Willing suspension of disbelief–trying to understand today’s media environment

As I watched the news coverage of the Japan disaster, particularly cable–CNN and FOX, I saw the now very familiar patterns arise. From my experience on being on the inside of major events such as the gulf spill, I know that very little of what is reported can be believed. The media’s job today, as an Economist columnist so economically stated it, is to inflame, not inform. Get audiences or die. Doesn’t matter what is sacrificed to do that–others’ reputations, their own credibility. Pew reports that trust in media is at a two decade low.

I’ve commented here before that there is only one industry with lower trust rating than the oil industry–the media. Congress, not an industry, is below that.

A friend who is not involved in PR or communications commented the other day that looking at the media coverage of Japan, they really don’t know what to believe. And someone deeply involved in the BP spill told me just recently that seeing the media coverage of that event and how little was accurate leads him to conclude that what American broadcast media is saying about Japan simply can’t be believed.

Yet, there is no question of the media’s role in forming public opinion. Despite the widespread use of a variety of channels and voices on the Internet, the mainstream media are still the most potent force in forming public opinion. That’s what I am struggling with. We know the media can’t be believed or trusted in general. Yet, we still do. Drawing on my drama background I see in this a kind of willing suspension of disbelief.

In theatre, or film, this willing suspension is for a good reason. We must accept the conventions of the big flat screen in a dark room in front of us with the full knowledge that the scene has been carefully planned and filmed. We accept the conventions of the proscenium arch and the characters on stage projecting their lines so we can here, despite the portrayal of an intimate conversation. We accept that, because if we can’t accept it, we can’t enter into the story and be entertained.

Why do we so willingly suspend our disbelief in the media? I realize that many do not. Many ( a decreasing number as Pew shows) continue to trust the media as a reliable source of information–except when they are the subject of the story. But any other story, they will accept at face value. I suppose the willingness to suspend disbelief is related to our desire to be entertained. Drama lives on characters in dire circumstances, where good battles evil in life or death struggles. We are entertained by the scariest of movies and stories where our adrenalin levels are raised and brain chemicals set to red alert. Jack Fuller argues that in an information saturated age, the emotional stimulus of entertainment is even more necessary–and the news provides it, without having to pay $20 for a movie ticket. I suppose it does all come down to entertainment. Neil Postman was more right than he could have imagined when he said we were amusing ourselves to death.

The reason for trying to come to grips with this, of course, is what this phenomenon of entertainment posing as news means to us in crisis communication. I am more and more advocating the “you are the broadcaster” strategy in crisis communications. Understand that we are now in a “post media world” in which anyone and everyone can be a broadcaster–that is produce and distribute relevant information to potentially vast audiences. The Internet and digital communication tools make that possible. But as military tactics didn’t change as fast as technology and lines of soldiers side by side marched to their death against machine guns and artillery, so our strategies and practices of crisis communication are not keeping up with technology change.

But, going direct to audiences through all the means available does not mean that the media will have no influence. Certainly, their influence will be affected and even limited by alternative credible sources of information. A point lost on the Japanese government. But, even with direct communication, the media will continue to inflame vs. inform, generally at the expense of those in the middle of a crisis. That reality requires a different approach to “media management” than we are currently seeing.

More thoughts on that later.

 

And

Japan’s disaster and future of nuclear power

I’ve not had much to say about the Japanese disasters of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear radiation releases. One reason is my skepticism about what I was getting from the US media. It seemed to me that they were following such predictable patterns of “blame game,” finding conspiracies of cover-up, and complaining about poor communication from the government and TEPCO officials that I was highly suspect.

Indeed, I talked to a friend who has a son in Japan near Fukushima who said no one there believes the US media because of their unreliability in attempting to create a state of fear. The reserve of the Japanese media was a stark contrast.

While I remain skeptical of the degree of failure of the Japanese in communication, I do now accept the considerable difference in how they have communicated about this  disaster and how we in the US would communicate. The primary driver of that being public expectations and media reactions.

