Category Archives: PIER

Social media and crisis communication–emerging trend

I’ve noticed some news stories lately about organizations using blog sites as crisis communications tools as well as other social media tools such as wikis. This is all very interesting and those who happen to be in London and interested in learning more should take advantage of this training session by Phillipe Borremans via Melcrum.

I learned about it via Chuck Wolf of Media Consultants who forwarded this link to conversationblog from Borremans, and this post has some links to examples of using social media tools.

Of course, from my perspective the use of social media tools for crisis communications was begun in 1999 with the development of PIER, the system I created and the company for which I serve as CEO. In many ways, this technology could be viewed as one of the earliest, if not the earliest 2.0 social media technologies. The very reason that Borremans’ recommends blogs (easy posting by non technical communications people) is one of the reasons why so many use PIER not just for crises, but for day to day communication. One of the really cool things about blogs and other social media tools is the high level of interaction–but PIER was created with the idea of push-pull-interactive communication all built into one platform, Using Surveys (quick easy survey forms), adding these to all posts, is one way of increasing the interactivity. The Inquiry Management function was designed way back then as a way of coordinating response to multiple comments and questions when a communicator or small team can be quickly overwhelmed–something blog sites which are designed for the lone blogger to manage–simply can’t do.

While we might reasonably make a claim to have pre-dated and pre-envisioned social media for crisis communications, nevertheless there is much we can and are learning from how these tools work. And what makes them such effective communication applications. I won’t get into announcing vapor ware here but stay tuned. If social media tools and their accessibility helps communicators understand both what is needed in today’s urgent communication world and how it can be done, then that is a great thing–including those of us who have been trying to carry that message for a long time.

John "Pat" Philbin, former FEMA comm chief, now Senior VP at PIER Systems

The news is now out. John “Pat” Philbin, the head of External Affairs for FEMA who took the blame for the FEMA so-called “fake news conference” has a new job. He is now Senior VP for PIER Systems and he reports directly to me, the founder and CEO of PIER.

Here is the press release.

I will simply reiterate what I said in the release. We have known Pat for some time. From my very first post on this topic on this blog, I expressed doubts about the media coverage of the story based on what we knew of Pat. Numerous conversations with him since then confirmed my sense that he exhibited great integrity in accepting responsibility for the mistakes of others while not ducking his own mistakes. But the real story is one of media “infotainment” and spinning an event in such a way to make it look devious, contrived and manipulative while at the same time seeing that Washington politics is something where people look to throw whoever they can under the bus in order to protect their own reputations. It is a dangerous world for a communicator at that level to operate in and holds many lessons for communicators at all levels.

The Bandy Story on 20/20–join the crusade

I hope all crisisblogger readers watched 20/20 last night and saw the story about Matt Bandy. Matt is a 16 year old from Phoenix falsely accused and prosecuted of child porn because a few images of the nasty stuff was found on his computer at home. Despite the compelling evidence to the contrary, the prosecutor continued to push the accusations until the family accepted a plea bargain for a much lower charge–the equivalent of taking a Playboy to school. Still, he was branded a sex offender with the draconian restrictions applied to those who are thus convicted.

This story is of special interest for several reasons. One it is a great example in the extreme of the need sometime of “moving the black hat” as I advocate in extreme cases in Now Is Too Late2. When your reputation is on the line and you are innocent, sometimes you have to be aggressive and make the accusers the bad guys. In this case, the extremely aggressive prosecutor, more interested in his career than in justice, rightfully (in my opinion) has been outed as the real black hat in this story. View the extended interview with ABC and make up your own mind.

Second, is the personal connection. Jonathan Bernstein is the crisis manager who has been helping the family and their attorney every since they made the courageous decision to turn their bad fortune into a crusade. The 20/20 story is one part of the strategy. Creating an engaging and interactive website that helps manage the conversation that inevitably will go on about such an event is also part of the communication effort. Here is Matt’s website: www.justice4matt.com.

We were very pleased to respond to Jonathan’s request for help and provide the PIER System’s functionality to support the ongoing media relations and viewer response. This kind of communication activity shows the absolutely necessity of a small team or a single communicator to be able to handle the potentially hyperactive online response to this kind of national story and crusade.

For more comments about this communication effort as well as how you can get involved in this important communication effort, please go to www.justice4matt.com and be sure to use the contact form. (I just did!–and also emailed the governor).

Pope, Spinach and my response to comments

Some interesting comments from Patrick and dubyus on my posts about the pope and spinach (separate posts, no obvious connections).

