Category Archives: communication

Just social media crises, or crisis for social media as well?


twitter logo map 09

twitter logo map 09 (Photo credit: The Next Web)

If you are a student of social media, its pleasure and pain points – by now you would be well aware of the ‘attacks’ or ‘hacks’ on the twitter accounts of prominent brands like @burgerking and @jeep.

You can read about the @bugerking part of the story here http://mashable.com/2013/02/18/burger-king-twitter-account-hacked  at @mashable

Online attacks of such nature are not completely surprising, given that the cyber world is getting to another place for brands to fight and fist it out. This is a world where every countries are resorting to cyber-warefare, so why blame the poor brands and their online army who try out the best to bring down competition. (Fact is, such attacks on brand online properties will only see an upswing now on).

Yet, what came as a huge surprise was 140-character powerhouse twitters statement after these attacks on the likes of @burgerking and @jeep.

In a statement published at twitter’s blog, users of the platform were advised on how to keep their passwords secure, and the kind of computers one should etc. You may see the statement here http://blog.twitter.com/2013/02/a-friendly-reminder-about-password.html

Given the un-swerving loyalty of millions of users and thousands of brands across the globe to its platform, @twitter could have done well in also stating facts about how such attacks happen at the first place, and more than that, what preventive measures it plans to have in place to protect its users.

In addressing any crisis, it’s useful to caution the stakeholders and help such situations/incidents from recurring.

But, another cardinal rule in crisis management/communication is to be forthcoming & clear as to what went wrong in specific cases – a simple statement of facts and events leading to a crisis, and added to that assurance that incidents of similar nature will not recur.

It’s about being loud and clear that everything needed to protect the ‘information integrity’ of users will be done.

As of this moment, @twitter has missed the opportunity to win this battle post the hack of accounts like @burgerking and @jeep

Brands are all geared to watch for and handle social media crisis, and battle them. But the question also is what if social media platforms themselves become crisis-points?

Of terror, color and communication!


Hyderabad, Charminar

Hyderabad, Charminar (Photo credit: Arian Zwegers)

Yet again, there has been a terror strike in the capital city of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh – Hyderabad.

As always, the ruling government and its leaders have in their ‘usual’ language condemned the act of terror with the usual vocabulary meant for such occasions – a dastardly act, an act of terror, an attack on the Indian democracy etc.

For those who observe such incidents – now happening with an alarming regularity  in India – it’s a sad and tragic sense of deja vu, that comes to haunt this country and its people again, and always.

Terrorism by the extremist elements who are against resolution of their grievances through democratic ways and means, is no less a grave problem that faces a country like India, given its history, and geo-political fit.

But more than that, what may continue to inspire such elements in continuing their thirst for blood and such inhuman acts is not just the actions by those in power.

It is equally inspired (with hesitation, one could use the world emboldened) by the confusion in communication or communication strategy by those who hold power.

The moment the unequivocal message from the ruling class is – we will not tolerate (the words in their truest sense) such acts, by whomsoever doing this – there will be a strong deterrent by the terror outfits – making them think that their ‘jehadi’ acts will not work.

Contrary to that, the communication strategy by the government is being carefully ambiguous – more keen to assuage the feeling of some sections of the society where some of these elements may belong to.

Add  to that, the new tendency of the rulers to use colors to depict the kind of terror – red, blue, green and what not.  Lack of assertiveness and conviction in articulating – with the message “irrespective of who, belonging to where” attack people in the name of religion, had clearly given more courage to such attackers, their supporters, the communities in question, and whoever give those people safe haven.

Terrorism breeds in a climate where the right words – not just verbal condemnation and routine drab statements – are used by the government and state/central administration.

Add to this the coloring attempts based on vote bank convenience – if your terror is of a certain color, then there are a hundred other factors to be seen before the right punishment is meted out…  and you keep making a perennial cocktail in which innocents lose life, and the perpetrators continue to do so at will.

In handling terrorism, and the terror elements, the choice of words matter as much as the deeds, by those holding office.