One of the best comparisons of these expectations come from a blog on Financial Times by David Bowen of Bowen Craggs, a UK consultancy that looks at web effectiveness. Bowen compared Japan’s use of websites to communicate about this with BP in the gulf spill: “BP got many things disastrously wrong in the Gulf of Mexico last year, but one thing it managed well was its online response.” He then provides considerable detail about BP’s web activities comparing it to Japan’s.

He notes that despite considerably more use of Internet and mobile devices in Japan, crisis communication is very reserved and focused on media press releases: “…Japanese companies do not regard websites as mainstream communication channels…the press releases are aimed presumably at the press. So the sites are not being used as tools to talk directly to people who might be affected.”

This blogpost by Andy Beaupre does a good job of specifically identifying some of the failings of TEPCO and the Japanese government in communicating about this crisis.

So, now doubt communication failed as much as the reactor’s cooling systems. We can learn much about the differences in the world’s approach to communication by closer study of the Japanese method vs. what those of us in the US expect. I also suspect that many in Japan involved in this event and communicating are shaking their heads in disbelief with the likes of Shepard Smith and Anderson Cooper. They must be asking how many times can you say the sky is falling! the sky is falling! and still be believed?

Perception is reality as we like to say in this business, and the world’s perception now is that nuclear power is too dangerous to deal with. Whether this perception is driven by US media “state of fear” reporting, Japan’s communication failures, or the simple fact that radiation leak occurred as a result of a natural disaster is probably impossible to determine and beside the point. That is something critical for emergency managers and crisis communicators to ponder–long term perception is the ultimate arbiter of success or failure of a response. Perception is created both by communication and the facts on the ground.

The news today is that the gulf spill was caused by a broken pipe. A broken pipe that prevented the blowout preventer from working properly. But it doesn’t matter, does it. The public’s interest has gone elsewhere. They long ago concluded based on the media reports that the spill was caused by evil-intentioned people who were greedy and  negligent and who could give a care less about anyone or anything other than filthy profits. BP’s bad culture created the spill, not some stupid broken pipe. Accidents don’t happen in our world. They are always caused by someone who at heart cares about nothing except themselves or worse, profits.

So the perception of carelessness, conspiratorial cover-up and reckless disregard for safety and the environment that now surrounds TEPCO and the Japanese government is resulting in a backlash against nuclear power. According to a study by ORC International more than half of Americans back a moratorium on new reactors. The Christian Science Monitor similarly reported on the loss of support in America for nuclear power. It also reports on the numerous “near misses” at nuclear facilities–any wonder American’s are fearful? Why the near misses–lax oversight of course. A new BOEMRE is probably coming.
Meanwhile, although the studies show growing support for wind and solar, the oil and gas industry recognizes the impact of American’s distrust of nuclear. Shell’s president of LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) commented about the nuclear incident indicating that it will result in increase demand for LNG.

I had the opportunity to speak to a group of leading communicators in the nuclear industry a couple of years ago and I will again speak to the industry at an upcoming conference in May. My message then was: you have a very good story to tell to a very skeptical and fearful public, but sentiment is shifting and it is important that you tell your story. Now, things have changed. The shift is no longer positive toward nuclear energy. Germany has just sworn off nuclear power and Europe tends to lead US opinion on environmental matters.

There is still a case to be made for nuclear power, particularly as we Americans and this administration in particular are inclined to drill for oil and gas, as long as it is someone else’s backyard. We are in a strange place relating to energy–our demand for it continues to grow and our reliance on energy sucking devices continues to expand. But our distaste for the means of generating that needed energy also grows. We’re not being very rational or realistic. And a big part of the blame for that goes to communicators who have failed in their missions–both Japan and our own nuclear industry at home.

CEOs, crises and the fine art of taking abuse

This post on Financial Times by Michael Skapinker got me thinking again about what happens to CEOs when a reputation crisis hits their company. Skapinker argues in “Real bosses know when to take a beating” that issuing apologies and taking  the abuse of angry customers, creditors or stakeholders is an essential part of the job of a CEO, and one they are usually well compensated for.

