Something from the sports world caught our eye recently and serves as a great example when using social media statements to mitigate a crisis. 

The Miami Hurricanes have a proud tradition of winning ballgames and competing at the highest level. Sadly, for the program and their fans they have fallen on hard times. This twitter “statement” by Athletic Director Blake James came right after the teams embarrassing 35-3 loss to Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl. Talk about adding fuel to the Crisis Communications fire!  

We get that James was trying to get out ahead of the negative reaction and wanted to empathize with the fans. The main issue? He said NOTHING about what he planned to do. The responses were predictable and pointed. 

A HURRICANE OF REACTIONS AND REPLYS!

College football writer Dan Wolken began things in fine fashion managing to sum up the first part of the problem nicely. The statement just confused people. (Update: A few days later, the coach Mark Richt “resigned”. Rumors are he was under pressure to make staff changes and refused.) 

The rest of the twitter comments are frankly, less polite and really illustrate what we advocate. Apology and empathy are fine, but every crisis communications response should have some “call to action”. WHAT YOU ARE GOING DO ABOUT THIS?

Initially, even something as simple as “we continuing to review the situation and will have more information in the next 24 hours” can work. James does say the ‘process is underway’ but that’s too vague and doesn’t give a time frame as to when there will be action. As you can see, Miami football fans are not shy with their opinions! 

 
CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS 101

Clearly, the prevailing sentiment was about trust, or lack thereof, and that something needed to be DONE! Now, this may be an extreme example and sports fans are the loudest and most fervent of critics but they are also “customers” in a sense, consuming the Universities product.

Another issue, James’ twitter account added nothing else until New Years Eve, just after the new coach was hired. An update may have helped his PR cause.

Crisis Communications is all about proper messaging, disseminating important information, relaying a plan of action and yes, mitigating public backlash. It can (and often times should) begin on social media but those statements had better include some relevant information along with empathy. Otherwise you could find yourself in the midst of a public relations Hurricane.   

For more Media Training Servicesand how we can help you navigate a crisis from first response to follow up clickhere, give us a call 206-900-6579 or send us an email info@Frmediatrain.com 

 

 

 

Five days of silence, then a Post on his page, then an interview on CNN.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg has finally broken his silence and addressed the numerous scandals his company has faced recently, culminating in the Cambridge Analytica data breach. (See our previous post for detailed info on what a rocky six months it has been for the social media giant)

Here’s a clip from CNN last night where Zuckerburg gave his FIRST real (if canned and nervously delivered) apology.

 

Now a Confession- I set up my Facebook account in 2006 to be able to track down the teenage friends of recent victims of crimes, auto accidents or some other peril that was destined to lead our newscasts that night at Channel 4 in Washington, D.C. It was a great tool – you could find most everyone right there on one website and by going through their page learn A LOT about them in a short amount of time. 

Fast forward to today, that data (and more) that I so easily found, is being used in much more manipulative and some would say nefarious ways. Which brings us to baby faced and seemingly innocent looking Mark Zuckerberg — who in his mea culpa opportunity with CNN and others — failed the most basic PR principle when addressing a crisis; respond quickly and apologize. I believe FB’s customers deserved both immediately and perhaps even back in 2015 when they first learned of this breach.

Had I been inside the FB corporate bubble these past five days I would have deployed my best persuasion techniques to encourage the company to be very public and transparent about the problem and the new privacy change fixes that  Zuckerburg so easily put in his Wednesday “post”. 

As many companies have found, United Airlines, Equifax, Chipotle, in a crisis you rarely have the luxury of sitting in silence and waiting for all of the facts – guess what? you’ll never that luxury of knowing all of the facts, that much Zuckerburg even admitted later in the CNN interview.

Waiting merely allows others to quickly fill the void with speculation and brand damaging opinion. As this clip from one of our training sessions shows, we ENCOURAGE speaking up at the first sign of a crisis. Let’s put that fire out before it grows into an inferno! 

The Facebook community is more like a country – 2 billion strong – failing to address a crisis ‘in the moment’ is a failure of leadership. Hiding from crisis as Mr. Zuckerberg has learned makes you part of the problem and damages the public trust you’ve worked so hard to build.

Sound PR practices applied to handling any crisis – that is the solution and is the sign of a true leader. Hey Mark, you helped me with those searches more than a decade ago, give us a call, we’ll return the favor when your next crisis hits. (and we fear, it’s just around the corner)!

If it takes Twitter hashtags (#WheresZuck, #DeleteFacebook) to finally go in front of a camera and make a statement defending your brand in the midst of a growing crisis – you’re doing it wrong.

There’s no argument Facebook is going through the biggest crisis it has ever faced. The allegation that data on 50 million users of the social media network had been taken from the company and used by Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis firm used by the Trump presidential campaign will no doubt lead to massive change in the companies privacy policies (again!) and could also lead to federal regulation. Three states and the FTC have launched investigations in the past few days.

All of this comes on the heels of the “Fake News” revelations late last year and the admission by the internet giant that Russian trolls’ weaponized the platform to cause divisiveness among users and interfere in the 2016 election.

