Five Things You Must Do on Social Media in a Crisis

Crisis for the NFL and they said "ouch."
Crisis for the NFL and they said “ouch.”

I have thought and written about this for several years (like here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here), but an article in Bulldog Reporter last week highlighted a study conducted by the University of Missouri School of Journalism in which they found that social media matters enormously in crisis communications.   Some organizations get it, while others do not.

Their case study was about public opinion of the NFL in the wake of the movie “Concussion.”  Not surprisingly, medical professionals, former NFL players and sports fans expressed highly negative opinions about the NFL’s handling of the player concussion issue, particularly on Twitter.

And guess what?  The NFL was silent, people ran amok on social media, and that enabled people who thought the NFL was at fault to define the issue – based upon a MOVIE (although I am certainly not saying that there was not substance to their arguments).  Here’s a telling quote from the article:

This study sheds light on how large groups of relatively unorganized people on Twitter can come together to develop specific attitudes and stances toward organizations or topics and issues.  By using Contingency Theory to examine how this process works, the study gives public relations professionals a road map for how to read the room in terms of what people are saying about their organization [emphasis mine based upon years of frustration]. They then can better respond with messages that directly address the concerns people have during organizational crises.”

Since I have been talking about online crisis communications for some time (see above), it’s always a good idea to rethink, revisit or just PLAIN START your online crisis communications planning.

So here’s some free advice:

Rule #1:  Avoid the crisis.

This is the most obvious, yet the most often overlooked item in any online or offline crisis communications plan.  Through good planning, regular updates and an eyes-and-ears network (and also by generally having good corporate conduct), your first step is to NOT find yourself in a crisis situation.  Sure, airlines cannot prevent some accidents, but so many other crises (one just need read any headline related to the 2016 presidential campaigns – ugh), and a little planning and common sense could have avoided to many headaches and reputational damage.

Take away: Get a bunch of smart people in a room at least four times a year and brainstorm ANYTHING that could go wrong in your business or industry.  Anything.   Then, based upon these scenarios, come up with ways to help prevent them from happening.

Rule #2: NEVER be blindsided by a crisis.  

If you are a large organization, especially in a controversial realm, you have enemies.  And those enemies will likely signal their intentions on social media BEFORE undertaking a large campaign. Smart organizations should have robust monitoring systems (note I said “systemS, as in “plural,” because I have yet to see one monitoring system that can catch everything that matters) that catch even the slightest mention of something important online  – and something that, while it may not help you avoid the crisis, can help you manage it better of blunt its impact.  There are tons of good social media listening tools out there (PC Magazine just released a comprehensive review of them), so there is not excuse for being caught flat-footed before a crisis.

Take away:  spending a little money upfront on Radian6, Sprout Social or myriad other social listening and media monitoring programs can help save millions in corporate reputation down the road.

Rule #3: Look for crisis prodromes.  

A “prodrome” is a fancy word for a signal that something bad that could very likely happen, that, if you look for it, signals an oncoming crisis.  Think tornado funnel in the distance. If you are a government organization and an activist groups asks for (via the Freedom of Information Act), reams of documents or video about a sensitive topic, then you know that they are looking for a smoking gun.  Have crises befallen people in your industry?  That’s also a prodrome – when something bad happens to a competitor.  Always be just a little paranoid and looking out of bad things that could happen.

Take away:  Most crises have some sort of advance warning.  Think hard about where you are looking for information, who is giving it to you and what you are doing with that information.  Is it reaching the right people?  Do you have a complete picture of your issue environment?

Rule #4: Empower your social media staff.  

Sorry, guys, but in the era of citizen journalism and social media based corporate campaigns, you don’t have 24 hours to craft and issue a press release anymore.  You have ten minutes to even inject your point of view in an online debate.  Part of your planning process should be thinking hard about what could go wrong, drafting and developing a set of pre-approved messages for use on social media.  Your community manager or social media lead most likely will be the first person to spot a crisis that is taking hold online, and he/she needs to have something to say because if you do not define your organization or your position (read:  NFL, above), others will define it for you.  And you don’t want that.