I agree, but it the reality is that in most severe reputation crises it is likely the CEO will not survive. Doesn’t really matter how culpable he/she is in the actual circumstances of the event. When public, political and media outrage is high, a price has to be paid it seems and often that price is the position, career and future of the face of the organization.

I was consulting recently with a global firm working on preparing for major crises and we talked about who the spokesperson or spokespersons should be. With an eye to the demise of Tony Hayward, I suggested that they choose carefully. Not just because they want a face on the response that will avoid obvious errors and will represent the company effectively, but that even with a pristine performance, the situation may be such that the person will not survive it. Without meaning to say it, in retrospect I was essentially asking who at the top might be expendable?

It does not take an in-depth analysis of recent reputation crises to look at the toll on CEOs. The press (including now the vast corps of part-time members of the press that used to be known as bloggers and now just participate in social media) have a fascination with the people at the top and that includes the fascination of the crowd yelling “jump!” to the distraught person teetering on the ledge. We seem to somehow find it satisfying to see the rich, famous, powerful knocked from the very pedestals that we helped install them on.

Several articles in the last few years have pointed to the shrinking tenure of CEOs and have demonstrated that one of the most common reasons for their short career at a particular company is due to reputation crises. Perhaps a new role will emerge in the most powerful companies in the world–a sort of pseudo CEO with a title and all the trappings of real control to be served up as a sacrificial lamb so the real managers can get about the business of running the business for the long term.

Stories now challenging conventional wisdom on BP

It is of course far too late to have any real impact on BP’s shattered reputation, but we are starting to see a whole different kind of story emerge about the spill. One that is far more complete, comprehensive, nuanced and–accurate.

The best of all is the story in this issue of New Yorker (yes, the New Yorker.) If I was voting on Pulitzer Prizes I’d award one for this article, in part because it so flagrantly violates the conventional wisdom built by months of media madness and political posturing. I urge you to read it. You have to subscribe to get the whole story, or buy it on the newstand, but here is an abstract.

I’ve also just become aware of a story in PR Week, unfortunately also only available completely by subscription, that focuses on the reputation issues. While I disagree with some of the comments of others, I of course agree with myself and my comments as quoted in this. For example, one commenter talked about the question the media raised about who was in charge, BP or the government. The comment was that the government took a stronger hand once BP’s gaffe’s were made. Not true. The administration (vs. Coast Guard who was initially running the response) initially removed all government agency logos from the website and insisted on calling it BP’s spill, that BP was to clean it up and it was their job to hold their boot on the neck. When the blame thus shifted to the federal government for this kind of “it’s not our problem” response, there was an about face and they then strongly took the position they were in charge. Per ICS and NIMS, they had full authority all along. It was all part of the politics.

But the article overall highlights the sea change in crisis communication brought about by the spill and BP’s (and Unified Command’s) use of digital technology:

Many observers have said digital communications truly came to the forefront as a response tool during this crisis. According to O’Brien’s Response Management, whose PIER (Public Information Emergency Response) system was used by BP to manage daily public affairs operations, the Deepwater Horizon website generated more than 150 million page impressions from April 22 to September. At the height of the crisis, from late May to mid-June, it sustained an average of more than 3 million impressions per day.

More than 60,000 comments were submitted to the Deepwater Horizon website, the Facebook page connected with 40,000 “fans” by mid-August, and the Twitter handle connected with more than 8,500 followers by mid-August during the peak of the response. Baron says five to seven staffers were focused on managing and responding to inquiries.

“BP did raise the bar in crisis communications,” says Chris Gidez, US director of risk management and crisis communication for Hill & Knowlton. “Show me a company that did or invested as much in communications. Its website was incredibly substantive, very interactive, immediate, and dynamic. I don’t know if this is part of their decision process, but clearly they didn’t want any comparisons to the passive response of Exxon Valdez.”

