Online Crisis Communication & The Impact of Social Media

With the continued growth of online mediums, from social media to blogs to forums and search engines, any crisis communications plan that doesn’t address the connected conversations and information online is at a disadvantage.  The degree to which you engage in those channels varies from brand to brand, industry to industry and depends on how interested your customers are in getting information there.  But, at a minimum, online channels should be accounted for.  And, for most brands, specific tactics should be included that address the proliferation of these online mediums among media and consumers.

The following outlines an approach to addressing the needs of a modern organization in managing the interaction that is enabled through and perpetuated by new communications channels and technologies.

Crisis Communication Readiness & Social Media

As a brand, you are a target online.  You can own it, or it will own you.  Gone are the days when a message traveled in a single direction.  The change that social mediums have brought is the ability of the channel to talk back.  For those with a deliberate approach to social media, this is an advantage.  As in traditional communications, a company’s message can’t be heard and important information can’t be shared without a channel to put the message through.  The same rule applies in social mediums.  The opportunity that social media brings is an unfiltered, immediate and direct channel to the public.  A deliberate, dedicated and integrated approach to social media increases a brand’s ability to communicate, manage and mitigate the impact of a crisis on a brand.

A viable brand presence in times of crisis includes:

  • A dedicated presence in social and online media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, company blog)
  • A pre-crisis presence that includes regular content posts and discussions with those who follow, post and engage there
  • An understanding of the most influential channels and individuals relevant to the brand and a way to instantly interact with them about the business of the brand (requiring relationships and understanding before a crisis hits)
  • A listening and monitoring program used to understand the volume, tone and level of engagement in social channels before, during and after a crisis
  • A fully staffed presence that includes a cross section of the organization to speed the information flow
  • An integration plan to address the speed at which information travels online – outlining the roles and responsibilities of each area of the business responsible for addressing a crisis
  • An executive-level understanding of the impact of social channels on the brand and a commitment to integrating social and online media into the brand’s response during a crisis

 

Taking it to the Next Level

For companies with an existing presence in social media, here are a few things to consider in crisis planning:

  • Consistency: The existence of a social presence also creates the expectation that the company will use social channels during a crisis.  The company has an opportunity and obligationto use these channels for the entire discussion about the brand, including during a crisis.
  • Staffing: During times of crisis, the brand should have resources to staff the discussion in these channels, providing regular updates and responses based on approved messaging. Delay in getting a message in the channel should be a result of anything other than the ability to get the message out.
  • Integration: Social media channels should enhance and support dissemination of information that is also happening through traditional channels.
  • Coordination: Close coordination between all channels will make engagement in social media an effective strategy to manage crisis situations. Other areas of the business should understand and be prepared to support the continuous, real-time needs of communicating in social media.

As consumers grow to expect more from the brands they do business with, a deliberate approach to managing the entire brand conversation online is fundamental to a healthy social presence.

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Social Media: It’s Not Just for Marketing, PR or Advertising Anymore

There’s no doubt that social media is one of the more confounding things for marketers in recent memory.  Even the Internet itself wasn’t as disruptive for marketers as the open, connected consumer-controlled conversations of the social Web.  It’s a challenge that most companies will consider and reconsider for the foreseeable future.

One area that is challenging a company’s effectiveness in social media is answering the question, “who owns social media?”  It’s understandable that ownership is causing so much trouble.  On the surface, social media just is another channel.  Traditionally, channels of information flow in one direction – from the brand to people.  How, when and why a message gets out has an established set of rules. And, creating a message and paying for its dissemination is applied to someone’s budget.  If you own the budget, you own the decision about what happens with that budget, the message, the channel and so on along long-established corporate assumptions and expectations.

It’s comfortable to put social media into this structure, and it’s easier to assign it to a specific department to “figure out” or to “handle.”  But, some of those companies that have put social media into a silo are beginning to reconsider that approach.

The truth is, when determining who “owns” social media, you have to ask who “owns” the customer, or the public, or the stakeholder – because social media isn’t a mass medium.  It involves interacting with individuals in aggregate. And, chances are, this type of interaction involves more than just marketing, PR, advertising, IT or yes, even legal.

When you take another step back, you can also view ownership through the lens of the conversation.  Who owns the exchange of an idea, the image, or the feedback loop?  These are all part of the social conversation.  So, in the end, asking who owns the conversation gets more to the point than asking who owns the channel.

