12 ways to combat an online crisis

You can’t always avoid a crisis situation, but you can be ready for one. Here’s what you need to know.


*Live conference blog, please excuse typos.

Content from Ragan’s Annual Corporate Communicators Conference

12 ways to combat an online crisis

Would a crisis situation catch your company off guard?

Just because you haven’t faced one doesn’t mean you won’t. Instead of shaking in your boots, be ready.

Dallas Lawrence, chief global digital strategist for Burston-Marsteller, offers 12 tips:

1. Know and engage key conversation drivers early and often. Find the people who are talking about your brand. Engage with them and keep the conversation going.

2. Know your antagonists. Identify them. Watch them. If they disseminate inaccurate information about your brand, you need to be there to make it right.

3. Avoid the information vacuum. Lacking official news, CNN scraped together what it could to inaccurately report “breaking news” during the Boston bombings. Don’t try to be first—be accurate.

4. Develop clear and effective platform-appropriate messaging. Lawrence cites the Domino’s pizza crisis that featured two employees doing disgusting things with pizza, recording it on video, and posting it to YouTube. Lawrence says Domino’s was right to respond in the same medium—video.

5. Own your brand before someone else does. Social media makes it easy for people to hijack brands by creating fake accounts. Own your space in social media to ensure no one tells your story for you.

6. Know who speaks for your brand. Identify your spokesperson and arm him with information.

7. Integrate your social media channels. Are your social media channels integrated to amplify each other? Have a strategy in place.

8. Make sure you know what you’re talking about. Ashton Kutcher expressed outrage after Joe Paterno was fired and later admitted he didn’t know anything about the situation. Don’t pull an Ashton Kutcher.

9. Own up quickly. “There is an enormous willingness to forgive, as long as you’re willing to admit you were wrong,” says Lawrence.

10. Use humor—if appropriate. Sometimes a situation is so bad there’s only one tool you can use—humor. “This is a very tricky weapon to use,” cautions Lawrence. You don’t want to use it in life and death situations or tragedies.

11. Beware of data-hunters. “If you are in business today, you are in the business of data,” says Lawrence. There are people who are aggressively trying to get your information. Have a plan in place to protect it.

12. Arm your employees. Employees are your secret weapon. Tell them what they can do on social media—not what they can’t. Arm them with information and empower them.

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3 ways to prepare for the future of PR

“The future of PR: paid, owned, earned and shared media is all under one roof,” says Gini Dietrich, founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich and Spin Sucks Pro.

How can PR pros manage this quickly-changing landscape? Dietrich suggests a number of useful tips:

1. Understand blogger relations.

“PR is not just media relations. It’s not just blogger relations. The conversation has changed,” says Dietrich.

Try to get along with bloggers. As Dietrich is both a PR pro and a blogger, she wants to send a message to PR pros to stop mass pitching. Wouldn’t you rather send 10 pitches and place one story than send 1,000 and get one placement? Understand the blogger’s goals, and you’ll have more success.

Know how to target publications. Today you just need to visit a blog to determine how to pitch the blogger. Bloggers often have a page that gives you specific guidelines on what to pitch and how.

Remember that the writer controls the story—not PR. When pitching bloggers, PR pros must remember that their pitches cannot be self-serving-they have to meet the needs of the blogger. It has to be relevant to the blogger’s audience.

Stop spamming people. Enough said.

Know that bloggers are passionate about their work. If you show you’re passionate about giving bloggers what they and their audiences want, you’ll see results. Dietrich suggests reading comment sections to really understand what bloggers’ audiences are passionate about.

2. Use content to spark leads.

Offer webinars, whitepapers and downloads. “Become an investment instead of an expense,” Dietrich says. For example, offer free webinars to produce more leads and become a resource to your community.

Create eBooks. Use an eBook to determine a prospect’s real interest. Create an informational book about your company that contains information about pricing. You can track the link online and determine how far a prospect has read. Dietrich does this as PDF on her website that she tracks through Google Analytics.