This article in PR Week, actually came out before the Orlando Sentinel blog post which similarly highlighted BP’s level of preparation and their use of technology in helping communicate.

http://ww2.crisisblogger.com/2011/03/media-self-criticism-of-spill-coverage-begins-to-emerge/

Similarly, Financial Times post by David Bowen highlighted the difference between BP’s (and the government’s) communication efforts to the poor performance of the government of Japan in their current disaster. Here’s the lead:

How important is your website in an emergency? The Japanese earthquake has jolted me into looking at this again, though it is something I spent much of last year pondering. BP’s online response to the Gulf of Mexico disaster should make every company rethink the role of its online presence; and quite possibly of its press office too.

I’ve had conversations with others who have gained their impressions about BP through the media and they note BP’s woeful lack of preparation. Bowen quite correctly contradicts that:

BP has long had a ‘dark site’ ready to launch in a crisis. It used it when the Texas City refinery exploded in 2005, and during a number of hurricane emergencies following that. The site is notably robust, and is set up to handle queries and channel them to the right place for response. It was launched after the Deepwater Horizon rig sank, but not under the BP brand: instead it was a shared platform with the US government and other companies. I noticed that after a while the group was shifting emphasis away from it, towards bp.com and other sites it owned.

By the way, Mr. Bowen, the reason for the shift which you astutely noted, is that BP was “disinvited” from the JIC, or government communication function, effectively ending the collaborative communication that has marked all spills since 1990. That “disinvitation” hangs as a cloud over the plans of all companies preparing to respond to spills not certain if in the future the federal government will turn on them, the Responsible Party, or return to the much better path of collaborative response.

Still, it is very heartening to see that finally some recognition is forthcoming, and some challenges to the overwhelming picture that was so incomplete and in many ways so falsely presented about this event.

Long Beach plane crash–anatomy of instant news

I got the call the call just a little before 11 am. It was my brother, just returning from a two week Hawaii cruise along with two other brothers, wives and my mom and dad. He was at Long Beach airport, just getting into the private plane that would carry my family back home to Washington State.

Did you get my email, he asked. No I didn’t. Wait, it just came in. Here is what was on the email:

With calm but shaking voice he explained that as they were boarding their plane at Long Beach, a King Air lost on an engine on takeoff and crashed in a horrific fireball. Then he had to go. That, by the way, is another brother taking a photo to the right of this photo.

I immediately forwarded the email with the image to my family. Geoff, social media guru that he is, immediately went to work tracking the coverage of this in social media, moving into mainstream media. Here’s what he found:

FIRST TWEET? 10:40:veroairlines small plane crash @ long beach airport (klgb)

FIRST MEDIA (radio): KNX1070: Report: Plane crashes and explodes into a fireball at Long Beach Airport

ABC7: #BREAKINGNEWS Fire dept says twin engine aircraft crashed at or near Long Beach Airport. More soon on abc7.com
about 1 hour ago via web (10:40ish)

yankees368 @NYCAviation A twinengine plane crashed at the Long Beach Airport An ABC7 viewer reported seeing a large fireball at the time of the crash.

CNNSoutheast RT @CNNBig22: #CNN: Long Beach, CA fire confirms that 5 people died in plane crash. The plane burst into flames upon impact. #breakingnews
half a minute ago via yoono

(11:30)

FIRST MAJOR NEWS: CNNBig22 #CNN: Long Beach, CA fire confirms that 5 people died in plane crash. The plane burst into flames upon impact. #breakingnews
less than a minute ago via yoono

(11:29)

Conflicting reports on casualties

INLANDNEWS Long Beach plane crash update: 2 are reported dead. Plane was a king-air that exploded into flames on take-off.
17 minutes ago via TweetDeck

DaveAlpert UPDATE: FIVE dead in Long Beach plane crash, KABC-TV reports
18 minutes ago via TweetDeck

Actually.. I just found this helpful tool (beta) from Google: http://www.google.com/#sclient=psy&hl=en&tbo=1&esrch=RTReplay&q=long+beach+plane+crash&aq=f&aqi=&oq=&pbx=1&tbm=mbl:1&tbs=mbl:1&fp=6ee0a7c46b233991

I tweeted but did not have time to do a search. But I did see the first email alert come in from LA Times at 11:15a.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One minute later, at 11:16, Geoff sent me a link to a live video feed from a helicopter showing crews working at the crash site.

http://www.emergencystream.com/video_streams/CA/LA5.html

From Los Angeles I got copied on the first wire report which occurred at 10:56:

Not long after, the story was found on LAtimes.com:

Is there any doubt we live in an instant news world?

