Archive for the ‘crisis communications’ Category

Burger King Twitter Hacking: Take A Chill Pill

Burger King Twitter account hacked

Burger King’s Twitter account was hacked today, with the hacker turning the company’s Twitter page into an offensive mock-up of a McDonalds Twitter channel. An hour and fifteen minutes later, the account was suspended, but not before the news spread across the social media fishbowl at lightning speed.

As often happens, a huge amount of basement punditry has already begun. I’ve already had to call BS when I saw someone asserting that it took Burger King “too long” to address the situation.

Here’s what we do know:

  • The Burger King account was hacked.
  • The hacking occurred on a public holiday in the US and most of Canada.
  • It took just over an hour to pull the account down.

Here’s what we do not know:

  • If the hacker changed the password to prevent Burger King accessing the page.
  • How robust Burger King’s security processes for their social media channels are.
  • When Burger King’s team spotted the hack.
  • Whether their community manager was anywhere near a computer when this happened – who knows if their community manager was out for a hike when this happened?
  • Whether Burger King had a crisis plan for this kind of situation.
  • How long it took for Burger King to take action on their end.
  • If Burger King needed to go through Twitter to to pull the account down, how long it took them to respond.
  • When this is all over, if this will have any impact on the brand whatsoever.

What I know from my experience in these kinds of situations with large brands:

  • Situations like this are chaotic at the best of times. As Ed Truitt pointed out in a nice analogy, battle plans rarely survive the first encounter with the enemy.
  • Holidays are prime time for hackers, as response times from companies tend to be longer. It can take time to reach people who aren’t officially working.
  • The person manning one social channel may not be the same as the person manning another, meaning you may need to reach several people in order to respond.
  • An hour is not a long timeframe in which to have a channel pulled down.

The only real gap I see at this point, as pointed out to me by Kami Huyse and Sara Patterson, is the lack of any public response so far. Social media crisis plans should include pre-approved boilerplate language for social media channels and other communications channels for situations like this. With that said, we’re talking a hacking of a relatively small account here – not a major crisis like a food safety recall or a company-caused fatality. Given the frequent separation of audiences between Facebook and Twitter, the company may have considered the option of posting elsewhere, and decided against it (again, we don’t know).

My point: Let’s hold off on the basement punditry. There’s a whole lot that we do not know, and very few things that we do know. Without someone with that knowledge filling in the blanks, all we can do is speculate.

(Image: Kami Huyse)


Why You Should Tweet During a Crisis

Ever have one of those frustrating conversations with your colleagues during an emerging issue, where you’re trying to figure out whether acknowledging an issue online will defuse it or spread it?

You know, the one that goes something like:

A: “Have you seen all the chatter about this issue online? We should get out there and let people know what’s going on.”
B: “No – it’s only a few people – if we post about it more people will know there’s a problem.”

People have a natural reluctance to admit something is wrong. That’s all the more so online, where people can talk back and potentially ask uncomfortable questions. So, unless there’s someone with enough authority to stick-handle a response through the objections, this is often where a stalemate is reached.

Even if you do manage to convince people of the need to communicate, the time it takes to do the convincing often means that you miss the boat on getting your response out there in time for people to see it.

That’s why I was really interested to see a note from Shashi Bellamkonda of Network Solutions on the Social CRM Pioneers group, pointing to some interesting research by Microsoft and Psychster on the effect of companies acknowledging issues via Twitter on the actions and perceptions of customers.

The white paper, entitled “Using Twitter to Reassure Users During a Site Outage,” looks into the effects of a company informing people – or not – of an outage via Twitter, and the varying effectiveness of different approaches to doing so.

The conclusions provide some useful ammunition for those who advocate for a more proactive approach to managing issues via Twitter:

  1. Any kind of acknowledgement online will result in lowered negativity and improved perceptions, and may lead to fewer people calling your call centre
  2. Companies need to think about who posts the information, not just what is posted – a trusted community manager may be better than an executive or an anonymous company account
  3. Companies can improve the effectiveness of their acknowledgements by explaining the nature and cause of the issue

It’s particularly interesting that the study identified that the acknowledgements do more than just change perceptions; they also decrease the likelihood of people calling your call centre.