Use calls-to-action to motivate people. Ask people to fill out a form to download a whitepaper, or find opportunities to guide people to your website. Link to your stories via social media with language that encourages people to click through. Then, track the links you used online and in your whitepaper to determine how many leads become customers or engage in a desired action.

3. Be prepared for a crisis.

Have an evolving crisis communications plan. Thanks to the Web, your crisis communication plan is going to change constantly. Anticipate potential crises. Be prepared to be flexible, and allow your crisis communication plan to evolve.

Monitor The Web for red flags. Know the difference between an online troll and a concerned customer. Usually when a crisis explodes online it’s because you’re not paying attention to your audience. “Most of us just want to be heard,” says Dietrich. Say sorry and take the conversation offline. If the person isn’t an online troll, “this tactic works 99 percent of the time,” Dietrich says.

Keep a cool head. “Take the emotion out of the equation and look at things from a rational perspective,” says Dietrich.

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Why corporate communicators should think like reporters

James Ylisela Jr., president and co-owner of Duff Media Partners Inc., wants you to add “reporter” to your list of communication skills.

Why?

Because thinking like a reporter will make your stories more compelling, interesting and engaging.

Here are 10 ways to be the best reporter in your organization:

1. Find the paper trail. Do your research, and find interesting facts about your topic. The more you know, the more insight you’ll be able to share with your audience.

2. Be empathetic. Find out what people within your organization are going through. Can you put aside your frustration and demonstrate empathy for the IT department? That’s when you’re on to something, Ylisela says.

3. Be curious. Reporters should gather more information than they actually plan to use. “We can’t be shy,” says Ylisela. “We need to ask questions.”

4. Be energetic. Be willing to get up from your desk and talk to people. Be enthusiastic. Actively investigate.

5. Be patient. People may not give you what you want right away. Wait for the information you need. Be persistent, but be prepared to be patient.

6. Be authentic. Find the authenticity in what people do and what they tell you. Look for authentic statements. You don’t want boring, stiff statements.

7. Find the drama. Get closer to the action. Talk to employees and executives. Find out what’s going on in your company.

8. Find the urgency. What kind of content will draw your audience in? Find out, and create a sense of urgency.

9. Find the humans. People want to read about other people. Go figure! Find great, relatable stories and the emotion in them.

10. Create a picture. Tell people what something looks like, how it feels and how it works. Know it yourself first, and create a story around the picture.

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Dos and dont’s for creating sexy content

“Sexy” is an attention-getting word. It’s also not the kind of word most people think of when they create corporate content like newsletters or financial updates.

Steve Crescenzo, CEO of Crescenzo Communications, challenges writers to create content that is so compelling, interesting and attention-getting that it’s newsstand worthy, meaning it could command attention even if it was next to an issue of Cosmopolitan that features Kim Kardashian.

Here are four things that will always hinder your efforts:

1. Don’t be an order taker. Crescenzo says corporate writers shouldn’t do what executives say if it won’t translate well. For example, a jargon-filled post won’t resonate with customers. “Our job is to be strategic counselors,” says Crescenzo. Ask your executives, “What are your needs? What are you trying to accomplish?”

2. Don’t be a deck head. You can’t be a great writer when you only work off of a deck or press release. You have to be a reporter. Don’t take whatever your team gives you. Ask for more information. Get the good stuff.

3. Don’t be a smile-and-nodder. Crescenzo met with a director of marketing and asked her to explain something to him as if he were an idiot. “She couldn’t help herself,” he exclaimed, “she latched on to jargon every 30 seconds.” She may understand it, but when you write it and send it out to your audience, no one will understand it.

4. Don’t be a box checker. Get it done, check the box. Get it done, check the box. You fight a battle to be on deadline, but don’t create something just for the sake of making it through the approval process. Many communicators write pieces that make it through the approval process, but they lose the battle of connecting with their audience.