Unlike traditional channels, these channels are intended to be two-way mediums.  Programs that aren’t set up to expect, encourage, entice and promote that two-way interaction treat social media like any other traditional channel.  Unlike television, a print ad or even a press release, the content in these channels are intended to be consumed, shared, deconstructed, mashed up and responded to.

These are the inherent characteristics of social mediums that make them unlike other channels.  And, it’s why the outcome of using social media is unlike the outcome of using the traditional channels marketers have used for years.

The dynamic nature of the medium calls for all hands on deck to be able to cultivate and manage the one-to-one, two-way conversation that happens directly with individuals in full view of everyone. The people who just saw the billboard you bought can now talk back – not through the billboard, but through social media, and you’ve missed an opportunity if you’re not able to respond. Your new customer who just spent two hours on the phone with your call center but still can’t install their software is Tweeting at you, and your lack of a response is apparent to all of the others watching the social discourse.  Or, you’re experiencing an outage across the western portion of your service area and your customers are lining up on Facebook demanding updates.

These are all real issues.  And, each of them requires coordination across different parts of the business.  The same parts of the business that may have had trouble working together in the timeframes of traditional mediums driven by newspaper deadlines and insertion dates.  Now, with the real real-time pressures of social channels, it’s more important than ever for everyone to understand their role and know that their job now includes helping the company address and meet the expectations of a connected world with connected customers and connected issues.

(From “Unfollowed: Pentagon Deletes Social Media Office” | Danger Room | Wired.com)

There is a path to integration.  It’s not straight, it’s not easy, and it’s different for every brand.  But, it will become increasingly important to brands who want to engage in these channels beyond what they’ve been able to so far.  If you’re still running your social media presence in silos, it’s likely getting harder to:

1) See and show increasing degrees of measurable results

2) Grow your social communities – breadth, depth and reach

3) Manage the entire conversation about the brand – the good, the bad and the unimaginable

4) Create enough new, compelling content to keep the community engaged and interested enough to share with their friends

I’m going to tackle each of these points in another series of posts that will highlight what an increasing number of companies will experience this year, if they haven’t already – that social media isn’t the realm of one particular group or business area, but takes the entire organization to carry on a fruitful and sustainable conversation.

Twitter Catching Facebook in Total Actively Engaged Audience, and Other Observations

The nice people at DigitalSurgeons.com put out an infographic back in October showing a comparison of Twitter and Facebook use (and it was just called to my attention).  With the holidays upon us and the number of people helping their friends and cousins sign up for Facebook, I wanted to focus on some of these numbers as they stand today, or as they were at the beginning of this quarter.  The graphic shows some interesting things about use of these platforms.

The fact is, while these two platforms are the dominant players when we look at social media, they are still relatively new, and the way people use them, how they use them, why they use them and where they use them continues to evolve.  Here are a few of my take-aways:

1)    I swear I saw a stat over the past year or so that said 80 percent of people update their Twitter accounts via mobile.  So, generally, the mobile numbers, while still significant, seem a little low to me.  And, with the continued climb in smart phone adoption, we’re likely to see these numbers climb.

2)   
In the “Brand followers will purchase that specific brand” category.  I wonder if there isn’t an element of “have purchased that specific brand” and what are the motivations for following that brand on Facebook.  It would be interesting to see a break-out on the percentages.  I wonder if part of that category (although small) is a result of people turning to social media for customer service questions.  As more companies integrate customer service into these channels, those numbers will likely climb.

3)  And, most interesting to me, when you look at the “Update their status every day” category, while Facebook has more users, there are almost as many people who are active on Twitter everyday as there are on Facebook. (55 MM for Twitter, 60 MM for Facebook) This is balanced, however with the “Login everyday” category where Facebook as 205 MM daily logins vs Twitter’s 29 MM.  The argument to all of this is that people use the platforms differently.  But, do the numbers mean that Twitter is a more active channel and Facebook is a more passive one?  If so, does that impact your marketing approach?

Now that we’re all gathering for the holidays, we’ll start to see these numbers climb again.  Anything else pop out at you in the numbers? Anything I missed?

Disclaimer: I’m not a statistician. And, I wasn’t a math major, so feel free to check my numbers.