Change in likelihood to contact support

During a panel on online support at SxSW this year, Frank Eliason explained that he was able to calculate the tangible benefit from his team at Comcast by looking at the cost of their team, the number of people they helped and comparing that to the cost of those people calling their call centre.

Even the most math-averse person can tell that if you reduce the number of people calling you for information, and do it in a cost-effective way, it should be an easy sell.

What’s more, this is a two-pronged benefit – communicating via Twitter can lower your support costs while simultaneously improving peoples’ perception of your company. So, you’re not only lowering costs, you’re also potentially generating revenue in the long-term.


Are You Ready If Wikileaks Targets You?

Wikileaks creator Julian Assange has announced that his site is now going to begin to focus on businesses. Apparently the first target, early next year, will be a major American bank. Is your company ready to handle the crisis if an organization like Wikileaks decides to focus its attention on you?

The list of organizations getting blindsided by online attacks is growing ever longer. DKNY joined their ranks recently, thanks to PETANestle will be a case study of how not to respond for a long time thanks to Greenpeace; and the Cooks Source magazine got completely derailed when their misdoings were uncovered and detailed online.

Do you know how you’d respond in these kinds of situations, let alone if thousands of internal documents were revealed by an organization like Wikileaks?

If your answer is “no,” here are a few pointers

Dust off your crisis communications plan

Unearth your crisis communications plan. Does it include a digital component? If it doesn’t, find the appropriate people within your organization and work with them to update it.

Assume it’s coming

Organizations should assume that digital properties they manage, whether on-domain or off-domain, will get attacked by third parties. Every marketing initiative should, at a minimum, incorporate escalation processes into their plans. Community managers (whether internal or agency side) should be equipped with appropriate training and resources to respond to a situation should it occur… because one day, it might. As DKNY found out recently, these attacks can come from out of nowhere.

Plan and practice for scenarios

Pull people from multiple departments together and consider the most likely issues that might emerge, then practice responding to them. Use facilitators to establish scenarios, and drill your response team so that, when an issue occurs, people know how to respond.

The ostrich approach doesn’t work

As David Armano points out, shutting your online properties down just isn’t an appropriate response to an issue. Sticking your head in the sand (the ostrich approach) won’t make a serious issue go away and it doesn’t mean other people won’ t see the controversy; it just means you won’t see it.

Don’t be dumb

As I noted in the case of Cooks Source, communications can’t save you if you’re doing the wrong thing. Wikileaks, Greenpeace and PETA go after organizations they see as doing wrong. There’s no way you can please everyone and you shouldn’t run your company in constant fear, but you can avoid making yourself a target of these kinds of attacks by not doing dumb things.

What else would you add?

Cooks Source: How to Avoid an Unnecessary Crisis


When food writer Monica Gaudio discovered that Cooks Source magazine had lifted an article she’d written and printed it in the magazine, she emailed the magazine to inquire about how it had come about. When the editor of the magazine asked what she wanted, Gaudio told the. she wanted an apology and a $130 donation to the Columbia Journalism School as compensation.

Instead, she got this:

“Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was “my bad” indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.

But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”

The response when Gaudio posted this email was jaw-dropping. Thousands of people posted comments to the Cooks Source Facebook page, which went from a couple of hundred fans to three and a half thousand “fans” over the next two days. These comments rapidly turned from general outrage to quite offensive mockery. Commenters also began to review other content on the site, only to find it had been taken from sources such as NPR, Martha Stewart and the Food Network.

Discussion of Cooks Source Sources on Facebook

To make things worse, the editor of the magazine began to post both defensive and aggressive comments on the page, including some that were downright rude, at one point referring to a commenter as “dumbass.”