Take away:  Instead of hiring the youngest people in your organization to do social, hire experienced customer service staff and teach them social media.  Then, when they spot trouble, make sure that they can inject your point of view almost immediately.  And it does not have to be complex.  Sometimes, it’s as simple as “we hear you,” or “we’re sorry” that will help you buy time.

Rule #5: Do a crisis post-mortem.  

Especially in intense or drawn out crises that are exhausting for communications and social media staff, the first thing people want to do is to “put it behind them.” MISTAKE.  The first thing to do after the dust has settled is to do an analysis of:

  1. What went wrong;
  2. Wow it unfolded;
  3. Who the players were;
  4. How well you did/did not respond;
  5. What you can do better next time; and
  6. How all of this can impact your next crisis.

So much of what I am writing about I have said many, many times, but all too often, it takes a major blow to a corporate reputation before they take a social-media based crisis seriously.  I fear that it will continue to happen before others get it.

Questions or thoughts?  Hit me up on my contact page or in the comments below.


Dear Southwest Airlines: You Still Don’t Get It

Not so much, Southwest.
Not so much, Southwest.

Here’s an update on my ongoing issues with Southwest Airlines. I was, in fact, DM’d on Twitter by someone two days ago (it’s important to note that this occurred ONLY after I wrote my last blog post, put in in four places and it went pseudo-viral):

Ok.  That was way later than when I needed Southwest to respond, help me find my medications, my charging cords, my glasses, etc.,  (see last post), but it was a start.  So I sent them my confirmation number and got this DM this morning:

DM from @SouthwestAir
DM from @SouthwestAir

What wrong with this

Although they responded, here’s what’s wrong with this picture:

  1. Congratulations on recognizing that I filed a baggage report.  I did that at 10:00pm on July 21st in the Omaha airport.  That was six days ago.
  2. I picked up my bag at Reagan National on Monday afternoon, July 25 at about 3:00pm.  As simple check of the baggage database would reveal this.  Why are you asking me something that you should already know?
  3. Yesterday, on July 26th, 2016, was when I got the DM asking me if I got my medications “so I can submit the receipts to [their] baggage team.”  It’s almost tragically comical that I sent this tweet:


Please get a clue, guys

My concern was not receipts, reimbursement nor the FIVE hours that it took me haggling with the insurance company to pay for a five-day supply of meds (along with the entire co-pay for a 30-day supply to the tune of more than $100) while in the middle of helping my friend move in 102 degree heat.   I was concerned about my heart going “poof” and ending up six feet under.  I conveyed this concern repeatedly via social media (Twitter and Facebook) as well as in probably more than 20 conversations and urgent messages left for baggage claim in Omaha and Chicago Midway.   Yet surprisingly, I did not hear from anyone until my last blog post got pretty popular.

Moreover, no one cared then, in fact, if you recall, on four occasions when I got someone on the phone at Midway baggage, the HUNG UP ON ME and let the subsequent call to to voicemail.  No one cared at the 800 number to put me on hold to see if THEY could reach anyone at baggage.  All I heard was they would “send a message to Chicago.”  No matter how desperate I was.  No matter how much I pleaded.

So now, Southwest, do you actually think that my concern is solely getting “submitting receipts  to the Baggage Team” (note that they did NOT say “for reimbursement”) nor did the person address any of the other things that I HAD to buy like an $84 power cord for my computer so I could continue to make urgent (and unanswered) pleas on social media?  Or extra clothes and a host of other items?


Where I am now

I don’t like doing this.  I sure hope that someone at Southwest is smart enough to not just read that I am angry, but to read the entire background.  I am angry, and I am also a social media pro, guys.  And I do not intend to stop.  The communications that I have received up to now are rote and tone deaf.  Again, I am not stupid.  There were likely thousands of social media messages like mine.  And I learned yesterday from a PR Week article that Shel Holtz sent me that:

Of the 104 people in [Southwest’s] communications and outreach team, two-thirds have been engaged in the response and support efforts.

By my math, that’s about 68 people – responding to thousands of messages.  What that creates are almost bot-like answers like the one I got.  Not good enough.  As I have already pointed out, airlines have some of the best crisis communications planning of all industries, so why not add 200 or 300 customer service people from an agency that specializes just in this sort of thing?  A simple Google search reveals dozens.

