The role of leaders in crisis communication–Gerard Braud in New Orleans

I had the pleasure of meeting Gerard Braud at the PRSA conference in Detroit. Through Linkedin I came across his Youtube message from New Orleans about the critical role of leaders in making the decisions that can save lives and build or lose trust.

This video goes back to June so it is not new (his new one from New Orleans shows lots of snow with a holiday greeting), but it is very relevant. It was the same thing I was trying to communicate in my session at the PRSA conference–one of the most important roles communicators have today is helping their superiors who will have to make the tough decisions in a crisis to better understand the information environment we live in. Without that understanding, they are doomed to make decisions that in retrospect will look stupid and damaging. They need to know three critical things: they need to communicate NOW, they need to communicate DIRECTLY to all critical audiences (not just the media) and they need to communicate TRANSPARENTLY. If you as a communicator can help them understand those three demands of the instant news/social media world, you will be doing your organization and its leaders a great service.

Bank of America sit-in–in search of a bad guy

A commenter on this blog suggested I weigh in on the protest against Bank of America by laid-off workers from Republic Windows and Doors. From this article from Bloomberg, I see that Pres-elect Obama has weighed in on this as well as Gov Blagovjevich–who suddenly it appears has greater problems than these protesters.

Just a quick take–and it is related to the post about blame. These people are angry about the loss of jobs. I’m angry about this terrible economy. I’m angry about all the suffering going on. I want to blame someone. I really really want to pin this on someone and feel better about not just finding the cause but pinning them on it and then making them suffer. But is Bank of America to blame? Is Republic to blame? Who can be blamed?

The reaction to our sense of frustration and helplessness is to find someone to blame and focus our anger on them. In this case it happens to be Bank of America. It’s effective on the one hand because BofA is big and powerful and they are the ones who pulled the line of credit. But will it be effective? I don’t think so. Everyone knows that the problem is not BofA and their “heartless” lending policies. The problem with this mess is that it is too big for almost anyone to take the blame. Sure, some will blame “Wall Street”–but who the heck is that. Many are blaming Pres. Bush–an all too easy target these days. The very fact that others are so quick to blame the usual suspects makes this mostly a non-issue for BofA. I haven’t studied their response yet but if they are doing anything than expressing sympathy for and empathy with those who are so angry at them they are probably not responding well.

Lessons learned for crisis communicators? If you represent a big and powerful organization, you will get blamed–for something.

Our friends in Britain learning some bad habits from us

This Economist article points out how public discourse seems to be going sideways in Britain–like it has been going ugly here for quite a long time. Here’s a great summary:

a tabloid media that are at once sensationalist and stridently censorious; a reductively adversarial parliament; and a centralised system of government, in which the fault for almost any cock-up can be traced to the top. There is also a creeping, American-style taste for litigation. The result is a political culture dominated and warped by blame.

I’ve talked about it here before but it seems to me that there is a seething cauldron of outrage that threatens to burst out at any moment. As this article points out, it often comes out in an immediate search for perpetrators. If something isn’t the way we want it, someone has to take the fall.

I’m hoping to spend a lot more time researching and contemplating this important topic. In my mind it hints at something seriously wrong with our society–a petulance and unhappiness that is all out of proportion with the wealth, ease, comfort and freedom we enjoy. I’d welcome any of your thoughts, comments, and links to interesting statistics or commentary on this thing I am starting to refer to as “Toxic Talk.”

I’m looking for some culprits of my own. I think part of it is a self-indulgent culture, part an education system that proposes dependence on others rather than self-reliance, part of it is a loss of faith and the idea of meaning and purpose, part of it is a legal system run amuck, part of it is social media in which this toxic talk has become the defining value of an entire sub-culture, and part of it is our media in which in their desperation for audiences and the need to entertain is always looking for someone to place the black hat on. That sentence is way too long–but the point is there may be many reasons.

Share your thoughts. You may not even agree that there is something wrong with today’s public discussions.

Pepsi shows use of social media to manage the outrage

I’ve been talking a lot about outrage lately. How easy it is to trigger and how to deal with it, particularly on the internet and social media world when you accidentally trigger it. Well, Pepsi did with a rather tasteless ad that depicted a lonely calorie committing suicide. The outrage grew and Chris Abraham, a blogger for Ad Age, tweeted and blogged on it, as did many others concerned about the sensitivity to the issue of suicide.

Chris received a response to his tweet from Pepsi. His post “Pepsi Apologized to Me for its Suicide Ads” provides a pretty good case study on how one company is directly involved in the social media and trying to head off the firestorm of outrage that happens all too often.

It’s amazing (perhaps only to old guys like me) how fast things change in this internet and instant news world. If you have any visibility at all, particularly if you are trying to be edgy and creative, you had better be prepared to respond quickly in case you inadvertently trigger the outrage that lies beneath the deceptively placid surface of social media. Responding quickly means a combination of aggressive and personal interaction with those who are outraged, identifying those with a powerful presence who can influence so many others, and then dealing with mainstream media who invariably will jump in once they determine there is enough interest and a story that can be put into their good guy-bad guy framework.

Great post about Twitter as legitimate news

Frankly, I find the “debate” bout whether Twitter can be considered news or not a little funny. If someone tells you something you don’t know, is that news? Is it only news if it turns out to be accurate? Or have we defined news as something that comes from “recognized” ala “mainstream” news sources. Do you have to be a professional journalist before your information can be considered news?

Brendan Hodgson, a PR pro out of Calgary I believe, deals with this question in a thoughtful manner on his blog.

One other point I want to make which I intended to address in my presentation at the Risk and Crisis Communication conference, but ran out of time. I call it the “Democratization of Truth.” The idea is simply this: an individual post, or blog, or tweet, or wiki submission may be horribly wrong. A whole lot of them around a specific event or topic may be wrong. But if enough people from a variety of vantage points, perspectives and points of view contribute, the truth will likely emerge. Sort of like on a bell curve.

And that is how blogging overall can be considered even more trustworthy in some respects than the mainstream media. The filter is not a professional editing team nor a commitment to credibility. The filter is the mass who will not stand for misinformation. Hence, wikipedia can be more accurate than the Encyclopedia Britannica–the power of the volunteer masses.