Monday, December 28, 2009

Five Social Media Crisis Communications Tips

I've spent a lot of the year helping companies incorporate Social Media into their existing crisis communications plans. As with other aspects of Social Media, there is a lot of trial and error. The impact of these new tools on crisis communications is evolving and will continue to evolve into 2010. The New Year no doubt will bring new lessons, but heeding the five tips below will help you be better prepared in 2010.

Build Your Presence Before a Crisis
When I speak to groups about Social Media and Crisis Communications, I tell people that you can't set up your Twitter account when the building's on fire. Passenger train operator Eurostar learned this lesson the hard way this week. Eurostar put off claiming its name on Twitter 2009, opting instead for other Social Media initiatives under the Twitter handle "Little_Break".

Great plan until five Eurostar trains got trapped in the tunnel that runs under the English Channel. More than 2,000 passengers were trapped for the better part of a day. Thousands more had their travel disrupted. The company had to rely on a Twitter account set up for a marketing promotion. That slowed the response and allowed anger to build.

You Won't be First, But You Can be Most Accurate
When USAirways 1549 ditched into the Hudson River, pictures taken by mobile phones were going around the Internet before US Airways knew it had a plane down. The Age of Social Media means you most likely won't be first with information. Your advantage is that you have access to more credible information than the average Tweep on the Street. It is only an advantage, however, if you get that information out.

Employees Need Guidance
During the awful shootings at Fort Hood this year, a soldier sent out dozens of Tweets that contained inaccurate information, and even took a picture of a wounded soldier with her cellphone and posted posted it on TwitPic. As worldwide newsmedia started to follow her on Twitter she became a prime source of misinformation coming from the locked-down base. She gained hundreds of followers that afternoon. And then sent a note out to them to "stop following" her. She said her "Tweets are for (her) friends." She had no idea the whole world could see what she was saying. Make sure your organization's Social Media policy lets employees know what's expected of them. Don't have a Social Media policy? Social Media Governance has an archive of more than 100 company's policies.

You Can't Respond if You Aren't Listening
Monitoring what is being said about your company during a crisis is critical to defend and maintain your reputation. There are plenty of monitoring tools that can help you find out in real-time what is being said about your company. Successful crisis communications in the Social Media age requires 24/7 real-time monitoring. A search for "social media monitoring" on Google will give you all the info you need for monitoring tools, many of which are free.

Don't Forget the Basics
All of the basic crisis communications fundamentals still apply. You have to understand who your audience is; you need to respond rapidly with clear, concise messages demonstrating compassion and competence. Social media is an additional tool for you to use to connect with the people important to you during a crisis, it doesn't change the fundamentals required for success.

What would you add to the list?
These five tips aren't all inclusive, nor will doing all of them guarantee success in a crisis. There are a lot of variables that make for a successful response. What would you add to the list? What's worked for you? What didn't?

The more we all learn from each other, the fewer painful lessons we will have to learn on our own.

Bill Salvin

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays from Signal Bridge Communications

May your messages be clear.
May your media be friendly.
May your Tweets be ReTweeted.
May your crisis be small.

Enjoy the Season!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas, We Threw Away All Your Stuff: A Crisis Comms Holiday Fail Tale

Companies sometimes do dumb things. The smart ones realize that they have made a mistake and then try to make amends.

And then there is builder, developer and property manager JC Hart.

In late October,  Brian Hafer died. That's him with his family in the photo. He lived in an apartment with his wife Krystal Ventro Hafer and the couple's 16-month old daughter. The apartment is in Miamisburg, Ohio (near Dayton) in a community called Austin Springs. Austin Springs is owned by JC Hart.

On December 15, JC Hart had its maintenance people throw away everything left in Ms. Hafer's apartment including pictures of her husband and other irreplaceable things. The apartment had been vacant for more than 45 days and apparently JC Hart had had enough, even though they told Ms. Hafer she could "take all the time she needed."

Krystal took her story where lots of people take their stories these days, to Facebook. It was a way to get support from her friends and friends of friends (I came across this story from my friend, journalist David Waters, who is a friend of Krystal). As Christmas approached, the story began to gather the attention of local television stations. In addition to responding to local media requests, JC Hart posted its statement on Krystal's Facebook page.

Ponder that for a moment. JC Hart posted its statement on the Facebook page of its victim.

The company has its own Facebook Page. The statement is not posted there. The company's homepage is hosted on a Blogspot domain. They didn't post it to their blog. Something like that doesn't happen by accident.

I understand that companies want to defend their actions; I encourage clients to get their message out. But, posting the statement on Ms. Hafer's Facebook page is simply vindictive. JC Hart seems pissed that it's getting negative attention so they lashed out at a widow. Lashed out after they threw out all her stuff because she didn't move out fast enough.

Anyone wondering the appropriate length of time to grieve the loss of a spouse need only consult with the JC Hart version of Schneider from One Day at a Time. 

The statement is an amateur's delight. There's the poor attempt at compassion ("We apologize for the distress this has caused anyone"). Anyone? They don't need to apologize to anyone, they need to apologize to Ms. Hafer.

How about the lame statement of focus (JC Hart is focused on treating all residents with respect). Of course they are, right up until they toss all their stuff in the dumpster.

Finally, the useless boilerplate ("...and takes pride in providing a premier rental community in the Dayton area"). That's great, because I wouldn't want just any landlord to throw away my priceless things. I want the folks at Dayton's premier rental community to do that.

This is the most breathtakingly stupid thing I have ever seen a company do.

JC Hart says  they "stand behind our actions." Whatever.

Maybe that will be of some comfort when Ms. Hafer has to explain to her daughter why there are so few pictures of her father.