The magazine tried abandoning the old page and moving to a new one, saying that the old one had been “hacked” (in fact it appears to just have been regular commenters) but the crowd followed them to the new page, despite their setting of the page’s default to just show posts by the page administrator.

Old page:

New Page:

The uproar has done more than just mire the reputation and Facebook page of the magazine; it has also cost them advertisers as some have apparently pulled their ads in protest. It also turned into a mainstream media story as numerous outlets (including the Washington Post and the Guardian) picked-up on the controversy.


Cooks Source has provided us with a textbook case study of how not to manage an emerging issue, from both a non-digital and digital perspective. However, five simple steps could have managed this issue down before the crisis unfolded.

This issue could have been easily managed – the aggrieved party simply asked for an apology and a small donation – but the response to the issue turned it into a full-blown crisis that has advertisers bailing from the magazine. Still, even though their original Facebook page has been rendered unusable by irate commenters, the community manager is still posting aggressive, combative posts on the new page… and getting the same reaction as before.

There are several simple steps companies can take toward avoiding this kind of situation:

  1. Ensure your business practices are legal to begin with – in this case, don’t plagiarize (lesson: some things can’t be fixed by PR or digital).
  2. Develop a moderation policy for your social media properties, so you have something to point to if you are faced with offensive comments.
  3. Ensure everyone is educated around both general and social media-focused employee policies. Proper training and pre-existing rules of engagement should have prevented both the initial email and the ensuring negative online spiral.
  4. Avoid aggressive or defensive responses – both in email and on digital properties. In this case, the issue may have been solved with an initial email reply that apologized and promised it wouldn’t happen again. Instead, an aggressive and clearly inaccurate email provoked a virtual storm. Furthermore, the conduct of the magazine’s editor on the Facebook page ensured the situation went from bad to worse.
  5. Know when you can’t win the battle – don’t dig yourself into even worse trouble by trying to win the battle, and in doing so lose the war. Know when to disengage from the back-and-forth and stick to stand-alone statements rather than trying to win the argument.

What would you add?

Using Social Media to Protect Your Reputation

Reputation management through social media is a hot topic right now. In fact, digital crisis communications was the topic of one of the best panels I saw at Blogworld Expo last week (more on that panel soon).

With that in mind, I thought you might like to hear an interview I just did with Andrew Brown and Robert Gold at BusinessCast, on the subject of “using social media to protect your reputation.”

BusinessCast Episode 171 – Using Social Media to Protect Your Reputation

The Challenge

Rather than a typical interview format, Andrew and Robert threw me into a scenario:

A Canadian-based financial services company has launched a campaign that renews one of its seasonal consumer-based investment products (e.g. RRSPs). They have spent their resources on traditional media (including television, radio, direct mail, in-branch literature and outbound telemarketing) as well as leveraged their permission-based email program, search engine marketing and ad-buys on some well-known consumer sites (e.g. national and local newspapers as well as investment sites).

Everything seems to be going on as expected but, then they get thrown a curve ball: Four days ago their call centre started receiving a dramatic increase in calls revealing that a message is floating across Facebook that their investment product is somehow unreliable. At the same time, one of the SVPs has just seen that a local financial community influencer with nearly 10,000 loyal Twitter followers has just posted a message slamming the product. Finally, the spill-over is having an impact on in-branch conversations with consumers as well as in the B2B areas of the bank.

They then posed seven questions to me:

  • What are the most immediate actions that you would advise the company to take?
  • What is the best way to evaluate the damage done to the reputation of the brand and its product?
  • What can the company do to make sure that there is little spill-over into other areas of the its business?
  • What are the measures of success that you would recommend to demonstrate success?
  • What kind of timetable is required to execute the key recommendations?
  • In what areas are the major hard dollar costs associated with the key recommendations?
  • What are the most common knee-jerk reaction activities that the company should avoid taking?

Check out the interview above, or over at BusinessCast.