It starts at the top at Southwest

And as a side note, in the PR Week interview, “6 questions for Southwest Airlines’ CCO Linda Rutherford on outage crisis,” (published on July 22) Ms. Rutherford, presumably prepped by her communications staff, stated:

We’ve had a bit of a ragged start today. We found we had mismatches. In other words, we might have an airplane in one city, but our crew had timed out the day before and they didn’t get proper rest to fly. We have had some issues today we’re continuing to work through.

Since when are 700 canceled flights on July 21 and 800 canceled flights on July 22 considered a“ragged start?” This demeans my awful experience.  It was not “ragged,” it was terrifying and exasperating.

When asked if Southwest was planning to offer any compensation to customers, Ms. Rutherford mentioned extending a fare sale (I think that people are going to be LESS likely to fly Southwest now) and a:

…massive effort underway to reach every customer individually impacted by a cancellation.”

Somehow, those messages never reached me, but MY messages fell on deaf ears.  Finally, Ms. Rutherford stated:

Every situation is different, so we are tailoring the communication.”

TAILORING THE COMMUNICATION?  How about just responding to my urgent appeals when I needed you last week? The DMs that I got could not have been more generic – and I also provided links to the posts that explained my situation.  To not have “tailored the communications” when I provided excruciating detail in inexcusable.

Finally, and perhaps this is nit-picking or editing, but in Ms. Rutherford’s interview, the words “We’re sorry” (rule #1 is crisis communications – apologize early and often) do not appear until the ninth paragraph of the 11 that constituted her Q&A in PR Week.

Please stop shooting yourself in the foot, Southwest. I can keep this up as long as you keep messing up.

Shame on You Southwest Airlines – and Here’s Why

The nightmare that was the Southwest section in Midway Airport in Chicago on Thursday, July 24, 2016.
The nightmare that was the Southwest section in Midway Airport in Chicago on Thursday, July 24, 2016.

Warning:  LONG post ahead, but I think a worthy read.

My story is not unique, which is why it’s so important to tell.  But what is below represents one of the worst customer service experiences of my life, combined with rudeness and blind indifference – by an airline that is supposed to be the friendliest out there:  Southwest Airlines.

I am definitely NOT nuts about Southwest

I will start off this with a disclaimer:  Southwest suffered a computer outage on July 20, 2016, a day before I was set to travel to Omaha, Nebraska to help a friend move.  Boy, do I wish I had read the papers that morning because I would have changed airlines in a heartbeat.

On Wednesday, July 20, 2016, Southwest suffered “computer outages” that essentially grounded their entire fleet, causing more than 700 flight to be canceled.  And all of those people who were grounded with the Wednesday flights were trying to get on them the day that I was flying – Thursday.  It seemed like a once-in-a-life-time event, but it boggles my mind how an airline what built its reputation on online service could have everything go “poof” at once, like a clumsy IT employee tripped over the extension cord powering their servers.

Where Southwest blew it – repeatedly

When I showed up for my flight unaware of any problems (they text me all the time; couldn’t you warn me before this?), I discovered that, after getting in line (first) to board for my stopover in St. Louis, that the flight was canceled.  That’s right; they made us line up like cattle, raised our hopes, opened up the door to the jetway, THEN announced that the flight was canceled.

Like an Olympic sprinter, I headed straight for a Southwest desk and got on another flight to Chicago Midway, then on to Omaha.  No problem, right?

Where the nightmare began

Since I was literally the last person to board a full flight, as I was boarding the plane with my CARRY ON-SIZED LUGGAGE, the flight attendant at the door told me that I was going to have to check it.  I expressed hesitation because of what was in the bag:

  • Medications for my heart that I HAVE TO TAKE EVERY DAY;
  • All of my clothes
  • Hearing aid batteries
  • My glasses, without which I am blind
  • All electronic device charging cables (needed to communicate with Southwest – keep reading)
  • So, so much more.

What did the flight attendant tell me?

Unless you give us your luggage, you will not be allowed on the flight.