 

CNN follows its irresponsible pattern–with Japan earthquake

I feel like I have been picking on CNN lately but they continue to provide such obvious examples of what is truly irresponsible about today’s media. While avoiding much of the wild pundit entertainment of FOX and MSNBC, they instead try to preserve the pose of objective news while vigorously trying to get eyes on their screens. Yesterday’s post highlighted the fact that this kind of coverage isn’t concerned about reality–it’s concerned about the script.

The script calls for someone to be bad, be evil, wear the black hat. Today on CNN, they have found their black hat–the Japanese nuclear industry. Which according to the CNN report is too cozy with the government and has a history of cover-up. Accusing a party involved in a disaster or crisis event of “cover-up” is completely predictable. I challenge you to find a bad news story in the news that doesn’t have an element of accusation about cover-up. So, here it is: CNN’s “expose” of the Japanese nuclear industry’s cover up.

Here is what fries me about this. What evidence is provided? Two “experts” with very official sounding titles. The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. And Citizens Nuclear Information Center. To the reporter’s credit he did let us know that these two official sounding “experts” were both anti-nuclear activists. Now, you would think a story as important as this, with as much at stake in the world given the very frightening nature of what is going on, would require authorities beyond two avowed nuclear opponents.

But this is exactly what is wrong with news. The concern is not about what is fair, honest and truthful. The concern is about stimulating fear, concern, even outrage. Because that is what motivates people to turn their eyes. Yes, I saw the story about “Japan’s past nuclear power coverups” on the CNN site and clicked on the video. And I watched the ad. It worked (even if my interest in the story was a little different.

There will be many who will take full advantage of the worldwide fears today about nuclear risks because of the tragedy in Japan. We can expect that of organizations whose agenda is to limit or end use of nuclear power. We do not and should not expect that exploitation from our major news organizations.

Media self-criticism of spill coverage begins to emerge

This is a most heartening sign. I and a few others have complained vigorously about the media coverage of the spill. One thing I complained about was that there were no voices within the media to say, wait a minute, things aren’t quite what we are saying they are. That seems to be starting to change.

Here’s an outstanding commentary from Mike Thomas of the Orlando Sentinel, referencing a story in the New Yorker (of all places!). I haven’t read the whole story yet since I’m not a subscriber but I’m going to run out and get a copy as soon as I can.

Thomas sums up the situation with remarkably brevity: “Much of what you saw in the media was not reality. It was a scripted show.”

That is a remarkable assessment from a member of today’s journalism cohort. Thomas explains what he means by a “scripted show.”

I recall a spill scientist, frustrated by the sensational reporting, asking me why the media continue to “believe the loudest and most radical voice.”

This was my answer: “In stories like this, we follow a template. We seek villains and doomsday scenarios because they drive the storyline. And so everything BP does is driven by evil intent.  Everything (the federal government) does is to cover up evil. We then create heroes to battle the evil. And as the information begins trickling in that contradicts the storyline, it doesn’t matter. The big tent has folded up and people have lost interest. So there is no accountability.”

Those of you who have read Now is Too Late2: Survival in an Era of Instant News, will recognize the good and evil reference–black hats and white hats. My theory has been that as news entered primetime (with 60 Minutes) it adopted the forms of entertainment that it has replaced. Specifically the dramatic form known as melodrama, with simplified story lines and audience-satisfying defeats of the bad guys. Why? Because this is what works today and the game is attract and hold an audience or go the way of (insert name of any of a thousand or ten thousand media outlets that have died recently).