Let me know what you think of my responses!

(Image: Shutterstock)

When Agencies Can’t Be Transparent

When approaching clients on objectives to begin social media, agencies focus on three overarching areas: consumer trust, brand engagement and transparency. Is this the approach of all agencies? No, but it can be a starting point to figure out specific end goals. Transparency can come in a few forms: the form of humanizing the brand; the form of understanding the consumer and responding; or the form of disclosing sensitive information.

But, what happens when you can’t be transparent?

The agency / client dynamic is one that varies, dependent on the brand. Agencies can be completely different than in-house PR. Some utilize their agency as a partner; while others utilize their agency as a tool. The difference lies in the fact that there is trust and disclosure with a partner, and often times, they are brought into high level discussions.

Think of your own Twitter stream. Think of what you do behind the scenes at work. Is that knowledge the same as the impression you relay on social mediums? Brands operate in the same way. There are instances and circumstances where their hands are tied. It’s not just public relations involved in social media, but the C-Suite, Legal team, customer service and more. All groups have opinions, regulations and people to answer to.

Those circumstances are never relayed, with only the facts conveyed. In crisis communications exercises in journalism school, we were taught to share only important and straight to the point facts with the public. Why, then, do we throw stones at companies and critique their responses? Should we further investigate the how of the situation, instead of jumping to the ‘Why’ so quickly?

Agencies have the double edge sword – they have pressure from their own higher-ups to execute the scenario correctly, while also answering to a client. In this world where consumers want brands to be as open as possible, it’s quite true that expectations can be set too high when an actual business comes into play. When an actual crisis happens, many tend to focus on one key area without exploring others.

Is there a point where you step back and realize the client has to make the decision, and go with it? Or do you continue to bridge your case? Is it fair to throw stones when we don’t know the situation?

Let’s discuss.

Photo credit: W Promote

This guest post was written by Lauren Fernandez, Agency Community Manager for Radian6. She blogs at LAF, is on Twitter @cubanalaf and has an insane love for the Green Bay Packers.

Seven Reasons Your Company Needs To Prepare For Crises

Does your company have a communications plan for when it gets hit by a crisis?

Chances are, you don’t. Time and time again I’ve seen organizations plow ahead with communications programs that focus on generating proactive results, but do little to prepare for the flip side.

In the last few days we’ve seen another example of activism in social media, as Facebook users slammed Nestle for its environmental and business practices in the developing world. It’s yet another demonstration of the fact that if your organization is doing something that could be seen to be unethical, people now have a voice with which to respond.

If you’re not yet convinced of the need to prepare for an event such as this, consider the following:

1. At some point, your company WILL do something that upsets people.

It’s inevitable. At some point, you will do something that won’t make everyone happy – whether it’s raising prices, laying off staff, recalling a product or something else. It’s going to happen. While that doesn’t guarantee the kind of backlash that Nestle received, the chances of people voicing their concerns online is constantly rising as adoption of these tools increases.

2. It doesn’t matter if you’re using social media.

In Nestle’s case, their own property got hijacked. However, McNeil wasn’t using social media tools when the Motrin issue hit last year. While your social media properties may provide a lightning rod for criticism (which has pros and cons), not having them doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

3. You can’t plan reactively.

It’s too late to plan for a crisis when the crisis is already happening. It didn’t work in the old traditional media world, and it certainly doesn’t happen in the world of social media, where things move many times faster.

4. It’s easier than ever for people to organize.

Recent Canadian examples like the prorogation of the Canadian Parliament and the proposed introduction of a new Canadian Copyright Act have shown it’s becoming easier and easier for people to self-organize around issues that matter to them.

5. Slacktivism still gets attention.

Slacktivism is a term most people hadn’t heard of a year or two ago. It essentially means the act of doing something nominal in support of a cause (signing an online petition; joining a Facebook page, etc) which makes the person feel good but does little to further the cause. The flip side of “slacktivism,” though, is that right now it still gets media attention. While that may change over time as the novelty wears off, do you want to take that chance?

