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Notice your attitude and media relationship: Don Blankenship’s poor crisis reaction

    As last week’s West Virginia coal mine explosion still touches our hearts, the coal boss Don Blankenship’s poor response to the disaster undoubtedly irritates the public. Blankenship’s interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer is so unprepared, unorganized and unskilled that makes himself in deep water.

People showed their disagreement and confrontation.

    The Linhard PR blog said Blankenship’s interview fully exposed his lack of sensitivity, unwillingness to address the obvious, and unpersuasive defense. While it’s important for crisis responders not to lose control of their emotions, Blankenship’s first words should have acknowledged the victims and expressed sympathy for the dead and concern for the miners still trapped. What Blankenship should have told Sawyer is that, at that moment, Massey is solely focused on the situation at hand and the needs of the victims’ families. Compounding the problems Blankenship created for himself is his poor track record of interacting with media. 

    TJ Walker speaks about Don Blankenship’s relationship with the media is not the best role model. The CEO, especially in times of crisis, is the most important person for the corporate. But he showed no sympathy about the victims. When the company is facing a crisis, there is no need to destroy your own reputation, which depends on your reaction afterward. “You got to take the attitude of being accessible to the media; you got to take the attitude of having sympathy for anyone who has died.”

Wrong attitude and bad media relationship.

    The explosion, involved 25 Massey employees dad and 4 missing, is a tragedy of enormous proportions. At this time, we should put our hearts on the families, friends, colleagues and neighbors of the miners. We can image the victims are suffering. However, the crisis response person showed no sympathy and blamed on something unrelated. His ugly face will be uncovered in the harsh glare of the national media spotlight when the facts about what happened are unknown. 

    What’s worse, he performed bad relationship with the media. He didn’t actively cooperate with the media, but refused to answer the questions directly and frankly. According to ABC News, Blankenship said “If you’re going to start taking pictures of me, you’re liable to get shot” in an interview in 2008, and got physical with the reporter. His arrogant attitude and unfriendliness with media will definitely affect the result of the crisis and ruin the rest of his career. 

What should Blankenship notice

    To show the active attitude and preserve reputation, he should well prepare the content delivered in every interview, build and maintain sound relationship with the media.

    Setting an agenda for your answers is very important when you hold a press or take an interview. Listing the specific key points will help you better deal with the unpredicted situations and communicate with the media and the public.

    Relationship with the media plays an important role in the crisis communication process. Media is the medium between the company and the public. What the media reports would more or less influence people’s acknowledgement about the incident and form the social pressure. A sound media relationship can help the company convey their information and make first reaction more effectively, and communicate more smoothly.

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It’s time to say “it” out

     There is an interesting phenomenon when people make their first reactions to the crisis-maybe they are over nervous, maybe they are quite panic, or maybe they don’t have time to think thoroughly-they are likely to deny the negative messages or use other information to cover up the fact.

    For example, Tiger Woodz refused to cooperate with the police and deliberately avoided exposing the fact. Toyota concealed the incident to reduce the severity of the truth and tried to cover up the negative information. Both of them handled the crisis and did sound crisis communications by a series of statements, apologizes, and activities. However, the unacceptable denial at first really expanded the crisis and had bad impact on the first stage of crisis management. 

    So since we still have to reveal the fact in the end, why don’t we tell the truth at the beginning? One principle we should always keep in mind when dealing with a crisis is that as the news has been exposed, there is no need to hide the fact.

    As the rapid development and wide usage of the Internet, once some news breaks, nothing can stop it from spreading to the whole world. When a crisis happens, people will get the information at first hour and make their judgment by their perception of the incident. As they have already caught one corner of the story, they have great curiosity and strong expectation to know the whole thing. So in this sense, it will be in vain if you keep silent or deny the news. The longer you cover the truth, the more various rumor will be produced by the public. As a result, the crisis will spread widely and things will be out of control, and this is absolutely not what you want it to be. Therefore, since you can not hide any more, why not lay it out to clarify yourself.