What to do to become a better writer:

1. Choose the right channel. Video isn’t a great place to talk numbers, but it is a great place to show emotion. If you can share a numbers story and make it about a person, you’ll win the audience. Tell a story; don’t just spout out facts. Also consider visuals. “Not everything has to be written out in words,” says Crescenzo.

2. Give people options. Create an article with an eye-catching headline and summary. Add a video and PDF. This way people can decide if they want to consume the information in video format, briefly read about it as a summary, or read an entire article and download a PDF.

3. Master the 4 Cs. Be creative, concise, compelling and conversational. Pretend everything you create is going to sit on a newsstand next to a magazine with Kim Kardashian on the cover. What’s going to make your publication stand out?

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11 ways to make your intranet the place to be

Determining what to post on your company’s intranet is no easy task. Karen Lee, senior director of internal communications at SAS, shares fun, proven ways to encourage employees to actually use the company’s intranet.

“We want to be social and we want people’s voices to be heard at SAS,” says Lee. She shares 11 ideas that work for SAS:

1. Provide live coverage. The SAS intranet features live stories that provide timely updates. For example, live updates that employees could subscribe to were posted from a managers’ meeting. Lee explains that this reduces rumors and helps employees stay in the loop.

2. Ask employees to share their stories. Some of the top stories on the SAS intranet are the stories employees share. “On the Stage” is a popular series that highlights employees who are also professional musicians. To submit a story, employees simply fill out a pre-made template.

3. Share images. Lee used the intranet to house a “picture of the day” competition and received an overwhelming response. Employees submitted 4,800 pictures from around the world. Photo and video contests also provide visual assets for websites and collateral.

4. Think outside the box. SAS has an employee, Ed Summers, who is legally blind. Lee and team created a blog post for his dog,”Willie the seeing eye dog.” This post was incredibly popular. Here’s an excerpt from the blog post:

Interviewer: “What’s your favorite thing about coming to work?”

Willie the seeing eye dog: “I love lunch. Sometimes I find bits of food on the cafeteria floor and snatch them up before the blind guy sees. Please don’t blow my cover.”

5. Connect with executives. One of SAS’ executives was a college gymnast. Lee and team posted a photo of him and encouraged employees to guess who it was. More executives began to share stories about themselves after this.

6. Celebrate quirky holidays. SAS celebrated Pie Day (March 14, or 3.14). This included “pie in the face” posts, contests and more. Another example of how SAS celebrates quirkiness is its Talk Like a Pirate Day. Employees could use a translator housed on the intranet that translated sentences into pirate speak.

7. Try a new approach to an old topic. On Earth Day, SAS encouraged employees to clean out their closets and bring their “junk” to work. Then they did a junk swap and posted pictures and content to the intranet.

8. Take a risk. Lee isn’t afraid of taking risks. She emailed her executives with the subject line, “Get dirty with me.” The body of the email encouraged executives to participate in a dumpster dive to clean up trash.

9. Ask employees what they think. SAS has a “You Tell Us” feature on the intranet (as well as a bulletin board if they’d rather write on a board). Employees are prompted to answer questions like, “What one idea would you put forth to improve the overall SAS customer experience?” This encourages people who are afraid to comment in public a place to become comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas.

10. Highlight internal blogs. The SAS intranet houses more than 800 internal blogs (600 active). Top blogs are recognized annually and featured on the homepage of intranet. Those people often become thought leaders and start becoming more vocal outside of the intranet.

11. Have a video portal. The intranet also houses quick videos like SAS’ “60-second scoop” that features updates on new product announcements, product releases and need-to-know information. The “Mr. Smarty Pants” series gives employees advice on what to do and what not to do at SAS. The “Help Me Understand” series features informational videos like “Help me understand my 401K benefits” to provide employees with quick bits of crucial information.

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