Here is a simple yet powerful example – post 9/11, President Bush said “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.. we will hunt them down, in whichever corner of the world they may be”.

In contrast, immediately after the attacks yesterday evening in Hyderabad, India, Dr Singh Indian PM said “”The guilty will not go unpunished.”

Its so much different from “the guilty, whomsoever, will be punished quickly.” What plays in the choice of words is not the conviction to act, but what fallout usage of tough words will cause.

To take terror and its roots head on, the country and its administration first need to communicate with power and conviction.

The right actions by all concerned will be a natural fall-out.

Ambiguity in whether to really deal with such acts (color depending) will be a good recipe for empowering rogue elements.

Of papal resignation, PR & Communication!


English: Emblem of Vatican City Italiano: Embl...

English: Emblem of Vatican City Italiano: Emblema della Ciattà del Vaticano Македонски: Амблем на Ватикан {| cellspacing=”0″ style=”min-width:40em; color:#000; background:#ddd; border:1px solid #bbb; margin:.1em;” class=”layouttemplate” | style=”width:1.2em;height:1.2em;padding:.2em” | 20px |link=|center | style=”font-size:.85em; padding:.2em; vertical-align:middle” |This vector image was created with Inkscape. |} Emblem of Vatican City.svg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pope Benedict has expressed his intent to move on, owing to palpable health reasons – and going by the looks of the visuals widely aired by television channels, it appears to be true. 

Late on Monday night, the Vatican has released the text of the Pope’s speech informing a close door meeting of his decision – read it here http://bbc.in/YT31jU
 
Yet, the Vatican authorities, and more-so, the communication advisers at Vatican seem to have missed a golden opportunity in seizing the moment – from a PR and communication angle!
 
Even hours after the news broke, the communications team of Vatican did not come up with a formal statement, may me with a mention of the events that led to the pope’s decision.
 
The highest religious authority of catholic Christians in the world is wanting to move on from his role, and surprisingly, his communications or pr team does not back it up with a statement of facts, and may be a succession plan with a timeline.
 
Even worse, in the news broadcast on BBC news aired this morning, a communications adviser to the pope was seen as saying that “people missed the hints thrown in by the pope in an address a couple of months back” 
 
Communication advisers are meant to simplify the messages and send it to the target audience, and not act as soothsayers or those who just dissect comments – that was the role of external communication pro’s and not the least of a Vatican communications adviser.
 
If people have to read between the line of what Pope’s say time and again, then that would be only a recipe to more confusion and a clear lack of communications authority at the papal seat.
 
It was only a few weeks back that the Pope chose to join the social media bandwagon by coming on to twitter – an acknowledgement of the changing times by none other than himself! http://bit.ly/YT4pDa
 
Yet, the team of communicators at the Vatican left the media, the believers, and people of the world guessing on the ifs and buts.
 
The Vatican’s communications team have proved that they are redundant?!

Community public relations – Managing crisis


Carpet bombing tactical aid

Carpet bombing tactical aid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you are in India, or even elsewhere in the globe, you would have sure heard of Koodamkulam, which sometime back was the epicentre of brewing trouble, with the protests by the local populace snowballing into a mass movement. While what and who is propelling and catalyzing this people aggression (and any such community driven flare up anywhere) are complex questions, the only savior in such occasions can be a very pro-active communication/PR strategy by the authorities, and all PR professionals involved in containing any such ‘citizen movement’.

While the in-situ circumstances can differ from place to place and country to country, there is some amount of standardization in the communication strategy that can be followed with rigor. These are essentially aimed at not muddying the situation in the run up to the final citizen flare-up and also in the course of any such agitation.