    One thing that we have to deal with when we make our initial statement is the public’s emotional reaction. When people first access to the crisis news, for example, a celebrity’s scandal or a company’s product safety problem, they will be somehow pissed off and generate resistant psychology without personal judgment or thinking further. The damage and injury of the news will cause people to lose their cool for a while and be unfavorably disposed towards the defendants. Under this circumstance, you’d better be cautious with the content that you make the initial statement. To deny or cover up is absolutely impossible. You should not only tell people what is going on, but also show your sincerity and firmness. Besides, you should be consistent in the whole process of crisis communication. People can’t forgive those who promise and then deny in succession.

    For public figures or celebrities, it is more important for them to stand up to admit the facts and tell the truth. Because people regard them as their idols or heroes, and they can’t allow their idols or heroes have any imperfection. Any little mistake can cause great response. If you express any concealment or false, the audiences will generate strong antagonistic psychology, leading to a lot of negative comments and negative publicity, which will again cause more negative response as butterfly effect.

    So personally, I think the first reaction to a crisis for a celebrity is to hold a press to tell the fact, and if needed, make an apology with openness, accuracy and sincerity. Don’t deny, don’t hide and don’t drag out time. The reaction should be immediate and elaborately designed that make sure you have covered every tiny aspect and considered the feelings of the victims. 

    Beside Tiger, the Edison Chen photo sandal is also a good example. The crisis in involved the illegal distribution over the Internet of intimate and private photographs of Hong Kong actor Edison Chen with various women, most of them are celebrities. The scandal shook the Hong Kong entertainment industry and received high profile media attention locally and around the world. At first, Edison didn’t take the responsibility or make sincere apology. This angered the public, especially those actresses. Eventually, under strong pressure, he made a public apology, especially to the women involved, and also announced that he would “step away indefinitely” from the Hong Kong entertainment industry. Apparently, it is his improper reaction that causes the scandal world known and ruined his acting career.

    There have been so many cases caution us to be frank when some disgraceful things are discovered. So here we go again, as the news has been exposed, there is no need to hide the fact.

When you react to crisis on social media: Calm down, please.

    If you overreacted to an anti video posted to YouTube and took a tough attitude to take it down mandatorily, it’s bad. If you then threatened to people who left anti comments on your Facebook, it’s worse. If, after these, you even responded as you did nothing wrong and put an official face, it’s the worst.

    But, bingo! Recently, the food giant Nestle just made a “perfect model” of this poor reaction to a crisis on social media (YouTube and Facebook).

    Here are the facts I quoted from Olivier Blanchard’s blog:

Chapter 1: Greenpeace’s fake Kit-Kat commercial focusing on palm oil and deforestation is released on YouTube and quickly goes viral.

Chapter 2: Nestle fights back by chasing the Greenpeace video all over the internets in a game of censorship whack-a-mole.

Chapter 3: Fueled by the momentum of the Greenpeace video, anti-Nestle discussions move away from activist blogs and land on Nestle’s facebook page.

Chapter 4: Echoing Nestle’s logo censorship efforts with the video on YouTube and across other channels, Nestle’s Facebook team responds to criticism on their wall by… threatening to delete comments left by individuals using modified versions of their corporate logo as avatars, which only adds fuel to the fire.

Chapter 5: Emboldened by Nestle’s seemingly unprepared and not particularly PR-savvy social media team on Facebook, the anti-Nestle attack grows into a mob beating of the brand well into the weekend and continuing into this week. The campaign, initially managed by Greenpeace assets, moves into the mainstream as environmentally-conscious Facebook users join the anti-Nestle crowd.

Chapter 6: In spite of Nestle’s ruthless beating over the weekend, decent media coverage and questionable reports of stock woes for the company on Friday, people are still buying Kit-Kat and other Nestle products –as if nothing happened, and seem relatively unaffected by whatever Greenpeace does to Nestle’s Facebook page.