Bill Salvin

Monday, December 21, 2009

Eurostar Crisis: Why You Need to Claim Your Name

A great lesson unfolded over the weekend deep under the English Channel where five Eurostar trains were trapped because of some form of malfunction. More than 2,000 people were trapped for as much as 16 hours. Many of those trapped had no food, water or light.

While Eurostar has a Twitter account, its handle is little_break, which is linked to a marketing promotion for the company. According to the Brand Republic Blog, the Twitter handles eurostar and eurostar_uk are not related to the company.  The eurostar handle is based out of Shanghai and the eurostar_uk handle doesn't exist according to Twitter.

People looking for updates on the crisis who weren't familiar with the promotion would have been mystified searching for Eurostar and discovering that it doesn't "exist."

Eurostar's Social Media agency is London-based We Are Social, which has a detailed explanation of the hows and whys of this crisis. I like the openness of their post. It is exactly what an organization should do when they find themselves in a crisis. This post will matter for perspective clients and current clients in case they would doubt the agency's competence since their involvement with Eurostar is widely known.

We Are Social claims they urged Eurostar to claim its name, but that was pushed onto the 2010 to-do list. I can hear a client saying that. Clients always tend to move cautiously; with Social Media even more so.

So what's the takeaway here?

Claim your name!

Do it right now.

Bill Salvin

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Dawn of the Microcast: Journalism's Future Takes Shape

Editor's Note: You can watch This Week in Space at The first show is set to debut Sunday, Dec. 20.

Despite all the doom and gloom that surrounds journalism today there is a bright future and a big part of it could be something I'm calling the "Microcast."

For background, the big three networks brought us broadcasting (think general interest shows like "60 Minutes", The Cosby Show and Lost). Cable brought us narrowcasting (think Bravo's "Inside the Actor's Studio", "Animal Planet" and CNN.)

Now the Web is bringing us microcasting. A show that delivers specific content to an extremely precise audience.

The show I'm talking about is called This Week in Space hosted by veteran journalist Miles O'Brien. O'Brien. The show is supported by the same crew that turned Space Shuttle launch coverage from obligatory cable news live shots that lasted a few minutes to interesting, in-depth, interactive conversations with space experts and spaceflight fans worldwide that lasts for hours.

The audiences for all of the launch casts are small, totaling about 750,000 people over six launches. But during the last launch cast, more than 200,000 people tuned in from 181 countries. By comparison, the lowest-rated evening newscasts from the big three networks (CBS Evening News with Katie Couric) gets about five million viewers a night. But none of those viewers gets to send Katie a message and ask her a question about a story during the show.

This is an exciting and unsettled time in spaceflight... there are only five missions left for the Space Shuttle, a budget-driven decision that effectively grounds the world's most versatile and successful spacecraft. Commercial entrepreneurs seem on the cusp of both space tourism and cargo delivery service to low earth orbit (LEO).

This Week in Space is different than a company putting up a video on its Website or posting a Podcast. These are top-flight independent journalists doing a show on a topic about which they are passionate. O'Brien has decades of coverage under his belt, including a long stint as CNN's space correspondent, Former CNN Senior Science Producer Kate Tobin is the executive producer here. Veteran journalist David Waters serves as producer, correspondent and post-production manager and's managing editor Steven Young rounds out the team.

The same team that brought us innovative launch coverage is further serving the needs of the audience they've cultivated over the last year or so.

Here's why I think this is going to be both successful and important to the future of journalism. Advertisers crave a reliable, predictable audience. The more precise your target audience is, the better able you are to rely on advertising to keep the program streaming across cyberspace.  Our human spaceflight program has always brought amazing benefits. Wouldn't it be awesome if coverage of the final frontier creates a new frontier for journalism?

With all the talk about a government bail out of journalism, this is as refreshing as it was predictable. If you stay out of people's way, they generally create something of value.

And, in the case of This Week in Space, something pretty cool to watch.

Bill Salvin

If you want to contact the This Week in Space team, you can email them at You can also follow them on Twitter at

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tiger's PR Crisis: What He Got Right

My last post, "The Problem With Tiger's Statement" picked on golf's biggest star for his non-statement which, if you read closely enough is actually a lie.
Although I understand there is curiosity, the many false, unfounded and malicious rumors that are currently circulating about my family and me are irresponsible. Tiger Woods, November 29, 2009
The stories circulating weren't so much irresponsible as they were TRUE.

Tiger was trying to use his reputation or "Tigerness" to shame people so that they would feel bad and prevent embarrassing news from coming out. It worked about as well for Tiger as it would for anyone else. As I said in my first post about his problems, the truth will come out.

I understand the strategy of not saying anything. I'm a Navy guy, I understand what it means to batten down the hatches. But there is a huge difference between securing for heavy seas and hiding below deck to let the sea take you whichever way the winds blow. Navigating in a storm takes active engagement. My friends who have stood a bridge watch in heavy seas will enjoy the understatement.

So what did Tiger do right? He (or his people) maintained the comment function on Tiger's Website. As I write this, there are 19,602 comments on the site; many positive, some fiercely negative. This is important because in our participatory age, we all want to be part of a big story; especially one about a celebrity. Tiger gave that opportunity to people. After eight days of horrible PR mistakes, this is one thing Tiger got right.

Besides the fact that the truth will come out, I said that there were two factors that would keep this story alive. People will talk. And, lord have they ever. The Web is alive with the tales Tiger's mistresses. Whether they actually were one of Tiger's mistresses we don't really know. The last thing is that the media will not stop covering this until everything comes out. The problem with Tiger’s strategy is that the people talking now have more credibility than he does. After all, he’s already been caught in a lie.

Tiger's PR crisis is as ordinary as his sin. Those that don't get out in front of the story find themselves at the mercy of the people who do.

Bill Salvin

Photo Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeff McDowell/Released