So I hurriedly grabbed what was on top:  my iPad and laptop. When I tried to grab the clear, plastic bag with my life sustaining medications in it, the flight attendant told me that I could NOT bring the bag because it would not fit in the seatback compartment ahead of me.  She was rude as one could be as all I was trying to do is avoid the nightmare that I faced.  As she put a tag on it, I READ HER the number of my flight to Omaha (four-hour layover in Chicago), I told her that I had critical medications in the bag.  She told me that the bag would get to Omaha before I did.  Um, not so much.

Oh, if only that were the case.

The nightmare begins

The flight to Chicago Midway was uneventful, so I had time to wander.  So rather than waiting five hours, I went to a Southwest counter and got on an earlier, 3:05 flight.  I went to the gate, waited, paid $30 AGAIN to get upgraded to priority boarding, was called to stand in line and the Southwest ticket person opened the door to the jetway.  “Things are going to work out fine,” I thought.

Not so much.

First, the Southwest ticket taker who was just staring out the window at the plane announced that we were waiting for another flight attendant to board the plane.  We had two pilots, I assume plenty of fuel to get us there – and by the way, I don’t really give a damn about my glass of water and bag of peanuts.  Just get the damn plane off the ground.  I would have handed out drinks myself.

So we waited in line.  For 30 minutes.  Finally, the staring-out-the-window Southwest employee announced that the flight had been canceled.  And the next flight (5:55pm) was the one that I had given up in order to try and fly earlier.  There was then a chaos that resembled a stampede as all passengers ran for the nearest Southwest counter to re-book – for the flight I was supposed to be on.

What really sucked

As all of us were frantically trying to change our flights and while waiting in an enormous line, I called their 800 number and a cheerful, electronic recording told me that all of their operators were busy and could call me back – in 65 minutes.  No thanks.

I then sprinted down the terminal and and found another Southwest counter whose waiting line did not resemble a United Nations Food distribution station, there was ONE employee helping to make changes.  One.

The second Southwest employee who was there was simply watching the crowd – and was taking pleasure at telling people when they got out of the first, horrendously long line that they needed to go to the BACK of the now LONGER line because he was not booking passengers.  Dude – can you hop on a freaking computer in an emergency?  And why did you take such glee (he was smirking) as he rebuked passengers who simply got out of line to ask a question, then telling them that they had lost their place in line and were at the mercy of the already not-so-happy people to regain his or her position in line?  This included families with infants too.

By some miracle, I got on the 5:55 pm flight, inquired about my bag and was told that “protocol” was to put my bag on the prior flight (there were two hours to do it) and that it would be waiting me for in Omaha.

It gets worse

When I finally landed in Omaha exhausted and worn out, I went straight to the baggage office and was told that no, my bag was NOT on the prior flight but was “probably” on the plane I just got off of.  After waiting for 30 minutes, guess what?  No suitcase.  So when I returned to the baggage office, I was told that there were TWO more inbound flights, and bag would be sent to my hotel – and they were going to call first.  And that at the latest, the bag would be delivered after midnight.

Thursday night?  No bag.  Friday morning?  No bag.

At this point, I was really starting to get worried, principally about the life saving medications that were in my luggage.  So I called the Southwest baggage claim number and they said that my lost baggage ticket was “open,” had no idea where the bag was, and suggested that I call the Omaha airport baggage office (402-422-6162 for those of you who need it, or for YOU, Southwest management, when you read this).  Which I did.  Seven times.  Each time, no one picked up.  I left frantic messages each time and STILL have not gotten a call back.

Undeterred, I called the security office at the Omaha airport, and a nice gentlemen said he “put a camera on them” (the baggage claim people) and

I was not kidding. I needed all of these prescriptions.
I was not kidding. I needed all of these prescriptions.

said that yes, they were in the office and did not pick up his call either.  They were there, but chose not to answer the phone likely because there was going to be an angry person on the other end.

Finally, in full crisis mode, and taking matters into my own hands, I called my cardiologist’s office.  Two hours, no call back.  Thankfully, I called another friend of mine who is an M.D. and he called in everything for me.  It took three hours and haggling with the insurance company, but I got five days’ worth of meds.  And when I picked them up, I had to pay the FULL co-pay for several meds for which I only had a five-day supply, to the tune of more than $100.  A shout out to Walgreens, who were great, but that cost was something I did not need at that point.