Those of you who have been reading crisisblogger during the spill know how I feel about Billy Nungesser and Anderson Cooper’s infatuation with him. So I especially like this comment of Thomas:

But there was plenty of drama. CNN fell in love with Billy Nungesser, a colorful Louisiana parish president who lashed out in his Cajun accent at the feds. Oh, how the big-city media love this shtick.

So, with the New Yorker and the likes of Thomas from the Sentinel beginning to become more critical of the news coverage of the spill, I feel vindicated. But that is not the point. The most important point I have tried to make in the oil industry and executive briefings I have had the opportunity of doing in the past few months is to understand the nature of today’s media environment. This kind of analysis will help us understand it better.

Jack Fuller’s book “What is Happening to News” will help even more because he has the credibility of a major media editor (Chicago Tribune). Now, even our Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is bringing the sad state of our media to light–comparing it negatively to Al Jazeera.

For crisis communicators, understanding this environment is the beginning point of effective crisis communication strategy. If you are a big company, particularly one with already low trust ratings–like Big Oil–and something goes terribly wrong on your watch, you WILL have the black hat on. You will NOT get a fair shake. You are the TOOL by which the media will do their job of inflaming public opinion to secure ratings necessary for them to stay alive. So, what do you do about it?

The sad thing is that most crisis communication strategies rely on the tried and untrue method of pushing out press releases in the vain hope of getting their message out and getting fair coverage. That simply is not the game that is played. Yes, you must continue to deal with the media. And you must continue to work with them to try and get truth conveyed. But if you understand that their concern is not “reality” but the “scripted show” then you can deal realistically with how to communicate. And more and more that means identifying in advance those people most important to your future, establishing an on-going conversation with them in advance of anything bad happening, and then when it does happen, tell them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. Your primarily role in dealing with the media in this view, is to monitor, then be quick with corrections and balancing information to bring some reality to their scripted show.

 

Follow up to Chrysler–great blogging

While I was critical of Chrysler’s response to the inadvertent F-bomb tweet, I have to hand it to them for their response to this as seen on their corporate blog. I noted in my first post that my headline suggested they fired the errant tweeter but I quickly changed this assuming (correctly) that since this was an agency employee Chrysler could not fire and likely would not ask the agency to do so.

Here is their blog post by Ed Garsten, which goes to some length to explain their reaction was appropriate given the sensitivities raised by their high profile ad campaign.

A couple of comments–while this is a good response, it shows how important the initial reaction was. Their biggest problem in my mind was saying their account was compromised. Those initial responses and first moments or hours after something like this are so important, but how did you get the information, the perspective, the strategy right when things are still unfolding. We are simply going have to learn how to buy some time without making things worse, I think.

Second comment. Doesn’t this all strike you as a bit of a tempest in a teapot? So someone posted a comment to a wrong account. It happens. I think the real reason this is getting so much attention (headline stories in two of the top public relations blogs/newsletters) is because it highlights the vulnerabilities of reputations in this new era of direct engagement. Black Swans popping up out of the blue. Things going sideways before you can slide the “slide to unlock” button on your smart phone. The priority on speed in response. The challenges of big organizations being nimble enough to nip these things in the bud. Social media policy and how to enforce it. These are the real issues and they are near top of mind for many concerned about reputations. So, while this may be a small thing made big, it is an excellent example of the new challenges and vulnerabilities.

We learned much from Taco Bell’s “thank you for suing us response.” Now, we are learning from Chrysler–both dangers and effective strategies.

Errant Chrysler tweeter fired–overreaction?

I read recently where well over half of companies are now using social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. Clearly social media marketing has gone mainstream. But, this doesn’t come without some challenges. Knowing this, companies and organizations are almost all struggling with social media policies–how should their social media outlets be managed, and what to do when they are mismanaged. And, of course, what do you allow or not allow your employees to do with their own social media sites?

Chrysler ran into a problem with their Twitter account @ChryslerAutos, the official Chrysler Twitter voice. According to this article in PRdaily, a tweet saying that motor city drivers did not know “how to f***king drive.” Chrysler promptly deleted the tweet and issued an apology saying their account was “compromised.”