Re dubyus comments. Agreed the Pope could have used other references but he didn’t. Let me ask you this, dubyus: Can you imagine an equal reaction in the western/post-Christian world if a prominent Muslim leader were to quote a 14th century source that equally disparaged Christianity? Of course not. We are accustomed to the most outrageous disparagement of our religion and its leaders including Christ himself and do not react in this way. The promised violence against anyone espousing any religion other than Islam expressed in reaction to the Pope’s comments are evidence for the one-side nature of “offense” in this current debate. There is no equivalence here.

I stand by my comments about the Pope’s message being ill-advised–precisely because of this inequality of political correctness. I also agree with dubyus that in retrospect, the Pope’s apology fell far short of what was needed. He apologized for the reaction in large part. It fell short.

As to the comments about moderate Muslim leaders taking a stronger role in healing the rifts caused by extremists and unfortunate statements like this, where are they? If the Western media has ignored all the action that has taken place, then I implore the Muslim world to do what the rest of us in crisis communication advise our clients: when the media won’t carry an important message, you have to take it direct. Ads can be purchased. Messages sent by email and snail mail. Websites can be launched and promoted. Blogs can enable people to engage in conversation. There is much that can be done and it is not really an acceptable excuse to say that the media won’t cover it. It is too important.

By the way, thank you for dialoging about this. We may not agree, but it sure is helpful when people start talking. And you have helped me understand better a different viewpoint.

Patrick on spinach–you are right of course that the best way to deal with crises is prevention,a nd likely this could have been prevented. But those of us in crisis communications need to deal continually with what happens when people don’t take the prudent and necessary steps. So I’m not sure how helpful it is in talking about a crisis communications response to say it should have been prevented. Talking about how it will be prevented in the future is very helpful–but that was exactly my point.

Now– I am on my way out the door for a weeklong trip. First, a little more archery hunting, then working with one of the nation’s largest universities on crisis communications planning, then to Houston for a user group meeting for PIER and an exciting seminar with the Global Energy Management Institute and World Energy.

I’ll try to keep up while on the road, but in the meantime, keep those thoughts coming. Artisansweets–I would have commented but I’m too much of a hurry so I will get back to you later.

Crisis communication planning made easy

Meeting with a client shortly to put a simple crisis plan in place. He’s a contractor with sizeable projects in multiple states. So this is kind of help me prep for that.

Every crisis consultant does things differently no doubt, but here is my approach with a client like this.

1) What are your goals? How do you define winning in a crisis? The answer usually comes down to wanting to minimize damage. I will remind him of the Chinese character for crisis which can be read as “risk” and “opportunity.” A crisis represents a great risk of damaging or destroying reputation and potentially the enterprise, but it also represents opportunity to enhance that reputation according to how the crisis was handled and communicated. What do we need to do in a crisis to help people think of us more positively?

2) Who will speak? Identifying spokespersons and making certain they are properly trained and prepared is essential. Also, preparing those who are not spokespeople to understand the policy and to learn how to “refer and defer” is also very important.

3) Who are the people whose opinion of you is most important to your future? That helps identify and prioritize stakeholders. Reporters are important, but their opinion is not the only one that counts. Key managers, employees, customers, suppliers, bankers, subcontractors, neighbors, potential opponents, industry influencers, government officials, etc. Know them, prioritize, and build lists to enable you to phone and/or email very quickly. I usually create lists of Level 1, 2 and 3. Level 1s get phone calls. Level 2 get emails and letters. Level 3 get more general emails and direct to website.

4) How will you communicate? Through media only? Big mistake. Prepare to manage message development and distribution to multiple critical audiences. And prepare to do it from wherever and when you’re entire IT infrastructure is down. This need is what led to the development of PIER, still the only web-based crisis communication control center. It is the reason why the US Coast Guard was able to continue to communicate non-stop during Hurricane Katrina despite having a distributed team and all IT resources under water.

In this, don’t forget your website. It is just about your most important asset for communications in a crisis. If you can completely control it without having to do go through some ridiculous chain of command and IT management process, you are flat out dead in the water.

5) How will you respond to and manage inquiries? Who will do it? Are they capable? Do you know where the inquiries will come in? How will email inquiries be managed? Who will prioritize and make sure of the responses and speed of response. Again, this daunting problem is why we created PIER which also fully integrates and manages the inquiry function.

6) Remember, now is too late. To try to put these pieces in place during an event means you will not communicate in time. It’s an instant news world and that means virtually instantaneous response. That can only be done through appropriate preparation.