It gets even worse

After realizing that the Omaha people were simply not going to pick up the phone (I get that you are busy, but how about calling in someone who is off-duty just to answer the phone since there was chaos?), I again called the Southwest baggage 800 number and was given the number to the Chicago Midway baggage office.  Which I called repeatedly.  Probably 20 times.  I left seven phone messages stressing that I needed my life-sustaining medications, and no one ever called back.

But this is where it gets infuriating.  Over the course of the next two days, I called the office no less than 20 times, and on FOUR OCCASIONS, a human PICKED UP THE PHONE and when he/she realized that there was a customer on the other end of the line, HUNG UP ON ME.  FOUR TIMES.  And of course, each time that I called back after being hung up on, I got the useless voicemail again.  And by the way, for those who need it or Southwest management, the number I called for Midway Southwest baggage (and got hung up on) is 773-884-3040.

Social media 911

Since I do social for living and Southwest has such a good reputation for using it for customer service, I posted three tweets, tagging @SouthwestAir and BEGGING them to help me.  Nothing.  No response, not even up until the moment that I am writing this.  I also posted on the Facebook page – twice.  And please don’t tell me about the volume of inbound messages:  you can outsource much of this and there is no industry that does more crisis training than the airline industry.  Here are just a couple of examples:

My post on Southwest's Facebook page - that they never responded to.
My post on Southwest’s Facebook page – that they never responded to.

The tragedy that was now the comedy

After being hung up on four times in Midway, I again called the Southwest baggage 800 number again and was told that they had not idea where my bag was.  I stressed the medications issue.  Nothing.  When I asked how it was that my suitcase could have a number, a bar code and TSA can tell everything that comes in and goes out of an airport, I was again told “no dice” and given no help.  Even when I pleaded about the meds issue.

It’s a sidebar to the entire story, but I came to Omaha to help a friend move.  It was 102 degrees (heat index of 110) the day of the move.  Needless to say, I had one pair of clothes (t-shirt, shorts, you name it) and I sweated so much that even the items in my WALLET got wet with perspiration.  My belt was ruined.  So I again ran to the store to spend more money on some cheesy t-shirts and let them try out on my hotel air conditioning unit at night.

The end

Or at least I hope this is the end.  The day before my departure to fly home (Sunday), I still did not have my bag.  The 800 number people told me that they had GOOD NEWS and that they had matched the bag to ME!  And it was in Chicago.  And they were sending it to Omaha on the 3:00 flight, due to land at 4:00.  I once again called the Omaha baggage office at 5:00 to find out when it would be delivered (NOW, they were answering) and was told that no, my bag was not there.  “But the guy in corporate just told me that it was definitely on the flight!”  “Sorry.”

At that point, I gave up.  I KNEW that were I to leave for DC, the bag would arrive in Omaha that day (they would take days to get the bag back to me).  I had already spent more than $200 on water, food and clothing and $84 for charging cable for my MacBook because I needed it to keep communicating – and I was borrowing everyone else’s iPhone cords to charge my phone, just to try to get some help.

The end?

I am sitting in the Omaha airport awaiting what I hope will be an uneventful flight home.  As of last night, I called Reagan National and spoke with a nice woman who assured me that my luggage was waiting for me there.  So, I may finally be able to go home.  I am unshaven, feel sore and probably look like a step above a homeless person.  But hope me and my suitcase will have a tearful reunion in Reagan National later today.