Mobilisms Labs: Chevy @ SXSW 2010 – Location-based Engagement

SXSWLogo

This past spring we worked with our client Chevrolet to re-envision the concept of a sponsorship.  In a world with multi-million-dollar stadium naming rights, athlete shoe endorsements and primetime television buys, Chevy wanted to bring something different to the SXSW experience.  And, it started there – with an experience.  That theme guided every decision and ran through every program tactic at the conference.  It also influenced how Chevy experimented with technology – which the brand recognized as an opportunity to surprise and engage the tech-savvy and trend-savvy crowd that congregates at SXSW.

GowallaJoshYouTubeGrab

The mobile execution focused on using those technologies to create an experience or to enable or enhance one.  Most of the technologies we used then are quickly becoming mainstream.  From the use of QR codes to make a connection to mobile information, to location-based services that can engage and give the brand an opportunity to interact with people.

Chevy’s SXSW Gowalla Experiment
One of the technologies we used last year isGowalla. The goal for the Gowalla program, and much of Chevrolet’s presence there, was to bring something to the attendee experience that wouldn’t be there otherwise.  To experiment with a “what-if” attitude that brought forward new technologies and new ways to engage to let the community decide what they liked, what they didn’t and how to improve it.

Airport Pop-up

The Chevrolet Gowalla program included the following elements.

  • A welcome message when passengers arrived and checked in at the Austin airport.
  • A special offer for a select few who checked in, offering them a free ride to their hotel in an awaiting Chevrolet.
  • Specific location markers in the game for the Chevy Volt Recharge Lounge and the Chevy Ride & Drive spot.
  • A unique item that could be found in the game and redeemed for a Hot Wheels Camaro or Corvette at the Chevy Volt Recharge Lounge in the convention center.
  • A Chevy Walking Trip of select Austin landmarks that show Austin’s unique culture, which upon completion of the trip was also redeemable for a Hot Wheels car at the Chevy Volt Recharge Lounge.

What we Learned

Since this was a first for all of us, there were a lot of unknowns when we began the program.  And I can say that we’ve just scratched the surface on the implications of these technologies for brands.

  • We showed that a big brand can integrate into consumers’ lives in a relevant way
    • We didn’t force users to embrace the technology, instead we created an experience by plugging into technologies that the community was already using
  • We were able to create something fun for users to do (free rides from the airport, downtown walking tour, collecting items) which made it an experience, rather than just a message
  • We learned that these applications can drive people from one location to another with a specific call to action (offering a redeemableitem at one location for completing the walking trip or finding a game item at another location)
  • Word of mouth helped spread news of the program organically, supplementing blog posts about the program on SXSW.com
  • We mapped anonline/mobile experience to an offline experience with a genuine pay-off for the participant

In the end, we were able to learn about the opportunities these platforms hold for brands and their value in extending a mobile, online experience offline where a transaction can take place.  We will take these learnings into account as we plan and build next year’s SXSW location-based experience.

GowallaCatchAChevy

By the numbers

In all, we learned a lot from the program, and it generally reflected well on the brand.  Some of the hard metrics include:

  • Several hundred people saw the Chevy welcome message when they checked in at the airport
  • 40+ people completed the downtown walking trip – putting it among the top most-completed trips on Gowalla at the time
  • Close to 75 Hot Wheels cars were redeemed at the Volt Recharge Lounge
  • 730 check-ins by446 people at the Volt Recharge Lounge – second most check-ins behind the SXSW badge pick-up location

While the numbers in aggregate tell one story, the overall message is that a brand can use these channels to engage in a way that people appreciate.  With more access, greater integration and new offers, these numbers will rise.

GowallaWalkingTour

Conclusion
Location provides a third dimension to social media that will continue to heat up over the next several months.  In that time, we’ll also see a huge push by the wireless industry to increase the speed and ubiquity of their networks.  This will bring more access at greater speeds over phones that continue to become the center of a consumer’s lifestyle.  The GPS capabilities of these phones that will fuel the mobile-social firestorm will also likely go through a firestorm of their own for security and privacy reasons.  But through it all these mobile applications will continue to be the bridge between online and offline social interactions – both for individual consumers and the brands that are trying to reach them.