  1. Communications committee – This committee shall draw people from all the stakeholders and various interest groups – a judicious blend of experts to with the kind of plant/industry, with equal representation by the locals, who perceive them as the affected community.
  2. Isolate the non-stake holders – Any agitation or public movement gets precipitated and turns rudderless when people who are not connected with the local interests move in to garner some political mileage, and in turn hijack the entire local movement. A prudent strategy would be to keep watch for such vested interests in any public agitation. In handling such agitations, isolating the non-stakeholders by consistent means of ‘direct’ engagement with the locals is the key. The goal must be to earn trust, address the genuine concerns, and get all the fringe elements out of the game.
  3. Form locals committees – It’s never too late to completely involve every bit of the local community, when the situation looks like it might spiral out of hand, even remotely. The authorities and communicators must use every tool in the communications armor to reach out to the locals. Communicate to them that the authorities are willing to address every single concern/fear that may be in the mind of every one, who thinks he or she may be affected. This must be a sustained exercise, with no timelines, and the intent must be to understand what exactly are the perceived fears that loom large in the minds of the people in that area. Those which are well founded must be answered with facts, and those ill founded and planted by miscreants can be quashed to the dustbin.
  4. Unleash a carpet-bombing local PR campaign – This might sound too aggressive – yet, in situations of public agitations, there is no rescue other than to communicate more and more. A crisis in the best time to speak out must be the PR mantra – while the opposite in reality causes incalculable harm to success of any well laid communication strategy. Make use of not just the national media in that place, but make sure every local reach to communicate is made use of – vernacular media, local radio, community radio, billboards, leaflets – just every possible tool to reach door-to-door in the region. Remember – if the fringe can manage a perception that there is a massive opposition to the plant or public amenity, the authorities can plan a turnaround in that perception with a well planned and executed strategy.

This is a broad communication template – a  combination of all these above will make sure that a space is created for a people centric dialog, which would lead to a solution to any citizen agitation.

Earning trust, end of the day, is the result of a sustained PR effort, with a conscience.

Online activism, India et al


Online activist... can you ignore me??

Online activist… can you ignore me??

My country, India, has seen a spur of online activism in the recent few years, thanks to the growing disillusionment of the much touted urban middle class, and a perceived failure of the present country administration on a whole range of issues – from corruption, which has swept the carpet under the polity to law and order – where my sisters do not feel safe to step out late evenings, right at the heart of my national capital.

Some notable examples of recent online activism

  • The movement, India against corruption which sprung into existence thanks to the moral leadership of Anna Hazare, has used online tools in a big way, to spread the message across, gather people, and consolidate views and crowd source protest ideas. On twitter, they have mad e of numerous handles, the primary one being @janlokpal, and successfully built opinions.
  • In the protests against the recent moral assault and subsequent death of Delhi girl Nirbaya,  by a gang of rogues on a moving bus, many groups and individuals used the social media to spread their angst against the establishment and the police, protesting consistent inaction. Some notable handles in this episode were activist @tajinderbagga who was the target of police action, and a girl activist who was arrested for joining the protests.
  • Online activists crowd sourced strong protest against a Gurgaon hotel hosting a singing even of notable Punjabi singer Honey Singh, whose lyrics provoked anger for their lewd views on women, in the light of events after the death of brave girl Nirbhaya.

(just to illustrate a few; twitter handles selective and not exhaustive)

The increasing spread of information through social media, and a large number of concerted online and offline activists spreading information to garner support for any cause that affects the common man is a new trend that is catching up swiftly in India and neighboring countries as well.

The establishment and the stakeholders who are the target of such activism, either out of compliance and deference to the views of people, or out of the fear that a cascading effect of the information on them from online to offline to the houses to the streets, will impact the credibility – are partly giving in to some demands as a result of online activism.

While the measurement of the effects of online activism will be a bit farfetched as of now, the day is not far when social media mavens will also find out means by which the on the ground impact of such efforts can be quantified and the impact measured.

While in India, online activism has only sprung into action only in more recent times, globally, the trend is in place at least for the past decade, and is only increasing/bound to increase by the day as the social media has proven to be a platform for swift dissemination of real time breaking news and events, and in many countries where democracy is nonexistent or in peril, where mobile devices in the hands of the affected, disgruntled and victimized, are the only means by which they make messages go viral – and for the global media to take note.

