strategic communication

“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.” – Lawrence Clark Powell

Archive for the tag “customer service”

Crisis Communication: Prepare for the Worst

A company can be the most successful, most innovative, highest ranked company in the world, but even those attributes cannot protect it from crisis. Many times a crisis is caused by elements out of a company’s control while other times it is caused by the actions of an internal member. It is important for companies to realize potential warning signs of a crisis, prepare for the worst, and respond to it as soon as possible.

Many leaders are competent in their work, but have never had direct experience with a major work-related crisis. It is hard to have knowledge of what to do in certain situations if the situation has never happened. However, leaders should have the right qualities and understanding to keep the workplace productive. One key factor in managing a crisis is to recognize prodromes, or warning signs. If you are the manager of a popular hamburger joint and your competitor finds out their meat has been infected with E-coli, you should take precautions and test your meat to make sure the same crisis does not happen to you. In another example, managers of transportation services must keep a lookout on weather patterns, as car or bus services may not maneuver properly in heavy rainfall, sleet, or snow. Recognizing warning signs and making preparations for “what if” situations will allow an organization or company to gather useful resources in the event an incident should happen. Once a leader realizes the prodromal stage of a crisis, he or she must realize it may only get worse, and be prepared to face it.

Along with my Leadership class this term, I am also in a Public Relations class that requires us to create an original Crisis Communication Plan for a company. Over the past seven weeks I have read examples of real-world crises and how companies handled them. Ultimately, I have noticed it is those that have effective resources prepared that are able to clear up any confusing details. These companies also remain open with all audiences and media. Handling a crisis is so much more than saying “We have it under control” in a press conference. Consumers will have questions. They will be filled with fear and doubt about their use of the products and the negative outcomes as a result of the crisis. Strategic communicators must know how to communicate with all media channels in a timely manner and with the right messages. Part of the Crisis Communication Plan includes a list of all local television, newspaper, and radio stations. Having this list with a contact name for each one will keep communication open throughout the crisis cleanup.

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Not only do companies need a list of media contacts, they also need to assign those responsible for getting in touch with the media. In most cases the CEO is considered the first spokesperson, but in order to keep up with a timeline of events, employees need to be able to send messages to media outlets that will then post them to the public. Keeping a constant flow of information sharing shows that a company is not trying to hide anything, and is trying to maintain trust with its consumers. Perhaps one director will be in charge of contacting newspapers, while another employee is responsible for online postings. As a leader, think about how your company is organized and the best method of sending messages based on each person’s role.

Probably the largest evolution in managing a crisis is the use of social media. Depending on what your crisis entails, certain social media sites may be more useful to your company. Think about the possible crises that can occur in a company and make a list of potential social media posts addressing the issue. Anything about widespread health issues, such as the current Ebola scares, will benefit from videos that allow the faces behind the information to talk directly with viewers. Television news videos or even YouTube videos allow representatives to present information, as well as show specific examples of how to stay safe and healthy (i.e. how to effectively wash hands, a simulation of how germs spread, etc.) Companies should have these videos already made so they can post them faster.  For other crises, Facebook statuses or play-by-play tweets may suffice in getting the information to the public. It is helpful to have some statuses already on file for a crisis that is most likely to happen. Companies should update their social media in real time to show they are actively working to resolve a matter as it is happening. On top using social media to inform your audiences, you should also monitor comments and respond to those you deem appropriate based on information you available to share.

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During a crisis, audiences are quick to express their opinions online. Two-way communication, once again, is what will keep audiences informed of a company’s efforts. Communicating with the public allows leaders to show their empathy and apologize for whatever has happened. However, it is important to establish procedures for those commenting on your page to avoid a user just continually bashing your company for the sake of stirring up trouble. Company blogs are useful for announcing the acknowledgement of a crisis, and then posting all efforts and important information in detail. It would be beneficial to the company to have someone designated to update blog posts because that would keep all information to the public organized and timely. Posting from your own name may be more useful than the audience hearing it through a third party such as a news source. Audiences will know that a post on the company blog is coming directly from the company, and this will establish trust.

It is important to know that there is no one way to manage a crisis; there is not a strict set of procedures you have to follow step-by-step to achieve success. What works for one company may not work for another. Eddie Obeng explains how rules change as the time changes. Companies simply are not managed the same way they were decades ago. In the event of a crisis, remind the audience why your company is needed. Create messages that show your company cares about its audience. How does your audience benefit from you being around? What makes your product or service unique from others?

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Think about how BP, Sandy Hook Elementary, and Johnson&Johnson have all recovered from a crisis. It may have taken a large amount of time, but the leaders and spokespeople behind each organization cared about their audiences. They had to work hard to gain the trust of the public by keeping communication open and sharing inside information.