6. Control is a myth.

I’ve been saying this in presentations for a long time now – you don’t control the message. A news release issued six hours after a crisis breaks is no longer sufficient – you need to be prepared to monitor in real time and respond quickly if necessary. If you’re not prepared for when another party advances their agenda, you’ll be off-balance when it matters most.

7. Mistakes make the crisis worse.

Nestle compounded the problem with abrupt responses from their rep on their Facebook. Mistakes like that can sabotage any chance of calming the storm early. Having a plan, and practicing it, is critical – that’s why governments do things like emergency simulations (difference is their mistakes may cost lives), and why you should do them too.

Given all of these reasons, why would you NOT have a crisis communications plan?

(Image: Shutterstock)

Book Review: Feeding Frenzy

Feeding FrenzyA couple of months ago I read a compelling post from Gerald Baron – aka the guy behind Crisisblogger, one of my must-read sites. The post described a book named Feeding Frenzy by Jon Harmon as “one of the best crisis management books out there.” That’s high praise from a man with his own book on the subject, and I ordered a copy of the book on the spot.

The Ford-Firestone crisis

As the book cover puts it, “the Ford-Firestone tire crisis was the biggest business story of 2000-2001. Deadly and mysterious rollover accidents of Ford Explorers with failing Firestone tires took a toll of more than 270 lives in the U.S. and at least 100 more in Venezuela and other hot-climate countries.” As the head of public relations for Ford Truck team during this crisis, Harmon gives an insider’s perspective on the team’s efforts to understand what was happening and to manage the fallout from media, trial lawyers, safety advocates and the U.S. Congress.

Having now read Harmon’s book, I have to agree with Baron that it’s a fantastic read. I recommend it for anyone remotely interested in crisis communications, or communications in general for that matter.

Easy to read

Feeding Frenzy is a page-turner. From start to finish, you’ll find yourself hooked on the tale Harmon weaves as the crisis escalates and the tension between Ford and Firestone increases. While this is a book about crisis communications, it’s written as a narrative and a compelling one at that.

A side benefit of Harmon’s narrative style is that the book is very easy to read. You’ll find yourself flipping back and forth to remind yourself of the roles of key players who re-emerge throughout the book, but with that set aside, the book is written in remarkably plain language given the technical subject.

You WILL learn from this book

Throughout the book, Harmon pauses and offers useful tips for communicators operating in crisis situations based on key moments in the Ford/Firestone crisis – a useful addition which adds great value and makes Feeding Frenzy a useful read as well as interesting read. It would have been good to have those pulled-out in a separate section at the end in addition to their placement throughout, as while the big themes stick out, some of the more nuanced tips can be hard to recall or to find again down the road. I was pleased to see, for example, pointers along these lines:\

  • While analytical thoroughness is essential in a complex story, you still need something compelling to break through to viewers and readers
  • Understand the subtleties of your story, and don’t let others get away with compromising the truth in the name of simplicity
  • Do not delay in doing the right thing; act quickly and decisively. Customer safety is the priority.
  • If a story attacking your company is flat-out wrong, push back immediately, and not just with the offending news outlet – take the story more broadly
  • Reputation management is PR’s job. We need to earn a seat at the decision-making table by providing useful analysis and advice in order to avoid unnecessary crises.
  • (This one is my favourite) “How many times have you heard a PR person say ‘Hey, I never was good at numbers. That’s why I went into PR.’ That cop-out is an insult to those of us in the PR profession who expect to be taken seriously…”

Knowing the background of the author, it’s hardly surprising that the book is highly biased towards favouring Ford throughout. Harmon doesn’t always shy away from pointing out Ford’s mistakes, but he invariably comes back to Ford’s side of things in pretty much every case. That doesn’t necessarily hurt the book, but it’s important to remember that there’s another side to this story – one which would be useful to hear in order to get a clear picture of what really happened.