There’s also a raging debate that’s been going on since a while on whether online activism is really a cause for worry across the globe – questioning the likely effect isolated groups can have on ground realities.  Malcolm Gladwell’s article in The Newyorker of Oct 4, 2010 http://nyr.kr/ap4hO1 stirred a social hornets’ nest, inviting a flurry of responses to the statement “ Social media can’t provide what social change has always required”.

Amongst the many interesting debates as a reply to Gladwells story, Erum Haider from neighboring Pakistan made very relevant and sort of ‘local’ responses to why social activism will make an impact and will stay on, and gain more power if used appropriately, for the right causes too. http://bit.ly/arngfb

With a fair amount of confidence, and the emerging nature of polity and demography in this part of the globe, one can say, with a fair amount of confidence that ‘social activism’ is indeed here to stay, and gain more strength as the clock ticks.

If you are a social media maven, ‘social media activism’ making J must be in your armor as well.

By the way, is it in the things to watch for in 2013 in your trend-watching list?

You can also see a brief history of online activism here http://on.mash.to/qYMYUU  

‘Newsle’ : a great tool for communication professionals!


A conversation with a  friend in the communications fraternity made a mention to me about a Newsle, an innovative news/content aggregation tool on people all over the world!

Newsle… check it out.

Picking up from their bio,  Newsle combs the web continuously, analyzing over 1 million articles each day – every major news article and blog post published online, as well as most minor ones. Newsle’s core technology is its disambiguation algorithm, which determines whether an article mentioning “John Smith” is about the right person.

On sign up using your Linkedin or Facebook id, you get to view all your friends, and network connects – with every mention in the news across the globe about them captured in one nice screen short – with their bio, news coverage with their quotes and views, and their twitstream.

In the crowd of a hundred new tools, I am not sure if there is any similar social space akin to Newsle. There may  be.  Yet, what immediately struck a note is how Newsle can be of immense use as a social and global tracker of people you know, you may work with, and people who you want to track.

Yes, i can hear you saying that’s what you do with Google Alerts, yet this appears to be more convenient, and easy to use – scores over Google Alerts on that.

Here are the quick uses that a communication professional can see in Newsle.

  • Track real-time your client organization and the key people.
  • If you are a PR agent for the rich and famous, you can see what is being said about them in the news across the globe.
  • Track competition and its key people, and figure out what PR opportunities are out there for a grab, and how you must hone your agility and ‘think out of the box.
  • Track journalists of your choice, in your country, region and across the globe – to get a real time feed of the kind of story opportunities, for now and for the future.
  • Newsle also has its own list of top trends (of people) in technology, CEO’s, CXO’s, journalists, and a whole lot of people like that! It could help you in people-spotting, and may be trend-forecasting, if you can cut through the maze!

The above are some hints of how Newsle can make life better, for communication professionals!

Go try it out for yourself!

Social media – Is there a crisis brewing somewhere out there?


#bdi Social Reputation Management Conference N...

#bdi Social Reputation Management Conference NYC March 2010 (Photo credit: ShashiBellamkonda)

Its become sort of fanciful or on the other extreme paranoia to keep chanting about an impending social media crisis, for the organization. To be ready to handle any social media crisis that will dent the reputation is now widely discussed and advised all over.

Yet, sometimes, it is not being prepared to handle of face such an event or online burst that is wanting – rather, it’s the vision or wherewithal to see a cropping up social media crisis for the organization and the ability to act post that, which is an impediment to effective crisis management.

So, what are some of the signs of a social media reputation hit, brewing in out there?!