The take aways:

  1. No excuses: I get 100% that the Southwest staff was stressed and tired of being yelled at. But I never yelled.  In fact, I told several of them (in person in the airports) that I felt tremendous empathy for what they had gone through.  But most were rude and unhelpful.  You get trained for situations like this, people, and most of you could have done much better, especially since I spent five hours in Chicago and changed terminals twice because of two canceled flights and probably more than thee hours on hold tracking down my bag.
  2. Liability, anyone? I was lucky enough to track down a friend who is an M.D who could prescribe the meds, but what if I could not get them?  What if something had happened to me or I had been less resourceful?   Each and every time I called someone at Southwest, I stressed the fact that I needed to get put to the top of some priority list because of the meds.  The best that they could do was ALWAYS “message the baggage office.”  That’s it.  Sorry, but that it bullshit.
  3. Stop being jerks: There were more instances than I can name, but when I finally got on a flight here, I was waiting to board and standing next to a guy (NOTE THE WORD “STANDING”) who had JUST BROKEN HIS FOOT AND WAS IN A BOOT. He asked the Southwest ticket taker if he could please pre-board (it was obvious why) and was told – TWICE – “no.”  So you won’t let a guy with a broken foot pre-board?  I went up and talked to the ticket taker and asked him what the OFFICAL SOUTHWEST POLICY WAS for letting people with special needs board.  He had no answer, so I told him that my newfound friend would take my place in the “A” line.  And he did board.
  4. Stop nickel and diming me: Before boarding each flight and because of the experience I had leaving DC and being the last one on the plane, I paid $15 each time for “priority boarding.”  That now will come to $75.00, which I was told was not only non-refundable, but did not transfer from one flight to the next.  I had to pay to “upgrade” each time.  Seriously?  It’s not like Southwest has assigned seats, so why the heck could it NOT carry over from one flight to the next (I am looking at you, Chicago Midway)?  One would think that (again, training) that at times like this, just BENDING the rules a bit would go a long way.
  5. Don’t hide on social.  Southwest has one of the most robust social media presences in the airline industry, but they hid over these last four days.  Like I said, there is no other industry with crisis communications plans like the airline industry, and I KNOW you could have called in extra people.  Either you did and chose to ignore my pleas, or your hid behind your terminals.

I am writing this for one reason and one reason alone:  to publicly shame these people and this company.  I tried pleading.  I tried begging.  I tried persuasion.  I tried social media.  Again, I understand that an unprecedented computer meltdown doesn’t happen often, but:

  • You are trained to deal with situations like this;
  • When you FORCE me to surrender my bag and refuse to let me take my bag of meds with me, don’t lie to me when you know 100% well that my bag will never make it;
  • We are all human beings, but here’s the difference: I am paying you and you should work harder to at least help a person who was clearly in distress.  

So, shame on you Southwest.  Shame on you.



Top Five Elements of a Good Social Media Practice

I have been putting food on the table using what is now called online/social media/digital since 1997 and I am often struck by no matter how things change, they remain the same.  I am lucky enough to work in a field (social media) in which there is ALWAYS something new around the corner, but it is these bright, shiny objects that often lead to our downfall as practitioners.

I wrote about the topic all the way back in 2009, but many of the basic precepts on how to build a successful social media practice, whether in-house or at an agency, remain the same. Even as time has passed, it just convinces me more that the magic in the digital world is NOT in the bright, shiny objects, rather in their strategic application.  In other words, you can have all of the Facebook or Snapchat skillz that one can muster, but if you do not have a fundamental understanding of communication or marketing or what your organization or client want to achieve (and how to define success), you will be doing digital or social for its own sake.

And you will quite possibly fail.

So here are a few thoughts on what I think makes for a successful  social media offering, if you are doing so for an employer (in house) or for an agency (for clients).  As always, I welcome your comments.

1. Always start with your organizational objectives.

The one thing that will keep you from jumping on the latest and greatest social media platform (remember Ello?) is one simple question:  how does using this tool fit into helping my team achieve our organizational objectives?   If you can make a business case about how something will lead to more engagement, dialogue or

Remember Ello?
Ello said a quick “goodbye.”

interaction with the people with whom you want to dialogue, then you may be on to something.

If you want to show off that you are on the vanguard and use a tool simply because a competitor is using, it’s brand new or your CEO read about it in the Wall Street Journal that morning, well, that may or may not work for you.  For example, what brands are starting to figure out now is Snapchat.  But if your target audience is over 30, it’s time to move on and put your resources behind a medium where your audience congregates.   Snapchat is not a fit. It’s that simple.

Bright, shiny ≠ what’s best for you and your employer.

