Saturday, February 6, 2010

Obama to NASA: Mediocrity is an Option

The Obama administrations decision this week to scrap NASA’s plans and programs to return to the moon by 2020 is visionless, wastes money and squanders US leadership in space. In place of a program that has both a destination and a timeline, the government will redirect funds to private companies to develop cutting-edge space technologies. Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, calls this a "bold new initiative." 

Apparently, giving billions of dollars to private companies who've never put a single human in space is what passes for boldness today. 

Orszag is, for some reason, all the rage in Washington, DC. He's 41 years old, and entered the world eight days before Apollo 8 entered lunar orbit in 1968. He knows numbers and has two doctoral degrees, but his knowledge of space is limited. Yet, reporters are agog at Orszag's ability to respond to a question with an actual fact. 

"If you look actually at the bottom of Table S-4, at the very bottom, on page 152, it says 'memorandum of funding for appropriated programs, non-security,' and you see the $447 billion in 2010, and we actually are below that in 2011 at $441 billion."
Peter Orszag, quoted by Dana Milbank, The Washington Post, February 2, 2010

Wow. He did all that under the crushing pressure of a press conference? Let me sit down next to an aroma therapy candle. 

If these reporters want to get all misty at nerds in command of data, go to a Space Shuttle launch and watch the flight controllers work. They're just as nerdy and have way cooler jobs. 

If you want bold, look at the challenge given to NASA in the early 60s: Get a man to the moon and get him home safely. Do it by the end of the decade. It was inspiring. It's what leaders do. 

Apollo 8 is particularly instructive when it comes to judging boldness. The mission had a desitination (lunar orbit) and a timeline (December 1968).  The 400,000 people of the Apollo program had about five months to invent the software, simulations, training protocols, mission rules and contingency plans for that mission. That's how you stimulate the private sector.

I understand the argument the administration is trying to make with its space budget. They're banking on sparking innovation by funding an entreprenurial space industry. But, they are funding these entreprenuers to perform to current requirements like flying astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station. We're already doing that. That's not bold, that's outsourcing.

The weird part about all of this is that NASA's budget is actually increasing. It's a bizarre "do less with more" plan that gives NASA no timeline nor destination. Although, if you have no place to go, who really cares how long it takes you to get there? 

Bill Salvin

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Why Your Website is Still Important & Three Ways to Keep it That Way

The Social Media world buzzed last week with results of a survey of print and Web journalists done by the media relations software firm Cision and Don Bates of George Washington University. What got people's attention was the finding that 89% of journalists use blogs for their online research. Nearly 75% of those surveyed say they use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter in researching stories.

Social Media is important. Got it. Everyone is joining the party. Don't be afraid to get your Tweet on.

But blogs were the second most popular resource for journalists researching stories. What was first? Corporate Websites.

Ninety-six percent (96%) of journalists will go to your Website when doing online research for a story about your company. This is very good news.

It's good news because it means you still can have a big impact on the impression journalists get about your company. How do you take maximum advantage of this?

1. Make sure your site is current
Journalists assume that the information on your site is accurate and will quote from it without asking you if it's current. A crisis is the wrong time to realize that you should have updated your Website. Many companies do a lot of buying and selling of assets. The plant your company sold in Asia last year might still be yours on the Web.

2. Include clear connections to your company's Social Media accounts
We know that journalists monitor Social Media like it's a police scanner, and they can pick up even a small hint of a story. If they see you use Social Media, they are likely to follow or monitor activity there. They'll get information from your Website to be sure; and the links to Social Media accounts can help them get greater perspective and context on a story from sources inside and outside of the company. Yes, this means they might find opposing views on your Social Media sites. But, they'll find that information anyway, and you get points for openness and transparency.

3. Have as much high-quality imagery about your company as possible

Technology has made people hungry for all kinds of images about the stories they see. Media trainers will tell their students to paint a picture with their words. If those words can be supported with great pictures and video, that's a powerful combination. These days of shrinking budgets for journalists and news organizations mean that if you don't provide imagery, the journalists won't come and get it.

A company that does a good job of providing imagery is BP (disclosure: BP is a client, although I don't advise them on their company Website). They have a whole section of their Website for images and graphics. This is important since many of BP's projects are located in inaccessible places. Without these images, journalists would have a harder time telling the story.

Social Media sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others can bring real value to your company. But while you explore what value they can bring, don't ignore the proven value and power of your company's online home.

Bill Salvin

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Three Ways to Get Social Media into Your Crisis Comms Plan

Social Media is here to stay and that means it needs to be part of your crisis communications plans. Lately, I've been spending a lot of time working with clients to help them do just that. I thought I would share three Social Media techniques/ideas that I think will become standard issue during a crisis.

Pre-approved Tweets
Many companies use pre-approved initial releases in crisis communications plan. This works because it allows for quick action that requires very little thinking. Applying the concept to Social Media is a good idea. Not only can it cut response time, but it lets your bosses know the space in which you will operate during a crisis. Here's a version of a pre-approved Tweet:

We know that Twitter has become the first stop for people to get information on breaking news. So that's where your company needs to be in a crisis. A Tweet like this will get you into the information flow early. To stay in the information flow, you should send this Tweet out multiple times. How fast should you do this? Your goal for a first Tweet should be within five minutes of the incident (or notification of the incident). You should send it out every five minutes until you get more information.

Put Your Twitter Feed on Your Home Page
I've seen this on a lot of blogger's sites (mine included), but I've not seen a lot of mainline companies put it to use. In many cases you have to look pretty hard to find a company's Twitter feed. If people have to look hard for information on your site, they'll go somewhere else. We know that journalists monitor social media. A study by George Washington University and the media relations software company Cision shows that 96% of journalists will go to your company's Website when they write a story about you. By having your Twitter feed front and center not only gets you on the reporter's Social Media radar, but gives them a reason to come back to your Website for reliable information.

Another option would be to put a crawl on the top of your Website (much like the cable news sites and many local news stations do). This, again, gets you into the information flow early; it can be automated and is easier to implement than a full dark site. I know there are some companies that will resist the idea of making the crisis front and center on their Website, but in a crisis people are coming because it is front and center. People perceive lack of information as a lack of caring.

Get the Boss on Video, Post it on YouTube
It used to be that you wanted the initial release of the event on the streets in an hour and that included a quote from the CEO or appropriate executive. Now people want to see the CEO or appropriate executive engaged in the crisis. One guideline I saw, but lost the link but it said you need to get the boss on video posted to the Web within three hours of the incident. As with most things in a crisis, the timing will vary. Sooner is better. Toyota is so pathetically late to its sudden acceleration crisis the video is more about damage control than taking charge.

To do the "boss video" well in a crisis, you have to write it into your crisis plan and practice it during a crisis exercise. That means really putting the boss on video and showing him how it looks. That will allow you to work out the logistics. Do you need a crew on-call? Or do you need a Flip Camera? It's your choice, but choose before the crisis hits.

Bottom Line
Social Media is not a fad and it's not just for marketing. Social Media is a collection of new communications tools and platforms that are already in wide use. More than a billion people worldwide use Social Media regularly.

You can have the best crisis comms plan in the world, but if it lacks a Social Media component the world will get its information about your crisis from someone else.

Bill Salvin