  • Is there any unusual buzz around your brand (product, service, or people within your team) in the online space? Do you see some strange mentions about any of these, which has not been noticed earlier? This is something which is a pointer that you must take cognizance of the social media buzz, and probe to what may have triggered this. Yes, there is a possibility that this could be positive buzz. But, the cardinal rule in social media reputation management is this – unusual buzz tends to be more inclined on the negative side. A service issue, or a misdemeanor by someone in your global team is more likely to generate a discussion or post, that something good.
  • Has there been an event that has occurred somewhere, where you foresee a lot of buzz? Could be a part failure or lack of retail-end availability of your offering. Or just anything like that. Its imperative that you watch out the social media buzz in that region with alacrity. When you know that there could a negative buzz coming in, its easy to deploy the necessary people and tools, and take up and address queries, and have a social-response hierarchy in place – effectively dousing the negative buzz, before it flames your reputation.
  • Has someone in your senior team, be it even your CEO or someone in the top echelons of the organization erred in the manner in which some issue has been communicated to the media, or even in an one of one interview, which has been quoted out of context, and is beginning to set a negative reputation spiral? Good reputation managers, backed by their real-time experience can see the coming in such situations. In such cases, it’s easy to be prepared with an effective response, and even post it to all media, and in all social destinations, and then also handle individual queries on a case by case basis, as the situation or kind of media demands.

Here are just three illustrations that give the reputation manager or social media commander a feel of what could be coming in, and how it must be handled effectively to ward off an evil strike at the reputation base of the organization.

Logically, these can be extended to more permutations and combinations across geographies and various social destinations to serve as reputation hit forecasts.

Executive leadership, art of communicating, & “Reputation”!


English: President Barack Obama and Vice Presi...

English: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with BP executives in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, June 16, 2010, to discuss the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Pictured, from left, are BP CEO Tony Hayward, BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP General Counsel Rupert Bondy, BP Managing Director Robert Dudley, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Attorney General Eric Holder, Biden, Obama, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a person on the communications learning curve ever, I am a great fan of Steve Farnsworth’s @Steveology blog, and a student alike.

I found this post “3 Things Executives Can Do To Be More Quoted In The News” a very informative one in the context of every top manager/leader being communicators for the organization!

By now, the world of communicators is too familiar with the reputation disaster the erstwhile BP CEO Tony Hayward was, in his now famous (rather infamous) “I’d like my life back” comment to the humongous disaster, the oil spill was.

The cardinal rule for any CEO/CXO who is in the line of sight of the media is to be always “battle ready”. This might indeed sound ominous, yet it’s the closest to reality and the best communications mantra!

Picture this – there could be a call from anywhere in the globe on something which has just been just happened a few minutes ago (hours and day response time are dead and gone forever – another rule to remember!). Any of these calls, if not responded to swiftly, can a long term ‘reputation impact’ on your company and its fortunes.

Add to the events per se that may impact your company, the buzz in the social media universe – someone cooks up a rumor, or goes by sheer hearsay, and tweets or posts a few words that could go viral in minutes, or hours – the ‘reputation’ consequences will impact you and your company too!

One quality that will keep your reputation index in good stead is this – your ability to respond in an appropriate manner to any query from any corner of the world!

The CEO may not have a magic wand to all queries, and it is important to admit and realize that – the best answer when confronted with an uncomfortable or ill-informed query is very simple – give me a while and we will come to you with the facts!

What happens in real-life is, on many such occasions, just the opposite – out of a quest to close the issue, and under pressure of the situation, the response is wee bit casual.

This is a perfect recipe for inviting negative media and negative soc-med, and  you are possibly and un-alterably messing up an already fluid situation.

If you think that an expert coaching intervention is needed to handle such events with the media, do ask your board or your organization, and tell them that it is a reputation imperative. Most organizations tend to have the belief that the CEO spokesperson must be suave and possess extra-ordinary skills in communication! This can be a huge advantage but not a pre-requisite at all.

In fact, track some PR crises and how suave spokesperson handled them – you will see that the over-confidence that comes out of being suave and flamboyant brings in a tinge of arrogance – a perfect recipe for many a media disasters!

Facts and truth, yes, nothing but truth – put across in simple language with amazing clarity and miles ahead of a suave and ambiguous, arrogant and just too casual remark.

Many PR careers have been shunted by usage of inappropriate language, unintended it may be – someone somewhere leaks it out when things go out of the hand! The mantra ought to be state the facts and only facts, in a language that can be scrutinized anytime later.