(Originally posted on Mobilisms.com)

What we’ve got here is … failure to communicate

I recently spoke at the Location-based Marketing Summit.  If there’s one area where everyone is polishing their crystal balls, it’s in the future of location.  And, inevitably, the discussion turned to monetization.  As you can imagine, the first source for monetization that began to echo through the conference was advertising.  As I pointed out when I spoke, I like a paycheck as much as the next guy, but I wish there was a little more delay before we start to see an advertising discussion start around new platforms.  A little more time to let the concept breathe, and more thought put into how to use the platform for true, rather than artificial engagement. What I’m seeing, whether it’s at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference, or at the Location-based Marketing Summit is a conversation that is starting to be dominated with an advertising voice – whether that’s from ad networks, technology providers or agencies and brands themselves.  It’s becoming predictable that, before the conversation begins about how people will actually use the new medium, how the platform will grow a community and what role the technology means in the greater context, someone in the back of the room stands up  and asks about the ad creative dimensions. I was reminded of this by the news/rumor that Twitter will begin to push ads into a users Twitter stream.  Twitter has a couple of years on the location platforms, but it’s still at a critical point in its evolution.  Is it that pushing ads into the experience is the only way to help get to its monetization goals, or is it a lack of creativity – on Twitter’s part or the part of the brand and their agencies – that other alternatives haven’t been explored?  Like anything, if you try to force it into the experience, the community will react negatively.  But, the last two offerings I’ve seen from Twitter that point to a monetization effort have been (paid) promoted Tweets and now potentially ads in the Twitter stream.  I think there needs to be more innovation on the part of the platform to find new and interesting ways to build an experience, rather than defaulting to advertising as a go-to strategy.  Admittedly, it’s difficult for me to give Twitter too much of a hard time for this.  I’m not the one sitting across the table having to justify my existence with investors, and they now face a similar challenge as Facebook with a platform that’s interwoven into the fabric of the social media experience.  I just hope that more opportunities for innovation and experimentation can lead the conversation and be given as much credence as monetization through advertising.

(There are any number of holes in this, so if you feel like weighing in, make sure to let me have it in the comments.)

UPDATE: In the spirit of fairness, here is an account from AdAge of Twitter in-stream ads as told by a user who has them.

The State of Location-based Services and Marketing

Location-based services (LBS), or geolocation applications, or “the creepy tech that lets everyone know where you are” is so new that there’s still little fighting over acronyms or adjectives to describe the category.

In reality, a fraction of people who have technologies that enable LBS even know they have it, and an even smaller fraction of those actually use it, and an even smaller fraction of that set use it actively.  So, for the three of you who are actively using these technologies (and I know where you are), you don’t have to read any further.  You get it.  You understand, or like the rest of us trying to understand, the implications that LBS will have on the social dynamic. With this post, I’ll try to put a stake in the ground and mark where we are in the adoption, proliferation and understanding of LBS and its potential.  Because, it’s early.  Really early.  But, it’s one that will continue to grow and change many of the tenants of social interaction and online/offline integration.

Location: A Brief History & Technology
Here’s my best attempt at a brief history of location and its technology that you’ll have to fact-check me on …. Location became relevant approximately 10 billion years ago when the earth was created and there became a locale to attach location.  Fast forward about 9.999 billion years (give or take a 9) and people are roaming the earth in search other people and places.  Discovering new continents, finding lost cities, creating beer trips in college towns.  The point is that location has always been relevant – whether you’re searching for the new world, or the closest World Market, location is important.  And, the technologies used to map and define location have become and continue to become more accurate and integrated into the other technologies we use every day.  Just as the use of these technologies will continue to evolve, so will the applications that sit on top of it.  Until recently, the technologies that power location weren’t refined, and the networks that they ran over weren’t dialed in enough to make the experience a good one.  So, to understand the proliferation of LBS, and anything that’s built on technology, you have to understand where we are in the evolution of the underlying technology.  While there are still pieces to fall into place (WiFi, other broadband technologies, etc.), the technology foundation LBS rides across and gives the consumer a good experience is now in place, and improving – which will facilitate broader adoption.