2. Read, read, and then read some more.

Again, the up side to doing social media for a living is that the only constant is change.  The down side is that you need to do a LOT of reading to keep up not just the tools, but the way that the industry is evolving. Intellectual curiosity is a must. Even when the hot platforms being introduced have leveled out, you still need to know how Facebook’s ever-changing algorithm could impact your client (um, pay-to-play is where it’s at), and when Twitter is finally going to build a Walled Garden around their data (it’s hard for me to see another successful revenue model).  In short, you need to see the obvious and not-so-obvious trends that are unique to our industry.

Cutting the cord on cableAnd that trend might not be as obvious as you think.  For example, last December, Pew Internet reported that cable and satellite providers continue to hemorrhage customers:

15% of American adults are now “cord cutters” – that is, they indicate that they once had a cable or satellite TV connection, but no longer subscribe. Another 9% of Americans have never had a cable or satellite subscription at all, meaning that a total of 24% of Americans currently do not subscribe to cable or satellite TV in their homes.”

If you work in the online environment, you need to not only be aware of this, but also recognize that YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and others come via an Internet connection and think long and hard about what this means to your internal or external clients.  The only way that you are going to be able to identify opportunities before others do is to stay current and think hard about the opportunities that are presented by trends.

3.  Know that reputations can take decades to build, but can be taken down online in ten minutes.

In what is still a surprisingly underpopulated field of practice, online reputation management is where the rubber hits the road between knowing who is saying what about your organization or its people, when it matters, and if and when to react.  Fifteen years ago, you had 24 hours to put out a press release. Now, when something goes very wrong online that threatens your organizational reputation, you need to:

  1. Spot that threat or opportunity through human means (good community managers) and/or technology (comprehensive monitoring tools);
  2. Know where the tipping point is – having an innate sense of if and when to respond or react;
  3. Have a list of people whom you can call upon who can either speak to the issue that is impacting your organization’s reputation;
  4. In the absence of #3, have a set of pre-approved messages based upon a good crisis communications plan that can at least show those who are watching online (and don’t forget that offline now follows online – traditional and print reporters now source leads from social media)  that you acknowledge that there is a problem and you are sensitive to their concerns.
  5. Know that when a crisis really gets bad, the top person in your organization needs to be the one to respond, even if it’s a series of tweets.  When someone goes very wrong in a crisis, people want to hear from the top person in your food chain.

4.  Be a good internal communicator.

Ask any student who has ever taken a class with me, and they will probably roll their eyes because I have said this so many times:  unless you are a sole practitioner, your most important audience is often internal. Especially in the world of social media, you are always teaching and selling, oftentimes to skeptical audiences. Be a good internal communicator So if you want resources in order to get things done, you need to a) get people to like you, and b) communicate the value of social media in ways that people will understand.  This can be as complex as putting together an all-emcompasing social media strategy or as simple as popping by a co-worker’s office to do a soft-sell on an idea that you are going to bring up in a meeting.   Building coalitions in-house when you do social is critical, yet is often one of the most undervalued skills a social media communicator can have.

5.  Groom the next generation of leadership so they can take your job.

This might seem a little counter-intuitive, but in many management positions that I have held, I have always thought that my job was to ensure that anyone who was interested and talented should be groomed to replace me one day.  And “replacement” does not need to mean something negative.  Many companies routinely spot good internal talent and move them to completely different areas outside of what they do.  They know that you can teach someone to be a subject matter expert, but you cannot teach them to be smart.

Richard Branson’s quote sums up an excellent philosophy:

Making every person on your team smarter and more empowered  multiplies the strength of your communications team, even if you are only a team of two.  So when you train people so well that they could leave (or take over your job) but incentivize them to stay, you have a winning combination and a much stronger team.

What it all comes down to:

These are just five elements in what could probably be 20 tips on how to build a very good internal or external social media practice, but in the end, it’s pretty simple:

  • Be smart and well-read;
  • Be a good internal communicator; and
  • Make everyone around you smarter and better.

Building and sustaining a career in social media is not easy.  But it’s even harder for those who don’t remember one of the most basic precepts of our profession:  it’s the “social” in social media that truly matters.