While speed of response is a paramount criterion, it never can be at the cost of language that reflects an unprofessional and casual attitude! Make sure that facts are not colored by style and the tone and tenor of the spoken or written language!

Executive leaders must endeavor to be masters in the art of communicating to the media. And get to being masters one event or crisis at a time – sans making any costly ‘reputation’ screw-ups.

Wild ‘out-sourcing’ of “reputation”, or ‘owned’ engagement?


English: Reputation management graphic that br...

English: Reputation management graphic that breaks down the elements of reputation management and how they fit together. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This might sound banal, but this is a harsh reality that can be re-stated a hundred times – the advent of social media, and its proliferation in our lives, has completely morphed the face of contemporary public relations!

Earlier on, even a couple of years back, we communication professionals worked in our own silos, even cutting off from the ground realities of the organization and the media landscape out there! It was a closed world, and the PR folk determined what can be and must be communicated to the rest of the world – and the tools like media briefings and press conferences came in handy in this one sided communication! Even better, PR enjoyed the luxury of entertaining and enjoying the luxury of selective coverage with ‘cultivated’  media (in my opinion, that’s a huge fail – there is nothing like cultivated media – you only get as much mention as your content-worthiness!)

With the arrival of the social world, those small joys are dead and gone! It’s a democracy of communication both within and outside the organization – the people in your company, and those in the outside world are more informed, and in no time, by the power of social.

You may shy away from conversation; and you may think you do so for the right reasons! Even as you do that, the tools of the social world are making sure that somewhere out there, there are a hundred other voices cooking up a storm in your reputation tea-cup!  If you are not pro-active in informing first, and creating engagement islets with all your stakeholders, then your reputation management is being unwittingly outsourced by you to the entire world!

If you are in today’s public relations business and doing something akin to the above, you must be crazy. And not that, at stake is your own reputation?! Saner communication professionals will never do that!

Step forward, communicate first and right, and willingly engage…    when you do that, you own the engagement, or if not own, you are well in control of your reputation!

Own the engagement, and never ever outsource reputation management – willingly or unwillingly!

Agility ‘myopia’ – will your social media plan ever help?


Social Media Cafe

Social Media Cafe (Photo credit: Cristiano Betta)

Organizations’ round the world are slowly adopting to the brutal embrace of the social media.  The word brutal might sound crude, yet, that is only to signify the powerful impact the medium has on how contemporary business is done, and how customers across every business are gathering real-time information of your products, services and people!

As a matter of fact, it will not be an exaggeration to say that your customer knows better than you, or your product/service or people, more that you; not just that, the customer gets to know it faster that you.

Once the customer gets to know – by virtue of your brick and mortar touch points – they could be your product performance, your people response, or your service credential, he gets online and shares this knowledge to the world – by a blog, a podcast, a tweet or a face-book post…  any tool that comes in handy to him at the click of a mouse.

Speed or call it ‘agility’, is the mantra. And your organization being ready to embrace the power of social also means that you are willing to engage in conversations real-time, round the clock, and round the year!

Most organizations miss this point – they have a social media plan, yet, the system is steeped in old world bureaucracy – the social team, or the team that is meant to respond real-time is a victim to the rigor of seeking approvals from the higher ups – who are completely myopic to the power of agility in social media. When the need is to swiftly respond, they engage in internal debates on the how and when, and sometimes the tangible benefits/losses and the ‘budgetary’ impact of the actions to be taken.

Little do these agility-myopic people realize that there is a negative spiral out there swallowing the reputation of the organization, one bite a second (or is it faster?!). In this age and world of 24/7 social, your hard-built reputation is at stake, every minute you are embroiled in useless bureaucracy!

Social media is not for the agility myopic – if your organization has a well made social play-book, yet does not have the culture of agility or is not willing to swiftly embrace the ‘agility culture’, then there is one way out – throw the social play book in the dustbin, and get back to business as usual.

May sound rude, yet, that’s the harsh reality – the social space is NOT for those with agility myopia!

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