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Social Media Crisis? Try the OFF Method

This might be a wake up call, but social media has altered the style and tone your company should use in its communications. This will never be more evident than when you’re dealing with a crisis. You need to be personal, sincere and most of all keep the human element in front of you at all times. The last thing you want to do is sound like a heartless corporation run by robots tasked to save the bottom line at all costs. Humanity and humility are like gold on social media. The more of each you inject into your responses the better you’ll be.

The lifeblood of social media is people connecting with other people. The temptation in a corporate crisis situation is to create generic responses for the masses. That’s the opposite of what you do in social media. You need specific responses for individuals. Even if you’re saying the same basic thing to a hundred people on Twitter, just taking the time to respond individually to people is huge. It shows that you care. It shows that you’re human. It shows that you’re trying. It shows everyone else who’s observing the situation that you’re genuinely attempting to make things right. Don’t do what Epicurious did after an unfortunate few tweets following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. As you can see, it’s hardly a comforting response:

Be On The OFF Method
It may sound strange but if you have the endurance and have handled a crisis well from the outset you’ll find you can actually make gains after the dust settles. To do this use the OFF method from the moment you learn about the crisis:

O – Own it.

F – Fix it.

F – Flip it.

Own it
Owning the problem doesn’t mean you’re admitting you’re the problem. It means you’re going to take the lead on getting to the bottom of it. If you find out your product is, in fact, the issue, do what needs to be done to remove the products and make the appropriate public announcements. Be sure to follow up specifically with people who reached out to you early on. Don’t assume that a public announcement will help those early individuals concerned about the problem as much as a more personal comment and apology.

Owning it also means that if your company has done anything wrong, you’re going to say so. When you apologize you don’t want to use words that sound like you’re dodging responsibility. Be direct. Be specific. Be genuine. Perhaps you need to record a video message from your CEO explaining the problem, apologizing and then outlining the steps the company is taking. Post the video to YouTube and your Facebook page. Make it available on your company website. Once you own a problem you greatly help your chances of controlling the message and the long-term impact on your brand.

Fix it
Now that you own the problem it’s time to start fixing it. If you need to issue a recall or follow a series of procedures, you’re obviously going to be in full swing there. On the social media front give regular updates about the process. The people who have been impacted will care. In the absence of communication consumers can begin to assume things about you that won’t necessarily be true. In the presence of communication, they will have to work much harder to come to those same assumptions. This means you may show pictures of your product being loaded back into boxes from a grocery store just to drive the point home that you’re on top of a recall.

If you’re in the unfortunate position of being innocent while public perception is that you’re guilty, work to publicly build trust by joining the hunt for the truth. Even if it becomes clear that your company is innocent, you can choose to stay involved in order to leverage the new connections and attention on your brand into something positive. This is the beginning of flipping the situation into something that works for you and bolsters your brand credibility.

Flip it
Flipping a problem is looking for the silver linings around even the worst situations. When there’s a crisis your brand is given a platform you would not normally have. Once the problem goes away that attention could go away too unless you choose to stay engaged with it. Maybe that means you make a donation to a fund started to help people in some way impacted by your actions or send handwritten notes to people thanking them for understanding that you never intended for any harm to come and that you’re taking full measures to make sure nothing like this happens again. Maybe it means your CEO records a series of personal apology videos for people most concerned or hurt.

If it was determined that your products were not at fault, you now know a lot more customers directly and you might want to give them some free product to thank them for sticking with you through the tough time. Whatever the case, if you push through the hard part of the situation and muster up the emotional energy to stay engaged a bit longer you’ll be able to find those opportunities that can only arise on the other side of a crisis.

It’s Not Business. It’s Personal.
Social media connects all of us. It connect individuals to each other and it connects companies to individuals you never thought you’d hear from. The bottom line is that you have more direct communication methods at disposal than ever before. You can use them well to make a bad situation better. As long has you remember that you’re using personal communication tools for talking with real people, you’ll be well ahead of the curve to deal with any situation that may arise.

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How To Have An Awkward Conversation: 5 Steps

You know that feeling you get when you need to talk to someone about that uncomfortable topic and it’s just time to finally address it? Yeah, I hate that feeling too.

When you know it’s time to have that conversation, you should have an idea of where you want the conversation to go. Don’t start the conversation without an end in mind. It’s like the difference between cutting someone for the purpose of surgery versus cutting someone and walking away leaving them to bleed and fend for themselves. Don’t do that. If it’s going to hurt at least know you’re doing it for a good reason and be prepared to stitch them up at the end.

Here’s an outline of how you might enter into your next awkward conversation:

1. State The Obvious
I like to take a straight forward approach to starting the conversation. If I need to have a difficult conversation with Joe I would find a time and place where we can talk privately and I would literally start the conversation like this: “Joe, we need to have an awkward conversation.” I’ve found that leading with that brings a touch of levity to the whole situation but also makes it clear that it’s about to get serious and you’re not going to hold back.

