun to her head.

She chose to do this. She could stop.

My favorite story of the day was that the NFL fined the 84-year old owner of the Tennessee Titans $250K for flipping off the crowd at the Titans game versus the Buffalo Bills. Of course, it was captured on mobile video.

If he owns the team, clearly the family has enough money to keep gramps on his meds. What does he do when he gets bad pudding at the home? What I don't get is that both teams are 3-6 this year. Why was Bud flipping off the Buffalo fans? That the team they root for is as mediocre as the team he owns?

So what does all this mean? All these disparate stories bombarding all of us, all day every day?

I'm not sure, but I would love to hear what people think. How do you set your personal filter for all these crazy stories?

After absorbing all of this, I now understand the romance of thinking the world will end in 2012.

Fake disasters are much easier to deal with than the real ones.

Bill Salvin

Friday, November 13, 2009

No Time to Wait

In life and work, there is often a disconnect between what we should be doing and what we actually do. The signs we see along the way can be conflicting and confusing.

When it comes to communications, moving forward with Social Media policies, plans and strategies is the most important work PR pros need to be doing right now. I saw some statistics the other day that highlight what people are actually doing: moving too slowly into the Social Media world.

I'm not sure they realize the reputational risk they take by waiting.

Here are the numbers that caught my eye during a Communications Executive Council Webinar on Managing Reputation in Online Conversations.
  • 57% of companies have no Social Media policy
  • 71% of companies have no Social Media strategy
  • 79% of companies have no instructions for responding to Social Media posts made by outside parties
A lot of people trumpet the virtues of Social Media from the standpoint of the opportunity it offers and opportunity abounds, to be sure. Those numbers from the CEC show that companies are not only missing the opportunity presented by Social Media, they aren't even doing the minimum work needed to protect their company from the risks inherent in the new environment.

A lot of folks I know describe their companies as risk-averse. Yet, many of those companies have no Social Media policy, strategy or guidelines. How is that averting a risk?

In 2008, people spent 20.5 billion minutes on Facebook. Now, people spend 8 billion minutes on Facebook every day. What took a year in 2008 takes 2.5 days now. That number is staggering.

Both of the CEC panelists (Alex Dudley, VP Public Relations at Time Warner Cable and Nick Caplan, Corporate PR Manager for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe) urged people to just get started. Paraphrasing Dudley's take on things... Everyone is finding their way in this new environment, you can't wait until the path is well-worn before getting started.

Need a Social Media policy? There are plenty of examples online. Social Media Governance has an online database of policies. Need Social Media monitoring software? "In" Seattle News has a list of 12 free Social Media monitoring tools.

Need advice from people who are already engaged in Social Media? Ask. Most likely people will be happy to help.

Uncertainty loves company.

Bill Salvin

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fort Hood, Social Media and the Scary Speed of Today's Crisis Comms

Trying to sort out communications lessons from the tragic shootings at Fort Hood this past Thursday is a challenge. The enormity of the tragedy hasn't fully taken hold.

How does it come to pass that a medical doctor who had pledged to "first do no harm" kills the very men and women who would have willingly given their lives to protect him in combat?

All crises are human events and all journalism is about how events impact people. Despite the terabytes of information that we've been exposed to about the shootings, Journalists still have much to write about the Fort Hood Massacre. Making sense of what was happening through all the noise of early reporting was nearly impossible, but not necessarily all bad.

Salon's Glenn Greenwald blogged about the media orgy of rumors and just plain bad information that came out in the first hours of this story. I'm not sure that there was any more or less bad information during this breaking news than any other story. It's just that social media connected us to it faster and more broadly than in the past.

The clearest lesson came from watching traditional media embrace social media to "improve" breaking news coverage. Yes, Social Media did simply add to the noise at times, but this is how breaking news will work from now on. Communicators have to be ready.

From local media in Killeen, Tex. to International outlets like the New York Times, we had access to so much information that live television seemed slow and one dimensional. I would see something on Twitter and wonder how long it would take CNN to get to the "latest" info. Twitter lists allowed me to follow the story from dozens of sources in one place in real-time.

(If you want a nice primer on Twitter Lists, GHack sums it up for you.)

So what does this mean for communicators who finds themselves in a similar situation? I have a couple of thoughts.