Yet CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, the two very public “faces” of Facebook have remained silent. Only today has word come out that Zuckerberg will make a statement “.. sometime Wednesday”. Axios is reporting that Zuckerberg’s remarks “will aim to rebuild trust.”

Well, guess what Zuck? Too late for that. The prolonged silence exacerbated that damage and made the company look unorganized at best and guilty of hiding something at worst.

This didn’t help either – prompted by numerous media inquiries a Facebook spokesperson released this written statement late Tuesday:

“Mark, Sheryl and their teams are working around the clock to get all the facts and take the appropriate action moving forward, because they understand the seriousness of this issue. The entire company is outraged we were deceived. We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information and will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens”  

Already playing the Blame Game?

According to a CNN report even some top-level executives are frustrated by the lack of transparency and accountability from Zuckerberg and Sandberg.

“These things have so much nuance in them,” a top-level executive said. “Every answer has tradeoffs.” The public rarely gets insight into the behind-the-scenes conversations at Facebook, even when the decisions made during them could impact a significant portion of the population. “We want to tell the public more…tell the hard story more. If we don’t tell it, people write it for us,” he added.

THAT IS EXACTLY what we tell our clients here at FRMediaTrain. “If you’re not telling your story, you can bet someone else is!”

Axios, which first reported Zuckerberg’s “plan”, said the CEO wanted to say something meaningful rather than pushing out a comment quickly. At first glance and thought understandable, but definitely the WRONG strategy. What is prevening you from doing both (meaningful and quick) ?? According to the report Zuckerberg has been speaking to engineers about how to make its website more secure, and make people feel their data is safe. Sorry Mark, that horse has left the barn.

It will be interesting to hear his comments later today – especially considering Facebook has been under   pressure to explain why they didn’t notify users that its data been used in a way that violated its terms of service — since it learned of the violation in 2015!

 

There’s little debate, we have a runaway winner for the title of Greatest Corporate PR Disaster of 2017! In a year full of them, Uber, Wells Fargo, Pepsi, Volkswagen – as bungled as they all were – they all take a back (row) seat to United Airlines. Social media and news outlets everywhere lit up with outrage and brand damaging chatter when video of a passenger being dragged off a plane by police went viral. The clip here from CNN briefly sums up what happened —-> After that video surfaced the internet jumped on what one crisis consultant called the “Hindenburg of airline customer service episodes”. It got exponentially worse as United committed one communication gaffe after another. Here are just a FEW of the self-inflicted wounds caused by their poor media/PR decisions   

A lack of empathy – even if your brand isn’t at fault, apologize or at least show empathy or frustration for the bad customer experience. United did neither on any of its channels to mitigate the crisis by displaying just an ounce of caring! Twitter would have been a good place to start- that’s where the customer outrage went viral! 

Played the victim blame game – In their first failed attempt at crisis control United released a statement meekly apologizing to passengers for having to “Re-Accommodate” some of them.  The internet went berserk! As in  ” #UnitedAirlines, We put the hospital in hospitality! “

 

 

 

 

They Doubled Down – Then a day later, in an attempt to assuage employees, United CEO Oscar Munoz sent an in-house letter (which was leaked quickly) calling the man who was dragged off the plane “belligerent” and “disruptive” in an attempt to actually justify their actions. Not only did they double down by blaming the customer, even if it is someone else’s fault – pointing the finger is never a good look. The internet crushed United again! The PR damage done to the brand will stick around for some time over a mere $800 (or what could have been slightly more) voucher. How much is your brand’s reputation worth?

 

No customer focus, no action taken – never make it about yourself (remember the BP CEO after the spill in the Gulf of Mexico who wanted “his life back”?) The first 24 hours of any crisis are the most critical for any brand and the most important steps and tactics are your first words or tweets.  Take responsibility, own it, apologize and provide information on your actions going forward to prevent such an incident from occurring again. You can even invite the public to hold you to those promises. 

United, on their third try, three days later, finally got it right. When you are in a hole, STOP DIGGING! 

 

 

In a crisis situation, we say it’s best follow your values, not your instincts – that approach will help you navigate your brand out of turbulent skies! It also pays to have professional help (*** Shameless plug, thanks United! ***) we’ve seen this kind of PR nightmare happen too many times, why wait until disaster unexpectedly strikes?

Let FRMediaTrain help, we GUARANTEE you’ll be more prepared than the “Friendly Skies” were!

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At FRMediaTrain we’ve spent more than 40 years as reporters, firing questions at all types of people- athletes, politicians, criminals, public servants, lawyers and regular folks on the street.

We know exactly what to ask to get the answers we want from our unsuspecting and sometimes uncooperative, interviewees. HOWEVER, those techniques really just boil down to SIX questions (hat tip to Brad Phillips for breaking it down in list form):

  1. A QUESTION YOU DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER TO 
  2. A QUESTION THAT ASKS YOU TO SPECULATE
  3. WE’LL ASK FOR YOUR PERSONAL OPINION
  4. A YES or NO QUESTION
  5. “THIRD PARTY” QUESTIONS
  6. AND REPEATED QUESTIONS … REPEATED!

To learn exactly how to identify and deal with these questions (without a “No Comment”) in a way that won’t come across as evasive, defensive or rude – send us an email – the consultation is free!

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