Estonia's scary little war with Russia

I usually don’t comment on foreign affairs but I noticed an interesting story in the May 12 edition of The Economist. Estonia managed to tick off the Russian government over the removal of a Soviet war memorial and it appears the Russians launched an attack on their former satellite and now neighbor. A cyber attack that is. The Denial of Service attacks, which apparently originated from Russian government computers soon spread (via the Internet of course) to other Russian language sites who were instructed on how to shut down Estonian internet. To protect the internet for domestic use, Estonian cut off the links to the outside world, which means it lost its ability not only to do business but to communicate about their tiff with their bully of a neighbor. This interesting comment resulted: “We are back to the stone age, telling the world what is going on with phone and fax,” said an Estonian internet expert. Wow, I remember using phone and fax–thought it was more recent than the stone age.

I guess the whole story shows what is going on in the world of information. Estonia, what many of us might consider a backwater country, is terribly dependent on the internet for taking its place in the world. Going back to phone and fax–what I’m afraid some large companies and organizations in the US still depend on too much for communications–is devastating. What is more intriguing and perhaps frightening, is the realization that this kind of activity may be a precursor for the battles of the future–both commercial and military. We depend on the internet for more and more every day. Take it away and we may be in deep trouble.

Memorial Day Thoughts

This won’t be a typical crisisblogger rant. The Memorial Day holiday means more and more to me as I get older. The celebration of our veterans and their contributions is more meaningful as well in part because we have so many fighting on foreign soil right now. Also because my father, who grew up in Holland during World War II and who has written a book on his wartime experiences (The Way It Was), has been sharing his story with many audiences in the last couple of years. Last year he was the featured speaker at a celebration for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice during WWII at his hometown of Opende in the Netherlands. This year, he will be speaking at our community’s main Memorial Day event at the Moles Greenacres Cemetery, a beautiful place and festooned for the occasion with over a thousand veteran flags.

In his talk he will speak directly to the fewer and fewer veterans of that great conflict and personally thank them for what they did to liberate his homeland. I encouraged him to go into the crowd and shake their hands in gratitude.

This is made even more meaningful to me as I have the rare priviledge of working with a WWII vet, a P-38 fighter pilot who was shot down over France after D-Day and spent two months in Buchenwald before being rescued by the Luftwaffe and sent to POW camp. He was one of 168 Allied flyers to be treated as terrorists by Hitler and scheduled for execution. I am writing his story and it is truly amazing.

Our freedoms have been bought at a price–a very high price. This is a wonderful time to reflect on this wonderful world of opportunity, of enterprise, of personal initiative, of freedom of the press, religion and the pursuit of happiness. Pursue it vigorously this weekend, but keep those who have given these blessings to us in your minds and hearts.

Peace.

Sea Diamond passengers keep speaking

One of the most poignant and powerful comments I’ve received since doing this blog landed today. It is from Mary Ann who was a passenger on the Greek cruise ship Sea Diamond. Her comment.

The anger against the companies involved is growing–the only recourse seems the court. Their offers and communications indicated–according to my commenters anyway–that they are far more concerned about protecting themselves financially in court than protecting their reputation. They probably don’t give a darn and maybe are planning for bankruptcy anyway. But this stuff hurts the whole industry as I indicated before.

The most relevant point for crisis communicators is that this story lives on. Months after the event, here I am blogging about it.  People like Mary Ann are using these opportunities to tell their story. Sure, the media is off onto other stories, but their role these days is more to get the conversation started and then move on. It is the conversation that ought to concern companies like Louis Cruise Lines. The online record is created and is built, and there is no involvement in the conversation.

That’s why I was so impressed with Dell the other day. I blogged about their Dell Hell problems and immediately got a comment back from a Dell representative that explained how they are dealing with it. Dell gets it. Louis does not.