2. Don’t Give Compliments
When someone knows you have something serious to say they’re ready for you to get to the point. Any compliment you say in an effort to delay the real reason for the conversation is going to be ignored because they’re waiting for the hammer to fall. Just skip the compliments. Those can come later in the conversation. You said it was going to get awkward so go ahead and get awkward as fast as you can.

3. Assume There May Be Facts You Don’t Have
The nice thing about the awkward conversation is that you will feel awkward too. You’re in the same boat as the person you’re talking to. After you say what you need to say ask them if there’s a side of the story you’re missing. It’s possible there’s more going on than you know. Giving them a chance to clarify or inform the conversation shows that you’re willing to listen and haven’t already shut the door on the opportunity for them to redeem themselves.

4. Now Give Compliments
By now you’ve said all the hard things you needed to say and the other person may have as well. This is a great time to compliment the person. You might compliment them for their attitude or candidness or overall contribution to your organization. Find something to say and be as specific as you can so they know you really mean it.

5. Don’t End Awkwardly
While you start the conversation with awkwardness you don’t want it to end that way. Throughout the conversation you will be stuck in the middle of what you’d like to happen and listening to them for additional, potentially contrary, information. You may need to adjust your expectations or desired outcome on the fly, but whatever the case conclude the conversation with something that isn’t awkward. Depending on how the conversation goes you may have additional conversations that need to take place with other people. If so, make it clear to the person you’re meeting with to state that you need to do that. Do you need to think further about the situation in light of this conversation? If so, tell them. Do you need to apologize? Do it. Find a landing spot and try to land as smoothly as possible.

The awkward conversation should ultimately serve a purpose and if you can enter into it with clear purpose and a willingness to hear the other person out, you’re going to find the clarity needed to make things much less awkward.

Photo credit: “Still Awkward” by Joe_Focus licensed under Creative Commons.

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The Best Question You’ve Never Asked

Several months ago I was hired by a non profit organization here in Nashville to help them assess their marketing team and strategy. They had a marketing director vacancy and the organization’s CEO wanted to be sure he understood the state of the marketing team both in terms of personnel and strategic direction.

While preparing to interview all of the members of the marketing team I realized I’m inherently at a disadvantage as an outsider. I just met the people and I didn’t know the culture. What worried me most was that there may be unspoken realms of the organization I wouldn’t know about unless someone showed me the path to discover them. I wanted a question that might help me find whether those unmentioned realms exist so I came up with this question:

What do you know I probably don’t know but should know to help me better understand this organization?

That’s it. It’s a wide open question but I found it was a huge on ramp into things people wanted to say but weren’t going to until I asked that question. It was a way for me to say, “is there something you’re not telling me just because I haven’t asked the right question?” Turns out there was a lot more to talk about in almost every interview I did.

The idea of asking someone to reveal something they think you should know will keep you on your toes but if you’re willing to let them take it wherever they want to go you’ll find it pays off.

There can be broad implications for using variations of this question in your own business. Whether you’re interviewing someone for a job, buying a company, doing performance reviews or dealing with an employee problem, keep this question in your pocket to see where it may go. Though the end of the question may change for your particular situation you’ll want to hang on to this part:

What do you know I probably don’t know but should know about ____________ ?

PS: When my children get a little older I suspect I’ll use this question with them too!

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I Called Out The Overblown Headline. You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next.

There’s a new trend online that seems to be, unfortunately, catching on: the overblown, first person headline. You’ve likely seen them. Here are a few to see what I mean:

Why They Do It
You can quickly surmise why sites like Upworthy, BuzzFeed and Distractify (which at least has an honest name) do this. They know the average online user will only give them 1-2 seconds (if they’re lucky) and they need to do something captivating to get the click they want. Getting the click is the site’s goal because more clicks increase the site’s visitor numbers and higher visitor numbers mean they can raise advertising rates.

These headlines are particularly used on Facebook to pull people away from Facebook an onto their own website.

The Real Problem: Eroding Trust
The main problem with these headlines is that they’re usually a bait and switch. They are overblown statements combined with curious images to lure you into a click. Once you click what you usually find doesn’t live up to the hype, and therein lies the real problem for anyone using this. Do you really want to implement a technique that is only going to lead more people to mistrust you? Surely not, but that’s the ultimate impact these headlines have.

The promise almost never delivers so the person who clicks on the link begins to build immunity from the trick so they don’t get suckered into it again. The likelihood that these work will only get smaller over time as people are more aware of what’s really going on.

What’s most concerning to me is that “mainstream” media outlets are beginning to adopt this technique to boost their own traffic. Even here in Nashville, our own Tennessean has begun to resort to doing this.

While these headlines undoubtedly get clicks, they’re also making cynical people even more so. People are going to be less and less inclined to believe them because they know there’s a catch. The temptation will be to use them because they will, for a time, probably work. What they may be undermining about your brand, however, is far from worth it.

Don’t fall for overblown headlines and better yet, don’t use them. They’re ultimately not good for you. We won’t have to guess what happens…we can go ahead and see that this leads to people losing trust in you.

Posted in Misc | 2 Comments