Twitter #Fail: Lionel Messi, Social Rookies and a PR Disaster

Lionel and His "Messy" Tax Conviction
Lionel and His “Messy” Tax Conviction


I have blogged about this for years, but about the dumbest thing that you can do in any organization is what many continue to do:  hand the keys to the social media apparatus to the youngest (and clearly, the one who understands social media – not) person in the office.  I wish I had kept count of how many interns end up running social because they happen to have Snapchat on their phones and a clearly the experts.

I could list the myriad reasons why this is just such a stupid idea, but it helps me prove my point when large organizations keep making fundamental mistakes using digital.  And I mean ROOKIE mistakes that the Interwebs smash back in your face only to create the exact opposite of what you had intended.  A PR disaster of your own making.

One of the most popular pieces that I have ever written was a 2012 rebuttal to someone who claimed that “Every Social Media Manager Should be Under the Page of 25.”  Thanks again for the publicity, Catherine, but in 2016, we are still making the same mistakes.

The latest example of this played out last week, when Barcelona FC, one of the best (and most profitable) soccer football clubs in the WORLD took stupidity to the next level and created the #WeAreAllLeoMessi campaign.

What Happened to Lionel Messi

As a brief backgrounder, Lionel Messi is one of, if not THE best soccer football player on the planet.  Mr. Messi’s genius does not seem to apply to his (pardon the pun) “messy” accounting when it comes to paying his taxes.  You see, already a Zillionaire, Mr. Messi seemed to forget to pay more than FIVE MILLION EUROS in back taxes to the Spanish government.  Oops.

Can We Have Some Gray Hair in the Room Please?

You see, anyone even with PR 101 skills would say nothing, issue a “no comment” (this is a personal matter for him and the team should not be communicating about his taxes dodging issues), or at best, if forced to, issue a short press release to the effect of “We are glad that this matter is behind us and Mr. Messi can focus his full attention on our upcoming season.”  Nope.

You Can’t Fix Stupid, But You Should

At some point, someone raised their hand and said, in the middle on European anxiety over their economies post Brexit, “I HAVE A GREAT IDEA. Let’s launch a Twitter campaign designed to drum up support for Leo.”  Whomever in that room said “yes,” or “SÍ” should be publicly flogged.

Here’s what the Barcelona Football Club tweeted:


So instead of the first rule of crisis communications, which is to AVOID THE CRISIS, someone inside the communications shop of one of the most profitable enterprises on Earth did the opposite and decided to ask the masses to support a man who made 36 MILLION EUROS last year and “forgot” to pay taxes.  That nearly 40 MILLION US DOLLARS.  That’s right.  In one year.  Their plea read:

“[T]he campaign is encouraging all Barça fans to express their sympathy for the greatest footballer in the world by voicing their unconditional support on social networks,” the club said. “By making it clear that #WeAreAllMessi, we want Leo to know that he is not alone.”

So let’s all rally around a dude who made more than many corporations last year and oops, forgot to stroke a check to the Spanish tax authorities.  Insert Homer Simpson “D’oh.”

The Backlash

People all over Twitter reacted as as a reasonable or even mediocre communications professional would expect, and that is with blind indignation over the club asking people to support a guy who dodged more in taxes last year than most of us will make in a lifetime.



and this is my personal favorite:

The Lesson That Never Seems to Get Learned

One would have thought that sports organizations that lead with their Twitter chins would have learned from such stupendous flameouts such as the #AskJameis Twitter Q&A which Deadspin called “A Predictable Mess,” that when

Famous Jameis
Famous Jameis

you have an athlete, celebrity or otherwise who has a checkered background (um, sexual assault allegations and crab leg shoplifting charges), you might not want to idiotically open up your organization to public opinion and seem 100% out of touch.

A seasoned communications professional, when he or she picked themselves up off of the floor laughing, would then have fired the person who came up with the idea. Yet many organizations continue to hand the social media and digital keys to inexperienced people who may know how to USE the tools in their personal worlds, but don’t know the damnedest thing about communications in the professional world.  SOCIAL MEDIA IS COMMUNICATIONS.  And increasingly, is crisis communications.

Keep doing it, guys.  Maybe someone will eventually get a clue.