Feeding Frenzy really is a must-read for anyone with crisis communications in their job description. It’s a fantastic read, with a side helping of educational pointers, and was the first book I’ve read in a while which was genuinely hard to put down. Working at the centre of an issue such as this is (hopefully) a once-in-a-lifetime experience and viewing it from the perspective of someone who’s ‘been there’ is invaluable for those of us who have yet to go through the wringer in this fashion.

Read it.

Swine Flu Showing The Best – And Worst – Of Social Media In A Crisis

I’ve written and presented in the past on potential uses of social media in crisis communications. In the past, it’s been about the potential uses. In the last few days, though, we’ve seen some of the best – and worst – potential uses of online tools (social and otherwise) to communicate with the public in an emergency.

While hardly scientific, here are three of the best ways you can use online tools to stay on top of the latest developments in the swine flu outbreak:

Track it in the news

Google Alerts are somewhat  of an obvious tool, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful. Set up an alert with “swine flu” to track developments in general, or an alert with “swine flu” and your town’s name to keep an eye on local stories.

Track it geographically

Plenty of online maps are available to help you get a sense of how swine flu has spread. Two of the best have been created by Henry Niman, founder of Recombinomics (hat tip to Om Malik), RSOE Emergency and Disaster Information Service (which I wrote about previously here) and Google’s HealthMap

View H1N1 Swine Flu in a larger map

Track it in real-time

For breaking news, there are few places better to look nowadays than Twitter. Organizations like the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (also here), the Red Cross,  the folks behind HealthMap and the World Health Organization are using Twitter to distribute their latest updates in real-time.

Track it via RSS

Many of the organizations officially dealing with the outbreak have stepped-up and provided RSS-enabled updates on their sites. Check out updates from the CDC and World Health Organization, and plug them into your RSS reader.

Be careful

Meanwhile, we’ve also seen the risks of relying on the wisdom (and hysteria) of the crowd, with an overwhelming level of conversation around swine flu and information of dubious validity being posted. Make sure you double-check anything you see before assuming it is correct.

Other ways?

What are the best examples you’ve seen of online tools being used to communicate through this outbreak?

The Ostrich Approach Doesn’t Work

Head in the sand

There’s been plenty of commentary around the Dominos pizza videos recently. For some insightful commentary, check out posts by Jessica Levco, Shel Holtz and, for a wonderfully succinct take on the lessons learned, Gerald Baron.

One important lesson from this, in both traditional and social media forums, is this:

The ostrich approach doesn’t work.

No, you don’t automatically have to respond to every negative story. Plenty of considerations come into play, which may mean that a purely reactive approach is suitable. However, when a compelling story breaks which speaks to a critical area of your business, and that story begins to gain traction, burying your head in the sand is unlikely to work.

In many cases a reactive approach does work. However, when an issue grows at the rate of this one, proactive action is more likely needed. It’s also perhaps not the best idea to go on the record that you’re not going to address the situation publicly so it doesn’t gain attention.

A few other lessons learned from this episode (identified by the folks above):

Establish your online presence BEFORE a crisis breaks
Not only does establishing your presence take some time that you may not have in an emergency, if you don’t have one established before an online crisis hits then you don’t have the presence and credibility established either. 

Be transparent in your response to crises 
Be honest and be up-front in your response, especially to online crises. Online audiences in particular have a low tolerance for being “messaged.”

If you’re going to respond, respond quickly
This doesn’t mean at the outset of the event; situations can evolve and change. However, once it becomes apparent that a response is needed, your advance crisis planning should let you respond quickly

Value your customers
Your customers can be your biggest advocates, or your biggest detractors. Customer service is part of your public relations effort. Ignore it at your peril. 

With all that said, it does appear at this point that Dominos responded fairly well in general. While there’s undoubtedly some short-term reputational damage, I suspect  that a relatively rapid and heartfelt response served its purpose.

What’s your take on  Domino’s response to this crisis?