    Nestle’s reaction is apparently wrong with regard to the crisis communication on social media. First, the video was getting no attention at the beginning, but their bogus copyright claim to take down the video drew much more attention to the issue. There came out multiple copies, which make it go viral. Second, their reaction to the Facebook comments resulted in more negatively pointed responses. People voiced their opposition and reminded us of past Nestle controversies. Third, though Nestle admitted wrong and apologized eventually, the damage had been done to the company and the brand. The few people known incident has turned into a wide spread crisis.
    With the PR mess, the most important thing is to embrace social media to fix the problem and restore the image. Here are some personal suggestions on reaction to social media crisis (YouTube, Facebook):

1)      No fierce counterattack.

    People have right of free speech on the Internet. You can’t freeze people’s mouths and it’s impossible for you to use enforceable methods to forbid people saying something on the Internet. The overreacted response can only draw more attention and cause more negative publicity. A lot more people will discuss on the issue and express oppositions. The tough attitude will definitely lead to backfire and provoke the public. It will make the message widely spread to all the media net.

2)      No threat or toughness.

    The hardball or any threat may cause the counter-psychology. It will attract more opposition and popular discontent, thus fueling the fire. It’s harmful to the brand and will reduce the company’s image. This kind of action can make things out of control and expand the unpleasant impression of the company.

3)      Respect for free speech.

    We should conform to the social media principles, joining the online communication as participants, instead of mandatory ban or threat. We should clarify the facts and publish positive messages to respond to attack and restore reputation. We can post our own videos or make statements instead of taking down others’ videos or threatening to delete others’ comments. Listen carefully and react actively, then you will earn understanding and support.

4)      Be cool and speak with the truth.

    We should calmly react to the anti-activities. It’s better for us to two-way communicate with the public through social media by stating the facts. We can make active reactions to self protect. We can freely speak out our opinions and show people the truth, but we can’t prevent others from giving their different views. After a series of clarification and explanation, we can also post new topics or messages that are good for the company. Just let it go smoothly with proper reactions.

    After all, the Nestle crisis really warns us of paying attention to the social media monitoring and being careful with social media communication.

Government Crisis Communication: Nation’s reaction to a natural disaster

    We always talk about company crisis communication and individual crisis communication. What about a nation’s first reaction to a crisis, particularly, a natural disaster?

    It comes to the government public relations, which focuses on the relationship with the public.

    Recently, natural disasters happened frequently. China Sichuan earthquake, Haiti earthquake and Chile earthquake all bring the country into crisis. Every move of the country is under the attention of the media and the whole world. This is the time for a nation to show its capacity of decision and execution, and its power to overcome difficulties and solve problems. China has demonstrated a successful crisis management; its rapid responses, effective measures and united people earn both the heart of Chinese people and the respect of the world. So if making the right reaction to a national crisis, it will be a good chance for the country to perform government public relations and establish positive international image.

●Let people know what happened, what is going on and what will be done to deal with the crisis.

    When a natural disaster breaks, what people want to know most is the fact. The government should truthfully reveal the sphere of influence and relevant statistics. It should also make rapid response to control the situation. Let people know the truth can make them at ease and confident, and trust the government.

●Show the government has paid great attention to the event and taken effective measures.

    When the disaster happens, people will be upset. There will be rumors and chaos around the country. If people learn that the country has attached great importance to the crisis and the situation might be controlled under the government in time action, they will have the confidence and courage to get together and solve the problem.

●    Place victims’ interest first and care about its people.

    The key of the crisis communication is to let people perceive that the government is concerned about the sufferings of people. People are the most important part of a nation. Thinking about victims first can make people have a feeling of being valued and a sense of belonging. It is a good way for the government to rally public support.

●    Call for help from outside.

    To earlier and better solve the crisis, the government also needs to seek help form the whole country or the rest of the world. The government should set up an example, unite its people, and express the love for the nation and love for the people.

●    Establish international image and reputation.

    When the crisis breaks, the world is watching you; everyone keeps eyes on you. The government has to step up and show people what it can do and where is its power. The crisis is also an opportunity for the country to build positive nation image, win reputation and increase international status.

    Of course, all the above need us to use the power of media, both the stream media and social media, to convey information, get help and unite people. This requires the government to build and maintain sound media relationships.