As long as leaders of a company know their audience, understands what information needs to be shared, and knows the best way to disseminate that information, a company has an advantage of steering itself back to normal routine.

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Strategic Social Media

Happy Halloween! Are you celebrating offline and online? There are tons of companies taking advantage of posting Halloween themed messages on social media!

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Social media has made it easier for companies and organizations to connect with their consumers. One would think a public relations professional would have it easy, too, right? When you look closer at different company Facebook pages or Twitter accounts, you will see that most of the popular pages feature the company responding back to fans even in the latest hours of the day. Successful social media pages are those that are made up of strategic daily posts. Public relations professionals, as well as professional communicators, must constantly have access to all media sites to ensure customer satisfaction.

A story on Walmart costumes went viral this week when online users posted screenshots of Walmart’s official website that listed the category of “Fat Girl Costumes.” Post after post shared the image along with disdain from customers. The category has since been taken down, but the screenshots will live on the Internet forever. When Walmart was off of the cyber world for even a minute, this story spread before they could do anything to stop it. Walmart issued an official apology, and has been busy apologizing to individual users on its Twitter account. This issue was a result of negligence, and it was enough to make a wide audience angry. Someone representing Walmart is constantly updating the Twitter page and responding to each user’s tweets.

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Walmart’s Facebook page features select products that customers can comment on or share. I noticed that even a customer simply stating “I love this product!” will get a reply from an official Walmart representative. These representatives are trying to ignite conversations with customers in order to build that relationship between company and consumer. However, on each product picture, there are users who choose to post negative feedback. Sometimes the feedback has nothing to do with the picture posted, but Walmart still tries to respond by giving a link to their feedback site.

An article titled “Corporate Facebook Pages: When “fans” attack” states that “negative complaints, personal insults or incriminating gossip make far bigger impacts on us than do positive comments.” If a company is under fire for a negative post, product, or error, there will always be those who choose to hold on to it. It is important for strategic communicators to develop and sincere apologies, as well as make genuine connections with customers. Customers do not want to feel their complaints go unnoticed, and especially do not want to support a company who claims nothing bad ever happened. Listening comes into play on the Internet, even if it is a conversation through typing. If a customer has a complaint, it is the responsibility of a representative to completely read the complaint, interpret exactly what the issue is, think progressively on how to fix the issue and ensure it does not happen in the future, and then respond fully to the customer.

Companies do best when they have a unique branding strategy on social media. YouTube has become a popular site where videos go viral and are seen by millions of people around the world. These videos go viral because they are interesting, unique, entertaining, or attract the attention of taste-makers that will share it. Strategic communicators should want the best possible image for their organization on such a powerful platform. The possibilities for a viral video are endless. For example, Tom Dickson, the CEO of Blendtec, used YouTube to create a series called “Will it Blend?” where he places a variety of objects (including an iPhone) in his blenders, turns the blenders on, and watches what happens to the objects. There are enough people in this world willing to witness the destruction of valuable objects at their own amusement, and Dickson successfully got his name and his product out to the masses.

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Strategic communicators must think about their products when posting on social media. What does their product do or what is it used for? Who is using it? Understanding their audience is key on social media because the audience varies. The audience could consist of consumers, clients, employers, and job seekers. It is important to be able to create content that appeals to the masses, and that is concise enough to post quickly and daily. Sometimes an elaborate story gets looked over if someone is seeking out specific information, which is why Twitter’s character limit can be used to an organization’s advantage. There are also third party apps such as Google Alerts that allow businesses to search within social media sites and receive alerts when their content is viewed. Businesses can use this data to figure out what types of posts get the most views, and adjust their communication plan accordingly.

While looking at companies during a job search, I notice that most company Facebook and Twitter pages include group shots of the staff working together. The staff is bunched together at conferences or even community service events. This shows me that the company culture is important to them because they spend time at events together, and look like they are enjoying it. Social media is not only effective for promoting a product, but for promoting the business as a whole. There is so much talent out there, and companies know that the more information about they can share out in the open, the more enticing their company looks to job seekers. Company blogs are excellent tools to show off all accomplishments. Reading a post that a company just received an award or was featured on a “Best Places to Work” list increases my interest in learning more about the company.

I was viewing a twitter account that is dedicated to posting jobs North Carolina and found that the account was live tweeting an awards ceremony. With each announcement of a winner, the twitter handle also included a link to the official website and stated whether or not they were hiring. I was able to access so many different companies in the area because of this event. The twitter account helped get business names out there I never would have heard of otherwise.

There is a lot to keep up with when using social media as a PR tool for an organization, but leaders with a strong online presence will reap the benefits of online connectivity. As long as posts are informative, professional, and sincere, customers will continue their interest and support for a company.

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