Availability Doesn’t Mean Adoption
With a strong technology foundation and a good user experience, LBS is ready to take off.  Wrong.  Just because the technologies are available, doesn’t mean people will begin to use them.  With this category, I’d say there’s almost an inverse correlation between availability and adoption.  LBS hit at the core of many of the fears people have about the Internet, generally, and cell phones specifically.  There will exist for a while a creep factor when it comes to letting people know where you are at any given time.  The fact that our phones can share that information is cause for concern for many.  But, the one thing that LBS has going for it is the great equalizer, Facebook.  Or, as I call it “the gateway drug to social media.”  With the addition of Facebook Places, that platform alone will accelerate the adoption of location-based features.  The more your friends share their location with you, the more you’re aware of and likely to share your location with them.  Pretty soon (in about 18 – 24 mos) we’ll see not only a proliferation of brands using even more location-based applications, but more consumers sharing their location.  And, it’s all going according to plan.  Technology — Availability — Propagation Across Social Set — Adoption

Location: It’s the Journey, Not the Destination
Or at least, location is only part of it.  It’s what location enables, and to paraphrase Gowalla’s Josh Williams, “It’s what happens AFTER people check in that’s going to be interesting.”  As we’ve seen with Twitter and now Facebook, location is quickly becoming a commodity.  For all the talk of “checking in,” it’s equal parts location and experience.  This is where the real value of location becomes apparent.  Whether checking in is a trigger for your friends to find you, or it’s an opportunity for the restaurant to enhance your experience, what happens because you’ve identified your location is the future of these technologies and where marketers have an opportunity.

Enter: Marketer – Stage Right
I’ve often said that location is the third dimension of social media, and that it’s one of the few platforms that get better when marketers are involved.  When done right, brands and marketers can bring greater relevance to not only LBS, but also to the locations themselves.  Part of the draw of these platforms is the element of surprise that’s possible through them.  Getting a benefit for being a loyal customer just got a lot more real.  At least, the opportunity for it to become more real and personal just got easier.  The challenge for marketers is to use these platforms in a way that’s not intrusive and to bring a real value to them.  I have a hard time when I see some brands trying to offer the same benefit they push through the Sunday circular in their location-based programs.  Ten percent off a car wash after your third check in doesn’t hit the mark for me.  Initially people may be intrigued by the function of checking in and seeing something, anything, from the business, but as we’ve see with other social channels, expectations advance faster than marketers can adapt to those expectations.  It’s best to try to stay ahead of that dilemma by starting from a place of value.  And follow the hallmarks of successful location-based programs – compelling, convenient, easy.

Exit: Marketer – Stage Left
As important as it is to be part of the location-based discussion about your location, it’s equally important to understand that these channels are best directed by the consumers who use them, not the brand.  As with any new technology that gets a brand closer to its consumers, there’s a delicate balance between helpful and relevant and forced and annoying.  The non-benefit I mentioned earlier is one example.  If you’re not able to offer something of value through your location-based program, look for other ways to be present.  Actively manage your location, engage with the people who frequent the location (engage, not harass with offers), find ways to show that you’re in tune with, value and understand these new channels.  In addition, find ways to incorporate other platforms and emerging technologies together to create a unique experience.  But, above all, be a human and bring value to the relationship.  If you’re not delivering value, wait until you can, but don’t wait too long.

Where we Are; Where We’re Going
We’ve established the relevance of location and that it’s inherent to our lives as human beings.  We’ve set the expectation that there’s a technology foundation from which to build, and building we are. We’ve established that, while location is important, it’s only part of the puzzle.  And, as location becomes a commodity, it’s the experience that’s enabled through location that matters.  We’ve also unraveled the adoption mystery and how that plays into our long-term strategy.  And, finally, we have a better understanding of the role of the brand in these channels and how to add value.  So, what’s next.  Since I’ve taken far too much room to lay this all out, I’ll save that for the next post, where I’ll draw insight from the Location-based Marketing Summit and the discussions I’ll have at that event.  I’ll meet with some of the platform providers themselves as well as some of the brands and marketers who are exploring and using these new tools.  I’ll package all of that up and offer a view of where the group thinks LBS is going.  I’ll finish with this.

I’m speaking at the Location-based Marketing Summit about a category of technologies that haven’t even hatched yet and with the experience of about a year actually developing these types of programs.  But, I view LBS like I did Twitter and similar platforms early in their development and adoption.  And, I encourage clients in the same way – experiment now to find the relevance for you as a consumer and for your brand’s consumers.  Because these tools are so new, as a brand, there’s no reason why you should have already explored the options that LBS holds for you and the connections they’ll enable with your consumers.  You have time to justify it and make good decisions based on how consumers engage with your brand.  But, as an individual, there’s no reason why you can’t create a trip on Gowalla, download SVNGR and complete some tasks or begin to attach location to your Tweets to understand how the technologies work, what’s possible and what’s worth exploring more.  Discover, learn and activate.  Now is the time.

(Previously published on Mobilisms.com on 9/28/10)