Silence Makes Matter Worse

Tell the truth.

It has been “common sense” in the first reaction of a crisis among the crisis-hit people or crisis handlers. When dealing with a crisis, the first thing coming into mind is to tell the truth, and everyone likes to talk up it. But when it comes to the actual situation, people always fail to do so.

They used to choose keep silent or tend to get out of the issue. The fact is, the so-called “I want to keep private” is unrealistic. The silence or escape will arouse the interest of media and public and lead them to get to the bottom. Consequently, it will cause things worse. Bad news will spread more widely and become more serious.

Tiger’s sex scandal event is an example for it. He didn’t immediately make first reaction when the crisis happened, but froze his mouth. This makes the media and the public want more detail to satisfy their curiosity and catch the chance to well publicize and report the issue. His early negligence causes the crisis out of control.

The problem is common in today’s crisis management cases. A lot of people, especially those celebrities, in hot water keep silence to make stern denials only to go backward into confessions after more evidence are unearthed. This kind of behavior should absolutely be avoided in our effort to deal with a crisis.

In this case, although doing a good remedy afterward, why don’t we actively respond to the incidence from the beginning and not let it expand?

Therefore, when making reactions to a crisis, we should always keep in mind two factors, “Don’t delay” and “Do talk”.

Don’t delay. Make your initial statement at the first hour after a crisis breaks. Hold press conference or make exposure to tell people what happened. You can give an explanation to provide a sense of what led to the issue. Without going into every private detail, you should just give as much information that can let the public know what’s going on and satisfy their curiosity. People always want the truth. If you can tell them the facts at the firs hour before they make different assumptions, they would be more likely to forgive you and move on the incidence. Time control is very important in solving problems.

Do talk. You should open your mouth and speak out your own voice after the crisis breaks. You should actively offer the positive information and do effective communication with the public. Because the longer you don’t talk, the worse it looks for you, and the more you are silent, the more the media and the public are busily doing what they can to get the next scoop. In your silent period, lots of people may be talking about the story and any worse message may be reported. So not talking when a crisis happens is not smart.

In a crisis, it still is much better if bad news came from us rather than someone else. Before we take any measures, remember that there’s no back page on the internet.

Social Media: An Unavoidable Factor in Crisis Communication

What’s going on? Check your Facebook, Twitter, scan your blogosphere. Got it!

Social media has become a super popular tool for people to learn news and collect information. Its convenience, timeliness and simplicity enable people to quickly get update news and enjoy free speech. Social media, like Facebook, Twitter and Blog, can make the news go to the vital. News can spread world wide within a very short time. And it allows people to freely comment and discuss on the Internet, thus in turn, attracting more attention on the issue.

It sounds good for the positive messages. But, remember that bad news goes much faster than good ones. If you got a crisis, the social media would be vital. Never overlook the influence of social media on a crisis. The ignorance or poor use of the social media when you react in a crisis can lead you to the dilemma or even failure.

The recent “war” between NBC and its “Tonight Show” host confirms this point. The term of Leno v. Conan v. NBC has been one of the most heated disscussion going around on the Network. However, the results are apparently different.

On the organization side, NBC executives failed to communicate with fans who expressed their overwhelming support for Conan on both Twitter and Facebook, which caused the situation out of control. On the individual side, there are more than 600,000 fans on the “I’m With CoCo Facebook page“, not to mention the number of tweets. While Leno’s show page has 16,617 fans and his personal page was taken over by O’Brien supporters. This apparently shows the significance of social media in the communication of dealing with a crisis.  

The social media communication paradigm is to engage. People freely publish and share news on the Net and others voluntarily spread the news so that the news can reach a wide audience in short time. People like to participate in the various discussions and give their own opinions, which will obtain other people’s recognition or draw more attention to the event.

Therefore, when a crisis breaks, and we want to make our first reaction via the social media, the best way is to be involved and join people’s topics. It’s better for us to express our initial statement on the targeted social media and communicate with the audiences on the discussion. By monitoring what people say and their attitudes, we can try to control the situation and find ways to solve problems. Only by putting ourselves in the social media information dissemination systems can we be completely informed of the situation and effectively handle the crisis. Remember two keys, full engagement and true interaction.