1. Monitor Social Media sites and Twitter Lists
The time is now to put processes or procedures in place for monitoring Social Media sites during a crisis. You don't want to be learning how to search for Tweets or what a trending topic is when chaos is all around. Kevin Duggan at the Strategic Communications Blog has an excellent post on how news organizations and Twitter lists were used in connection to the Fort Hood Shootings. Finding people now that will Tweet about your company, industry or organization will save you time when time is one of your most precious commodities. No need to reinvent the wheel, you can add and expand already established Twitter Lists. Here's a good resource list of tools from Take Me To Your Leader.

2. Know and engage your advocates on Social Media
The key differentiator between the professional communicator and the average Tweep on the street is accuracy. Use your Social networks to your advantage. One bit of accurate info re-Tweeted can go a long way in countering the types of misinformation common to large crises. The Social Media Net will work, but you've got to be ready to use it. The time to establish these networks and begin to engage is now, not when the crisis strikes. (Hat tip to Kari Fluegel of United Space Alliance for helping my thinking on this one.)

3. Be clear with your leadership about their expectations of you and yours of them in a crisis
Your bosses need to know now what you will be doing when the crisis moves everyone to warp speed. You need to know how your bosses will react. Schedule a table-top exercise to walk through process and procedures. Review your crisis communications plans and make adjustments for Social Media's impact on your plans.

4. Set expectations/policies for your employees
Expect your employees to be part of the Social Media mix during a crisis... for good or ill. Heard of Tearah Moore? She is a Fort Hoot Soldier who was Tweeting from the scene. Ms. Moore even snapped a picture of a wounded solider at the hospital, sent it to Twitpic and let the world know the soldier had been "shot in the balls." I captured the screen shot below of her Twitter page during the chaos of Thursday afternoon, right after they announced that an Army Major was the shooter.

Mainstream media found her quickly during the tragedy and started quoting her Tweets. I started to follow her as did hundreds of others. (Her Twitter account is now protected.) She sent a Tweet out late Thursday telling people to stop following her because her Tweets were for her friends. Except she told one of her friends to pass on her phone number to the media. My sense is that she had no idea the tornado she jumped into, or how far or fast it would carry her 140 character missives. Sad. (Paul Carr of Tech Crunch has some sobering perspective on this in his great post.)

There are other lessons to be learned, and I'll write more about them in the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, please feel free to weigh in with your thoughts.

This is an important one for all communicators to get right. While we still have time.

Bill Salvin

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Do Actions Really Speak Louder than Words?

I keep hearing communicators pass this on as sage advice when companies or people deal with a crisis. This irks me because it's only half the story. As a communicator, think about this: if actions DO speak louder than words, then why do you have a job?

This has been rolling around in my head for a while now. I started thinking about it after reading an article on strategic communication that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen wrote for Joint Force Quarterly. It's a good read, and America's senior military leader gets a lot right about how communications can be better. For example, he advocates knowing the context in which your actions will be seen and your messages heard. Bingo! He urges people to listen more so that you understand the population. Exactly. "A message isn't something that you launch downrange." Finally!

A sentence at the end, though makes me think that he misses a key point when it comes to using communications to achieve a mission objective (or a business goal). This is what he writes...
"...what we are after in the end—or should be after—are actions that speak for themselves, that speak for us."
Here's the problem: In the case of Afghanistan, there is a relentless enemy that takes U.S. actions and twists, fabricates and lies to the population about what happened, what it means to them and what the U.S. "really" intends. The Taliban and al Qaeda have a communications arm that puts their messages out to the audiences they want to reach.

It's hard to win a war if you're not on the battlefield, communications or otherwise.

To carry out a business strategy (or mission objective), your operations AND communications have to be aligned to reach the goal. Actions almost never speak for themselves, especially now when media (traditional and social) bombard us with thousands of messages and images daily. (Full disclosure: Besides being a PR/Crisis Guy, I am a Navy Reserve PAO. I have not worked with Admiral Mullen nor had a part in the Joint Force Quarterly article. The views here are my own, not the military's)

So how do actions and communications work together? Think of it as a virtuous circle with each part reinforcing the other.

In a crisis, this circle of actions and communications working together is critical for a successful response.

Meaningful Actions + Lousy Communications = FAIL

Lousy Actions + Meaningful Communications = FAIL

Meaningful Actions + Meaningful Communications = Success

I know Admiral Mullen believes communications matter and that effective communications can take many forms. He has a Facebook page and a Twitter account and posts to both regularly.

So the question for communicators isn't, "Do actions really speak louder than words?" Rather, "Are your organization's actions worthy enough for your communications to make any difference?" You need to answer that question.

There is no better feeling for a PR pro than working with an organization that gets actions and communications right.

We communicators love the smell of key messages in the morning.

Bill Salvin