Making work like video games

I was raising teen and pre-teen kids when the video game craze first hit. Atari, Mario, all those. The worry among parents was whether or not video games would ruin kids, make them uneducated bums, fat blobby couch potatos who live their lives in imaginary world behind heavy curtains. Well, that picture is true–for some kids. And balance was always necessary. But I remember discussing this at the time with other parents and saying that as much as video games have been embraced by this generation, it will change things forever. Work will be structured like games, we will fight wars with joy sticks and video screens, entertainment will more and more interactive. Trust me, I did say those things.

Well the picture of war being waged with joysticks and screens has certainly become a reality–all the talk these days is about drones, robots, and the like. And entertainment certainly has changed. Games themselves have proven a huge competitor for tv and the movies, but more importantly, it is getting hard to tell what is a game and what is mass entertainment. All the big shows these days have a strong interactive element–and many of the games are getting more filmic.

What about work. This article from the NYT highlights how software designers are designing software to operate like video games.  It’s come slower than warfare and entertainment, but it looks like game-inspired work is here.

What does it mean for crisis managers. Well, I see a link to a previous comment about how many professional communicators continue to have their head in the sand about the blog world, social media and how the Internet has forever changed public information. They think their world still revolves around the major media and what they write in their newspapers or air on local tv. It’s not. “And a child shall lead them…” Actually, a generation of tech savvy, Internet-fed, technophiles shall lead them. And us old foges–we just better figure out how to survive in this new world.

Microsoft the most respected brand–how'd that happen?

I’ve seen several studies in the last couple of years that show that Microsoft (our neighbor here in the Pacific Northwest) is now the most respected brand, or company, or name or whatever. This is truly remarkable and if it is indeed the case, it should be studied by all of us involved in reputation management. Because it was only a few very short years ago that the name was almost universally hated, it had more blog sites attacking it than anyone else, it was always in the news in a most negative fashion. It was accused of being a bully, driving others out of business, doing all kinds of things illegally–mostly related to aggressive business tactics.

I’d like crisisblogger readers to share their thoughts. Here are a few possible explanations:

- Microsoft communications became much more transparent, particularly with their blog policy that enabled thousands of employees to openly blog about the company (this is Robert Scoble’s primary explanation)

- Bill Gates left the CEO position and others, particularly Steve Ballmer became much more visible

- Bill Gates became one of history’s greatest philanthropists

- Their products stopped sucking (I’m writing on a Mac–what do you think I think)

- Their business practices changed, they became less mean and aggressive

- All the lawsuits made them a victim of aggressive prosecutors and lawyers

- press coverage went through the cycle of build up, tear down and now build up again

My opinion? All of these had some minimal impact, the biggest thing that changed was Google. The simple principle is that we all hate a monopoly and we deeply distrust anyone with unchecked power. Power corrupts… Google demonstrated that there was someone to check the power of Microsoft, someone to challenge their market position and even someone who could make them look vulnerable. We love vulnerable.

If this is the case, what does this mean for crisis managers and reputation managers? That the environment you operate in may have more to do with reputation than anything you can do or say. This is critically important because I see lots of evidence everyday that people are not really studying or understanding the reputation environment they operate in. One company that seems to understand this is Toyota. This remarkably successful manufacturing machine has overtaken GM in the US and is overtaking it in the world as the world’s biggest car company. Of course, for profitability they overtook them a long, long time ago. They are nervous as heck about getting to such a strong position. They are not a monopoly for sure, but they have good reason to be fearful of the “ginormous successful global giant” label in this environment. You can see evidence of their thinking all around–promoting US manufacturing plants to the US market–they are sellling their plants more than their cars these days. And branding new lines not with the Toyota name but introducing other names like Scion.

Despite this, I predict a growing “I hate Toyota” movement. It’s just in the air we breathe.

I asked and Dell answered

Well, I have to say I am impressed. This morning I asked the question of crisisblogger readers what you would say to Dell about how to overcome the media’s fascination with calling every problem that Dell faces Dell Hell. A couple of interesting responses, including one directly from Dell talking about how they are dealing with it.

