The Age of Responsiveness Calls for Front-Line Training
I was prompted to write this post after reading Responsiveness in the New Era of Responsibility from the Lead Change Group.
Never has there been a need to empower the front-line of organizations than now. Time is of the essence in the age of the relentless 24×7 news cycle and the rise and rise of citizen journalism. And nowhere is this more apparent than during a crisis. There is no time to wait. Gone is the golden hour, it’s the “golden” minute, 15 maximum. This is not to say that you need to respond to every tweet or Facebook post but you do need to respond and FAST.
Take a leaf out of the US Coast Guard playbook – educate and empower your front-line.
Members of the Coast Guard embody its motto of Maximum Disclosure, Minimum Delay by training their front-line to speak to the media in a crisis, at least in the early stages of the crisis unfolding.
Their philosophy – a damn good one – is that if it’s your job and your responsibility, then you have the duty/responsibility to speak about it. That means the boat captain or the pilot doing the rescue or launching the investigation speaks about the rescue, the investigation. Not only does that add extra credibility but will be an authentic voice speaking with intimate, first-hand experience of the incident. Now, that is powerful.
And to add some historical perspective, I share this story from the Lead Change Group. (It is, apparently one of Abraham Lincoln’s favorite stories) It comes from Donald T. Phillips book Lincoln on Leadership.
“It is about a US colonel who had a policy that he would do all the swearing for the entire regiment. One day the teamster, John Todd, spouted off a stream of profanities while driving his wagon down a rough road. When the colonel took him to task for it, John stated. ‘The fact was the swearing had to be done then or not at all, and you weren’t there to do it.”
As Glen Gaugh, the author of the Responsiveness post says “Though humorous, the illustration is clear: the one who is around must respond when a response is needed.”
Here are 5 things that you can do to help ensure you have the right response in a crisis:
1. Identify the key front-line roles, where a crisis could impact
2. Train the people in those roles and give them the responsibility and support to speak in a crisis
3. Adopt a common-sense approach to social media and allow the front-line to at least re-tweet the official statements
a. Better still have a policy and guidelines for (social) media in a crisis and conduct awareness sessions to help ensure widespread understanding
4. Include the front-line in drills and exercises.
5. Involve them in scenario development. You will find their ideas insightful!
In the first blog we looked at three key lessons of Lance Armstrong’s “confession.” We took a look at jokes, reminded ourselves that the “ST” factor is rife in a crisis and that every crisis has fallout that may come from left field. Now in this second part, the final two lessons.
4. Apologies must be sincere – as I have been quoted saying “Apologies have become an art form and most of us don’t believe them anymore.” The mea culpa must be done quickly and with real meaning. While Lance Armstrong displayed real emotion in the second interview with Oprah when he was talking about his 13 year old son, he was mostly cold, devoid of emotion, and overall, lacking real remorse.
After watching the interviews, reading a lot of the media coverage and the social media comments, I am left with the distinct impression that Lance only fessed up, because he was caught, not because he was truly sorry for what he had done.
If you are going to apologize and it is necessary make sure you mean it. Particularly if you have caused widespread hurt, people have been injured or killed, or the reaction is widespread and caused much emotional pain to many. As Professor Beatrice Gelder says “Phony expressions usually do not fool us.” Body language does not lie. As Oprah said to Lance “the truth will set you free.” To my eyes, Lance’s body language spoke more authentically than his apology.
5. Beware the negative language – in a crisis where every word, every expression is analyzed very carefully it behooves spokespeople to be very careful with their language. Negative language is toxic and only serves to reinforce what has been said, for example when Lance said “I’d love the opportunity to compete, but that isn’t why I’m doing this” it begs the question of why then Lance are you doing the interview?
Let’s look at some more:
- “No, that is not true … Oprah, it’s not true.” (Bribe>)
- “I’ve got work to do. There’s not going to be a tectonic shift.”
- “I don’t fault George. George knows this story better than anybody.” (George Hincapie, his former team-mate)
- “That story isn’t true. There was no positive test. No paying off of the lab. The UCI did not make that go away. I’m no fan of the UCI.” (Asked about failing a test during Tour de Suisse in 2001.)
- “… they are good people, we’ve all made mistakes, they are not toxic and evil.” (Talking about Dr Michele Ferrari)
And on the list goes.
So how do you avoid negative language – practice saying what you mean! Speak in positive, active language and from your heart, not your ego which will want to “protect” you. At crisis planning and drills have the team practice rewriting negative statements into positive statements. Avoid words like don’t, not, phrases like “let’s not kid ourselves,’ ‘no one denies it’s true,’ ‘that’s not unheard of.’”
- No lies, especially consistent ones; apologize from the heart; be serious, be genuine, be humble – a crisis is never the time for flippancy, and be prepared to handle the fallout. Start your crisis planning now!
