PRL 614: Crisis Planning & Press Briefings

            Last week in our public relations writing course, we were assigned teams and simulated crisis press briefings to implement for our classmates.  One of the teams was assigned to develop a crisis plan and execute a briefing for the Costa Concordia crash last January.  Their plan included a comprehensive response outline, including responses for social media and the company’s website.  Overall, I was very impressed with their professionalism and key talking points for this simulation! 

“Isolated incident”

            However, one suggestion for improvement would be to avoid labeling this accident as an “isolated incident.”  The faux CEOs of Costa and Carnival both used this term occasionally in an attempt to reassure their stakeholders that an accident of this nature would likely not repeat itself.  While I see the value of that reassurance, I believe the wording of “isolated incident” has the side effect of connoting minimization of the event’s severity.  That effect was obviously not their intention, and the words “isolated incident” are used quite often in crisis responses by organizations.  However, I would advise CEOs and spokespeople to avoid the use of that phrase.

            I thought that the group’s stress on their cooperation with the Italian authorities lent a significant amount of strength to their presentation.  Also, they kept a serious yet positive tone throughout the briefing, which conveyed their wholehearted commitment to remedying the situation.  For example, when the customer service representative (played by Jen Zink) was talking about the reparations being made to the passengers and families affected, she began by saying that “what was lost can never truly be replaced.” This validates the emotions felt by the affected customers, showing that the company understands and sympathizes with their plight.

            Overall, the Costa/Carnival group’s press briefing was an effective communication of the company’s commitment to fixing the situation and taking responsibility for the events that transpired.  It is difficult, if not impossible, for an organization to predict 100% of the possible crises that may arise due to human error or technical failures.  However, if organizations respond as this group did in their simulation, they will likely survive such a crisis. 
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Syracuse University’s Kate Brodock on Social Media

“You will get out of social media what you put into it.”

Today in our social media strategies & tactics class, we were given a firsthand look into how Syracuse University manages its social media efforts from Kate Brodock, Executive Director of Digital & Social Media for the university.  Drawing from her experience at Syracuse and elsewhere, Kate provided us with many valuable insights into the world of social media management.  A healthy balance of content creation and curation, providing consistent ‘value’ to your followers and the importance of social media in a crisis were all stressed.
Particularly interesting were her insights into the use of segmentation of social media.  As such a large institution (somewhere in the range of 14,000 undergraduates alone), Syracuse University has found it necessary to segment its social media outreach.  Users who engage with social media accounts are doing so to serve their own needs; in order to meet those needs, SU has split its main social channels into several social channels.  For example, its main Twitter account (@SyracuseU) serves almost 17,000 followers, all with a variety of experiences, locations and desires.  Some may be alumni, some current students, some faculty and some even local community members.  Rather than ‘spamming’ all 17,000 followers with content and information irrelevant to them and their connection to SU, the university has divided into several niche accounts, including @SUCampus and @SUSqueeze.  Across all of its platforms and accounts, SU has found a way to brand itself consistently, something many large organizations struggle to do.

“You want likes that will stay with your brand!” 

 In describing the importance not just of the number of ‘likes’ or followers on a brand’s page, Kate stressed that providing consistent value to your followers is key.  Value can be “warm fuzzies,” meaning some kind of visual or other content that tugs at a user’s heartstrings.  For Syracuse, these warm fuzzies could come in the form of their “Throwback Thursday” photos of SU many decades ago, which engage alumni in a meaningful, even emotional way.  Value can also be humor, however.  Perhaps your organization’s users simply want to “crack up” every day, she said, “and if you keep them laughing, you can keep them coming back.”  Whatever the type of value your users seek, be sure to provide it consistently in order to increase user engagement with your brand or organization.  

“When a crisis hits, it will hit the social media platforms first, and it will hit us in incredibly high volume!”

As the social media director for a major university, Kate has been exposed to several recent crises at SU, including the Bernie Fine scandal that rocked campus last spring.  While these experiences were by no means an easy job for those running the SU social channels, Kate and her team were able to learn quite a bit about social media’s role in a crisis during those times.  Her instructions for crisis response are:

1) When hearing rumblings of a crisis, stop & listen.  Gather as much information as you can.
2) Acknowledge emotions.  People are feeling a certain way, and those emotions are valid.
3) Respond with 1st party content (from your organization) when ready.
Lastly, Kate stressed the importance of coordination and collaboration during a crisis.  “Cross-department coordination can make or break a crisis,” she said.  If social media managers are not allowed a seat at the crisis management and preparedness table, they will be incapable of effectively communicating with an organization’s publics during a tumultuous time.    
Many thanks to Kate Brodock for sharing these insights (and many more below in my Storify) with our class!  

“Social media tools are not free, unless you consider your time valueless!”

    

[View the story “Syracuse University’s #SocialMedia Strategy” on Storify]