Then what should we pay attention to when dealing with social media in the first reaction of a crisis?

Besides the engagement mentioned above, there are other factors that you should caution. “If you know your audience, locate them online, listen, add value, respond, refrain from spamming and just be yourself, you’ll have far better and more long-lasting positive results,” Aliza Sherman said in her post “10 Golden Rules of Social Media”. A quick response with the information that the public want to know after learning what they think may be the most useful way to make reaction via the social media.

Moreover, we should always be ready to create contents. Because “the best way to mitigate social media crises is to respond at the flashpoint, you must be prepared to make and launch content in a variety of formats and circumstances”, Jay Baer talked in his post “4 Brand-saving recommendations for social media crisis management”.

A Warning to the Whole Auto World

    Talking about Toyota, what words flash in your mind first? Sticking accelerator pedals? Unstuck brakes?

    Toyota’s worldwide recall whipped up a storm in the Auto world and bogged itself down in the crisis. Although it has taken measures to fix the problem and made efforts to gain back its reputation and customers, it can still not avoid sales decline. In February, Toyota announced it would stop selling eight of its best-selling vehicles, which would cost the company and its dealers a minimum of $54 million a day in lost sales revenue. As the world’s largest and most profitable automaker, which is famous for its reputation and reliability, can still be in an unpredicted recall crisis, it is quite necessary for the rest of the auto makers to think carefully and make preparation in advance.

    What should the auto companies learn from the Toyota crisis? 

    First, it is necessary to establish and reinforce the early warning mechanism in the company. We should identify the potential crisis as early as possible by checking the mainstreaming media news, monitoring public opinions on social networks, and concerning about the industry dynamics and social policy change. In this way, we can sense the hint of the crisis and have enough time to be prepared ahead. It is also beneficial to our better control the development of the event, thus avoiding the wide spread of the negative messages. In this case, frequently checking the company’s home page and various social media websites is important. For example, the company can build its own page on Facebook or Twitter. They are useful tools for the company to effectively communicate with the customers and monitor the public attitudes. What’s more, inspecting the safety conditions of every component of the car thoroughly also matters. Others’ mistake should draw our attention to examine our own manners.

     Second, it is very important to set up an early plan. Whether we can properly deal with the problem at the first time directly influence the success of handling the crisis. A crisis communication plan plays an important role in the first reaction to a crisis. It helps us quickly work out the communication strategy and take it into action. The company won’t rush off the feet if a preplan is made to predict the possible situations and provide guides to deal with the event. Even a great company can suddenly crash by a unexpected crisis, so making an early crisis communication plan is critical to the company.

    Third, the ways to make first reactions and deal with the crisis are vital to the results. Whether the company can control the crisis, reduce the damage and restore its reputation depend on the crisis management. Though Toyota performed rather good crisis public relations, there are still some flaws. Toyota didn’t take seriously the consumer complaints and warranty information in the early time, thus leading to the two giant recall. Besides, they didn’t make quick reaction when the crisis broke. The delay in dealing with the problem also drags the solution of the problem. Therefore, we should attach importance to the crisis as soon as it shows the signs. And when it happens, we should respond at the first hour and speak to the public honestly and openly. We’d better take actual and efficient actions early to show our determination and sincerity.

    What can other auto companies do at this time?

    Toyota is the top automaker in the world, which won customers and market share from GM, Ford, Chrysler and other companies. However, due to the recall crisis, it saw its sales decline in February, while its major competitors saw sales increase by double-digits. Therefore, it might be a nice opportunity for the competitors to promote themselves and gain from the crisis.

    Those automakers can seize the opportunity to promote their products and increase their market share by the fair and health competition. They can intensively convey their values and positive images to the public and win the new customers in this period. For Toyota’s safety problem, they can focus on their cars’ good quality and security, which will help build the positive image and gain the reputation.

    Above all, the auto giant’s crisis is really a warning to the whole auto world.