I would love to hear your thoughts. What are your lessons? What advice would you give Lance and the official cycling organizations?
In every crisis, there are lessons to be learnt, and thanks to disgraced cyclist, Lance Armstrong and his “confession” to the high priestess, Oprah Winfrey, we have been given a host of reminders. Here is part one of my analysis and three of five key lessons.
1. Never joke when the stakes are very high – humility wins. Armstrong’s joke about not calling Betsy Andreu, the wife of Armstrong’s former cycling teammate Frankie, whose family Armstrong “tried to destroy” (her words), after she publicly criticized him for failing to admit he used performance enhancing drugs, “fat” was bizarre to say the least. As Gawker says, Armstrong smirked and “wistfully” recalled how he called Betsy “crazy” and a “bitch.”
Then incredulously he says “but at least but I never called you ‘fat.’” He appeared to wait for laughs, and none were forthcoming – not surprisingly.
That part of the interview truly showed Armstrong’s true colors. Did he not think about the impressions that would create; images that he would reinforce? Narcissist at least, sociopath or psychopath, at worse.
In every crisis, there needs to be a clear impression given – the audience needs to be given a way to think about what has happened, and develop an image based on that impression.
2. Remember the “ST” factor – in a crisis there will always the temptation to label the incident, the event as the worst ever; Lance Armstrong’s crisis didn’t disappoint on this point. Take for example these comments and quotes:
- “Lance is the biggest fraud in the history of sport’: Former friend likens Armstrong to Bernie Madoff as cyclist is told to return $3m of prize money earned during doping years” (Daily Mail, UK)
- “… the world’s largest fall from grace is complete and the biggest sports fraud of our lifetime is crowned.” (CBS, USA)
- “… not the first sports star top use the media … to restore a damaged reputation and won’t be the last.” (Courier Mail, Australia)
- “It was the first time Armstrong admitted using performance-enhancing drugs and oxygen-boosting blood transfusions to help him win the Tour de France.” (ABC, USA)
Many of these could have been anticipated in advance. What will your “ST” factor be? For your industry, for your product, for your reputation? Think about how you want or need to be described in a crisis – that thinking will help you get ahead of the story.
3. Be prepared for Fallout – in every crisis, there is fallout – discussion about the crisis from many different quarters – what does this all mean and how can we prevent “it” from ever happening again. Indeed, fallout is the fourth stage that the media report a crisis (the four stages are discussed in detail in my book). Sometimes the fallout is unexpected, in Sydney, Australia where a casual librarian at the Manly Library placed a tongue-in-cheek sign in the library saying that all Lance Armstrong’s books (there are at least two) “will soon be moved to the fiction section.”
Another unexpected fallout came in the form of a thoughtful, if not controversial analysis of lying by Associated Press – “Lance Armstrong may have been branded liar and cheat of the month, but experts say he’s not as different from the rest of us as we’d like to believe.” A series of experts including Robert Feldman, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts said that “lying is rife and nothing that Lance Armstrong did should come as a shock.”
More expected was the analysis of next steps for Lance Armstrong – would he confess, under oath, to the US Anti-Doping Agency; what does his confession mean for the sport of cycling; and the pending legal situation.
The fallout will continue – for some time. I will watch with interest to see what else this crisis triggers.
In the meantime, if you are in any way connected to the elite sporting world it’s time to be reviewing your crisis plans.
Please send me your comments….
This is Part Three of Chris Syme’s guest blog regarding the strategies presented in her new e-book “Listen, Engage, Respond”. Part One looked at two of the Five Models of Social Media Engagement/Loyalty: In Part Three, we address the remaining three models looking how Chris describes what will work.
What Does Work
In order to go beyond simple broadcast and reach, your social media needs to be, well, …social. You’ll need to actively participate and interact with fans. This is the place where many organizations get nervous. You’ll need to develop thick skin and a triage response system that informs how you respond to negativity. And in order to build loyalty, you’ll need to be acutely aware of what your fans need and be dedicated to giving it to them. The three loyalty building models are conversation building, crowd-sourcing, and value-adding.
Conversation-Building: Tactics-wise, you are hosting, facilitating, and participating in the conversations about your brand. First, you will be actively listening to those conversations and monitoring the sentiment. Being a good listener will help you learn what your fans and followers need and respond to.
The posting and commenting ability for fans and followers should be enabled in this model. You are consistent in responding to comments and fan posts, keeping in mind when your participation will add value and further the conversation, and not just thoughtlessly replying to everything people write. Remember, it’s their conversation and you are just one participant. You not only initiate some of the conversations, you also participate in those started by your followers. You have a well-written and visible posting policy that protects your community and defines where the conversations can and can’t go.
Crowdsourcing: The next step up, building a crowdsourced or empowered feedback system, takes additional time, resources, and people than conversation-building. If you start to loosen the reins and allow multiple admins on your channels, there are risks. Yet, there is also a higher reward, if done right. An invested community will go to bat for you when your reputation is on the line.
