5 Crisis Management Tips We Can Learn from Zuckerberg | eNews from OWC

There’s no question that over the last decade Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has grown from a flip-flop wearing startup bro into a full-blown tech tycoon and astute businessman to be reckoned with. There is, however, a debate on how well he’s handled the recent Facebook-Cambridge Analytica debacle. While Zuckerberg’s initial absence and radio-silence approach is ill-advised during a crisis, it’s clear he spent his time out of the spotlight when the fiasco first broke getting some much-needed media training. There were several ways he handled the congressional hearing surprisingly well, and a few where he faltered. Here’s what we can learn from the latest PR disaster taking the world by storm:

Be transparent … quickly and of your own volition.
Before attending the congressional hearing, Zuckerberg was relatively absent from the conversation, allowing a news vacuum to open and anyone with a theory to fill the void. Don’t let others create fake news to explain your story. Get in front of controversy by being as transparent as possible, disclosing all the facts as quickly as possible and making yourself available for questions from the media. Answering “no comment” is an unacceptable response. Get the facts out and get them out fast.

Control the narrative, not the reporters.
Don’t threaten to sue The New York Times and the Guardian for publishing the facts. This is a sure-fire way to turn your most important potential allies against you. Covering the news is a reporter’s job, but the way they frame a story is a choice – and your interactions with them influence that choice. Are you making their job easier or more difficult? Are you dodging their questions or creating an open line of communication?

Guide the interview and stick to your messages.
One thing Zuckerberg did particularly well during the hearing was control the interview. He stuck to his talking points and stayed on message employing a few strategic tactics, like:

  • Building a bridge. If a reporter starts to wander into areas you don’t want to talk about, answer the reporter’s inquiry briefly, then build a bridge back to your key points. When Zuckerberg was pushed on certain sensitive topics, such as defining what Facebook is, he took control of the conversation by bridging to a topic he felt was relevant and supported his messaging.
  • Rephrasing tricky questions. It’s important not to let anyone put words in your mouth, but don’t argue. To avoid getting stuck in a semantics war, restructure loaded questions to guide back to your talking points and where you feel comfortable with phrases like “I think what you’re asking is …” A great example of this is when Zuckerberg addressed regulation questions with a question of his own: “I think the real question, as the internet becomes more important in people’s lives, is what is the right regulation? Not whether there should be or not.”
  • Flagging key points. Emphasize that the statement you are about to make is one the reporter should remember. Zuckerberg did a great job of illustrating this tactic when responding to Sen. Leahy’s question on Facebook’s role in violence in Myanmar saying “Yes, we’re working on this and there are three specific things we are doing…” He then proceeded to list the three actionable tactics, along with the reasons behind them, succinctly in only 36 seconds.

Be prepared.
This is another area where Zuckerberg shined. He arrived calm and collected with soundbite messages prepared and his key objectives defined. He even brought a now-notorious binder of notes to help him answer tough questions about hot-button issues should he get stuck. Preparation goes a long way to helping you feel more in control and at ease.

Say ‘sorry.’
It’s important to humanize your brand by being sincere and apologetic. Apologizing doesn’t have to be synonymous with admitting fault; it’s about expressing concern that the crisis occurred. Express concern for any victims and their families. If a mistake was made, apologize. There’s a common saying: “People buy people, not products.” It means that people choose to do business with people they feel connected to, like and, above all, trust. Zuckerberg has spent 14 years as the face of Facebook, yet when the news broke, he was missing from the conversation and so was his public apology.

While crises are inevitable, we can choose how we respond when they do happen. Let Zuckerberg’s reaction to the recent troubles Facebook is facing be a lesson to you. Remember: don’t delay, apologize, be transparent and be accountable.

April 20th, 2018|Categories: eNewsletter|Tags: , , , , , , |

8 tips from Crisis Boot Camp | eNews from OWC

Last week I spoke on “How to Lead Your Organization’s Social Media Messaging in a Crisis” during PRNews’ Digital Summit in Huntington Beach.  Here are some key points from my remarks and those of my fellow presenters at Crisis Management Boot Camp:

Download the PDF version here: 8 tips from Crisis Boot Camp

  • Be ready — and few are.  Only 50 percent of companies have a ready-to-go crisis plan — and only 5 percent of those have a designated response team.  A plan only helps if people are assigned and trained in advance to do the work, and there’s a lot of work to manage.
  • Assess your risk.  Measure the crisis on a scale of one to 10.  Not every crisis requires a 10 response.  Check out OWC’s Crisis Response Risk Assessment Tool. 
  • Prepare emergency “holding statements.”  A major crisis breaks fast, and a response needs to go out within an hour and a half.  A holding statement is the company position on a potential threat or foreseeable emergency.  Think it through before it happens.  “Semper paratus” (“always ready”).
  • Don’t leave your fate in the hands of outside web developers.  In a crisis, people will check your website.  Do you have a person in your office who has the access and training to upload changes to your site?  Most don’t, but you can change that today.  It’s easy with a modern content management system such as WordPress.
  • Be timely and ready to go on camera.  Are you prepared to respond with a YouTube or Facebook Live video within 90 minutes of a crisis breaking?  Especially if the source of the crisis is itself a video, you must respond through the appropriate platform and be prepped like a seasoned pro.
  • Social strategy is media strategy.  Sixty-two percent of U.S. adults get their news from social media, and 18 percent do so frequently.  So, bad news travels even faster.  Monitor social so you know immediately when you’re being discussed in blogs and on Facebook and Twitter.  Here at OWC we use Hootsuite and Google Alerts.
  • Robots aren’t just driving our cars. They’re now a part of newsrooms.  The Associated Press has a robot that takes information from SEC filings and press releases and automatically produces wire reports on earnings that are completely devoid of context and nuance. It’s now more important than ever for organizations to expand on sparse news reports with a more complete message through company-controlled platforms.
  • We’re all in the data business. What would a data breach mean to your clients, customers, employees and how quickly would the news spread and on what platforms?  In a breach, IT will be too busy to help.  Management needs a plan.

Crisis comes just when things seem to be going so well.  We all heard about the Oscars Sunday night.  We’ll see in real time how Uber deals with the self-inflicted blows to its image and brand.  Three out of five CEOs believe corporate brand and reputation represent more than 40 percent of their market capitalization which is why crisis preparation and response is a bottom-line job.

March 2nd, 2017|Categories: eNewsletter|Tags: , , , , , , |

OWC’s Williams offers tips on how to respond to a cybersecurity attack

Digital Guardian spotlighted OWC’s CEO and President Tracy Williams’s recommendations for organizations to build an effective response plan in the face of a cyber attack. No organization, regardless of size, is exempt from cybersecurity threats, and having an established plan of action that immediately executes following a security breach is crucial to limit incident costs and damages to the company’s reputation.

For Williams, some of the most important things to remember when it comes to a cybersecurity crisis are:

  • Share company-wide, verbally and in all written materials. Don’t neglect your own employees. Protect your people by empowering them with knowledge. They’re your most important asset.
  • Identify all stakeholders and quickly develop communications strategy for each.
  • Your communications intent should be compassion, honesty, and transparency.

Read the full article: Cybersecurity Incident Response Planning: Expert Tips, Steps, Testing & More (Digital Guardian)

February 8th, 2017|Categories: OWC News|Tags: , , , |

Language and identity in public relations

obama mirror

President Obama’s speeches, written by PR professionals, reflect the identity he adopts at that moment.

By Marie Ebenezer

This semester I am taking an English Linguistics class at Freiburg University in Germany called “Language and Identity.” I chose this class because I have always wondered about the relationship between the language(s) you speak and how you identify yourself.

I am bilingual, and people ask me all the time: “Do you feel more German or more French?” “What language do you dream in?” or “What are you going to speak with your children?” Speaking several languages changes how people perceive you and consequently how you are identified.

In public relations, we write many different kinds of materials — press releases, blog posts, tweets, speeches and more. The format and the style change depending on the type of document/post and the audience. This also happens in everyday situations. You speak differently to your best friend from college than you do to your boss.

As an example, President Obama’s speeches, written by PR professionals, reflect the identity he adopts at that moment. Here is an excerpt from his inauguration speech in January:

“What makes us exceptional, what makes us America is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Obama is the solemn, composed head of state in that speech, and his words reflect the importance of the moment. In contrast, here is part of a speech he gave at Manor New Tech High School in Texas earlier this month:

“Hello, Texas!  Howdy, Manor.  Go Titans! I hear that there’s a rule that anyone who gives a presentation in front of the class has to dress up, so I made sure to wear a tie. I didn’t want to lose points.”

By using “howdy” and making reference to a popular sports team, Obama takes on a different identity – that of a cool and friendly president. It makes it easy for students to identify with him. The light and humorous tone stands in complete opposition to the graveness of the inaugural speech.

The relationship between language and identity is extremely relevant in PR because language is our main tool. All the aspects we need to consider when thinking of an audience – age, gender, cultural background – are what constitutes our identity.

In everyday life, most of this back and forth happens unconsciously. We don’t calculate how we talk to our friends or bosses because these processes are deeply ingrained. In public relations, however, we have to be aware of this difference.

Ebenezer is a former intern at Olmstead Williams Communications.