Some companies get it. The conversation online goes on, and when they are involved they participate. Thank you, Dell. Very impressed.

Do Reputations Matter? The Bausch and Lomb story…and Dell

I’ve been pondering lately the question of the real role of reputations in corporate and organizational success. It’s always good to evaluate the basic tenets of your beliefs once in a while. I think the questions emerged while boating through Prince William Sound and wondering how a company who had been so damaged or broken by a disaster of that magnitude could now be so successful and admired–if not in the public eye, then at least in the industry and the financial community.

This story about Bausch & Lomb being sold to a private equity firm helps re-establish my confidence in the idea that reputations do matter. The company had a problem of uncertain origins with their contact solution. The product was recalled but confidence in the company was not maintained during that event. Now, they are selling in part, according to this story to be able to deal with the consequences of their loss of consumer confidence without being under the scrutiny of investors.

And, if you opened up the link above you could not help see the headline and story about “Dell Hell” again. Poor Michael. He could not have realized that his perfectly simple and acceptable last name which seemed to work so well for a corporate giant has now been turned into a nightmare name by the fancy of headline writers–and bloggers. Here’s a good question for crisisblogger readers: how does a company like Dell get rid of the “Dell Hell” appellation when it is clearly so popular with headline writers. I mean it rhymes, it doesn’t take a lot of space, it grabs immediate attention, it says Oh boy, they are in trouble again. How do you get rid of that? Start a campaign that says “Dell is Well”? “Dell Haters go to Hell”? How about the Dell Smell? Or Dell Farewell?

The simple answer for companies like Dell or BP who have their reputations tarnished, fairly or unfairly, is to go about your business, do the best job you can, get better at operations than ever before and time heals all wounds. Again, Exxon may prove that point.  But something tells me that something a little more striking and dramatic needs to take place in order to overcome the frustrating tendency of reporters (including now citizen journalists) to fall into the old routines and traps and keep the negativity going.

False claims abound in the new world of instant notification

One sad outcome of the Virginia Tech tragedy has been the hyper-activity of many of the notification vendors who provide phone or text message services. I have talked to a number of university leaders and all have commented on how they have been inundated with pitches–many of them distasteful in light of the tragic circumstances.

Then you get those who claim they are the first or only or whatever–even by people who know better. Here is an example from an otherwise excellent article about the emergence of mass notifications in crisis communication by Bulldog Reporter writer David Henderson. What university and other communicators need to know is that there is a dizzying array of notification options and providers. What they also need to know is that sending a max 140 character message on a cell phone, or sending a brief phone message, or lighting up a digital sign (all good ideas) will trigger a massive demand for information. It will require continual delivery of messages to those who wish to receive them, it will require a virtual non-stop flow of information on a specially-prepared website, it will require the ability to manage potentially thousands of personal interactions–all with a very stretched and probably distributed leadership and communication team.

There are complete solutions that help you do that. But don’t think that communication end once you triggered the siren. Now the real work begins.

Way beyond the instant news world–too the "hairtrigger world:" don't mess with Rush Limbaugh

Someone defaced Rush Limbaugh’s face on a Baltimore billboard, and a Public Works employee, clearly no fan of Rush’s, made a comment about it doing his heart good. And the media/blogworld was off on a wild frenzy. This story from the Baltimore Sun needs to be posted in the offices of every communication manager in the world. And especially this comment from Lee Rainie of Pew:
“Something can go from zero to a million miles an hour in a couple of clicks,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. “That makes us sort of a hair-trigger world.”

Wow. But more than this–put this in the context of my previous post about top communicators and crisis management experts still having a hard time understanding what has happened in the new information environment–all I can say is please pay attention.

I’ve got to readjust my thinking too. I used to preach and harp on the “Golden Hour.” I think I might have to change it to the Golden Minute.