Hmmm, that kind of response only raises more questions. How compromised? By whom? For what purpose? What is being done to prevent such compromising? And of course, when questions are raised without adequate answers being provided, someone is going to dig into it. According to the above post, it was the bloggers at the autophile site Jalopnik who discovered how the site was compromised. Turns out it was one of the staff of Chrysler’s social media agency who apparently inadvertently tweeted using Chrysler’s official Twitter account instead of his own. Jalopnik reported on this and Chrysler responded by issuing a more detailed explanation on its blog:

“This morning an inappropriate comment was issued from the Chrysler brand Twitter handle, @ChryslerAutos, via our social media agency of record, New Media Strategies (NMS). After further investigation, it was discovered that the statement was issued by an NMS employee, who has since been terminated.”

OK, not a big deal overall but raises some interesting questions overall.

1) Every company using social media should send the PRdaily story around (or this blog if you prefer) to their social media staff including their agency representatives. The risks of this kind of accident happening are considerable, it is easy to understand how it could happen, and this kind of event should raise the awareness of everyone as to how it could happen and the damage it can cause.

2) Chrysler would have been better off being a little more forthcoming in their original apology about it. Being fast is important so it is likely they didn’t have the answer as to how it happened when it was first noticed and they deleted it and tweeted about it. Rather than saying their account was “compromised” which suggests sinister motives and loss of security, they should have said (assuming they didn’t have the facts yet), “we don’t know exactly what happened, but we’re sorry it did and when we find out, we’ll let you know.” Major principle here: if you try to be coy, others will dig. If you would prefer others not dig, don’t be coy, be forthcoming, complete and honest.

3) Chrysler named the agency. I have mixed feelings about this. Sounds to me like they are a little ticked at their agency–understandably. But punishing them this way seems a little harsh. Yet, to not name them might be considered a violation of the above principle of full and open disclosure. Overall I think I would have opted to say “our social media agency” rather than naming them even if it meant others would dig it out. On the other hand, if I was New Media Strategies, I’d be loud about apologizing to Chrysler and saying what they are doing to prevent such things from happening again.

4) Firing the perpetrator. I have a hard time with this one. I do think it is important when trying to enforce social media policies and guidelines to be firm and fast in responding to violations. But an accidental post by a penitent low-level staff person (assuming that is the case) is something that should be apologized for, laughed about it, used as a reminder for everyone else, and perhaps good naturedly dismissed (not the person, the issue). By promptly firing this person there is a strong suggestion that more is going on here than is being mentioned. I don’t know about you, but it kind of makes me want to dig into it to see what is really going on. I don’t have the time, but I’ll bet some bloggers do. The point again is that the harshness of the response suggests a bigger story, and a bigger story unrevealed calls for a Watergate-inspired investigative response.

(PS–I changed the original headline to this post because it is not clear who caused the firing, Chrysler or NMS.)

Response to “will all be contacted?”

In response to William’s question about my last post. He asks: “will each contact be called to tell them the product is defective?” Of course, if you have a hundred customers or twenty, direct contact is practical and obvious. But increasingly companies with many more contacts are finding that they can communicate urgent information directly with them.

For example, most food stores and chains have customer loyalty cards. The inducement to get them is very significant because the price difference for card holders vs. non is pretty great. But when you register you give them your email address. One of them, Fred Meyer in the Northwest, as I recall, used these email address and mail addresses to contact customers who had purchased a specific item that was subject to a recall. With these cards, they know exactly who bought it, when they bought it, and can data mine easily to find out the lot number of the product so they can target very precisely the recall information.

With Facebook and Twitter replacing email for a great many people, in some respects this becomes even easier to get the word out quickly. Because while emails can be forwarded to groups very easily, Facebook and Twitter and most other social media channels are designed specifically to facilitate sharing of information on the network.

So yes, directly, indirectly, through networked contacts, and through taking advantage of the massive amount of data being collected, more and more companies can interact directly with those involved. My point is that they should, as many are, take advantage of these to engage these customers and important contacts in an on-going conversation. Then, when something bad happens, the conversation goes on but with some heightened intensity.