Tactics-wise, you might use online forums or guest blogs for connecting people with answers. It may involve a reward system for those willing to participate. This model might include online product forums where invested fans troubleshoot on behalf of the company, such as Amazon’s Create Space forum. This model can also include campaigns designed to crowdsource new product ideas, policy/organizational change, find solutions through contests, connect people with like needs, and a myriad of other tactics. This model may be a slow build, but strategic effort builds results.
Value-Adding: This model requires the highest time commitment and strategic content segmentation of any advocacy model. It also takes the longest to build, but has the highest reward. Tactics-wise, you may be doing any of the following:
- Give nods: acknowledge new followers, have a “fan of the week,” thank fans by commenting on their posts. Make sure all these actions add value and are not automated or thoughtless. Include a good mix of regular and new fans. Good example: AT&T recently did a wonderful campaign of thank you videos to customers. Click this link to check it out.
- Give gifts: Offer event discounts to loyal fans and new as well. Offer discounted or free registrations, free services, or prizes for contests that require an end product, not just a sign-up. You also may consider discounts or gifts that run just on a specific channel. Provide webinars or online events for fans free of charge.
- Solve problems: Your fans have questions and needs–do you have answers? You may want to train a corps of internal ambassadors built to man your online channels, such as Best Buy uses. Or, you may open source answers and information such as the OPEN forum from American Express. Also, your website may contain a help or tutorial section, such as the new Copyblogger website (scroll down to the tutorial section).
We know those organizations that work to develop trust and loyalty do significantly better in a crisis on all fronts. Developing social media strategies that build loyalty ahead of a crisis builds a strong shield against negative events. Listen to the conversations around your brand, build engagement strategies in social media that place you in a position of trust, and have a plan to respond.
Our thanks to our guest blogger – Chris Syme and her new e-book; Listen, Engage, Respond.
This is a part two of the three-part guest blog featuring Chris Syme’s new e-book “Listen, Engage, Respond”. This addresses the important “What doesn’t work” for best practice Social Media strategies – the next will feature on “What does work.”
For a long time, organizations have had one set of social media strategies for business operations and another for crisis communications. The truth is, the right social media strategy will boost business, develop loyal fans, and set the stage for quicker crisis mitigation. In Chris’ new e-book Listen, Engage, Respond, she lays out a strategic social media blueprint that super charges every area of your marketing and communications, in addition to protecting you in a crisis. First, we’ll need to cover the basics.
The Five Models of Social Media Engagement/Loyalty
Why are loyalty models the golden ticket? Because any model that focuses on building loyalty moves your fans and followers from being mere consumers of goods and services to being advocates. I love the way Ant’s Eye View described this in a recent slideshow on the difference between influence and advocacy. The objective is to move your fans from “I like you” to “I love you” to “I defend you”. That’s what we’re shooting for in crisis communications—fans that will come to our defense.
There are many systems out there for building social media engagement, and the Listen, Engage, Respond system is based on best practices and streamlined for use in crisis communications. We’ll look at them from the least effective strategy to the best. As Chris Syme states, ” I wrote on the details of how to rate each strategy on my blog.”
What Doesn’t Work
The two most widely used social media strategy models actually have little or no value in building loyalty, but have substantial value in building a customer base and selling products. Because of those benefits, and the fact that they are easy to implement, many organizations never go beyond broadcasting and building reach. Both are easy to measure as well.
Broadcasting: You talk and people (hopefully) listen. You offer nothing to your fans but information you want them to have. Tactics-wise, comments are probably disabled on blogs and Facebook pages, you don’t re-tweet anything your followers have to say, and you only follow those that give you valuable information. If you do allow comments, you probably delete anything negative said about your organization. Your posts may be infrequent, and you may automate all your messages verbatim across all social channels. All you want to do here is give information with no real thought to how it’s being processed. Also, you’re probably not listening to the online conversations around your brand. Your measuring here is based on your output, not on interactions.
Reach: Here, your main focus is on numbers: building fans, followers, and likes. Your main goal is to increase the social graph of your organization. In traditional marketing, we call this “eyeballs”. Tactics-wise, the ability for fans to upload or post on your Facebook page may be disabled, but you do allow comments on what you post. There is occasional monitoring and occasional “liking” comments by the page manager. Your content is designed to get people to like, follow, and subscribe. There may be no specific calls to action for different stakeholder groups.
You may be using landing pages (like this page and…), follow-backs, Adwords, or Facebook campaigns to increase fan numbers. Your focus here is on number of followers, not necessarily getting them to respond. Your motto is, “he who has the most fans, wins.”
This is what doesn’t work. We will continue Chris’ strategies for Social Media in our next blog by looking at what does work.