Sandy, Superstorm, Frankenstorm—How Agencies Should Handle Any Storm

Solitude / Foter / CC BY-SA

Like many fellow communications professionals, hearing the words “Frankenstorm” didn’t scare us away from our workdays this week. Some of us may have faced the effects of Hurricane Sandy head-on like one Philadelphia editor, but, for many of us, we could sit at home and work right from our smartphones and laptops without having to feel a raindrop (hopefully.)

So, when the business world is taking a “hurricane day,” what do you do? The answer to this is something agencies hopefully had prepared yesterday.

PR agencies can’t put a “Closed” sign on their email accounts or turn off their smartphones just because they can’t drive to work. Unless major wires are destructed or phones lose the last of their battery life, PR agencies can remain open for business.

Employees need to be prepared to deliver to their clients, communicate effectively with one another and, most importantly, protect themselves, whether a record-breaking hurricane hits or the power just happens to blow out on a perfectly sunny day.

The Quiet Before the Storm

Just as you would prepare for a client—prepare your own crisis communications plan before the event of a crisis. The news and National Weather Service prepared us for a worst case scenario for this #Superstorm, so agencies should be just as ready for their clients and themselves.

As Entrepreneur.com suggests, assess any possible risks your company may face, including weather events and property damage. Moreover, consider what to do if key employees are absent or unavailable; keep contact lists and passwords in a safe, accessible place.

Make the communications plan known to employees throughout the year so your team can navigate as smoothly as possible through a workday with turbulent weather.

On the Big Day

Just like any regular morning meeting, the first step in tackling a storm is to set up a virtual team meeting and prioritize. Over a conference line or chat room, discuss top deliverables that must be completed.

Next to consider is your clients. Alert your clients via email, Twitter—any channel necessary to inform them that you are available to fulfill their needs.

Throughout the day of a disaster, keep your co-workers and clients continually updated on work progress, as well as your safety, and follow these tips from PR News to work from home most successfully.

Finally, keep yourself safe and pass work onto others if you begin lose access to forms of communication. And, if you find yourself sitting in the dark, pull out your nearest candle, take out the old ereader—I mean book—and just wait until the storm passes.

Photo credit: Solitude / Foter / CC BY-SA

Advertisements

Can your employee social media policy stand up to court challenges?

jimdeane / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Social media policies have been tested in several recent high-profile cases. The case of Andrew Goldman, a freelance columnist for the New York Times Magazine, is almost notorious now. Goldman was suspended from the magazine for tweets to author Jennifer Weiner that were considered profane and sexist.

It’s hard to look away when such a venerable brand undergoes a minor disaster, and the issue has been discussed at length. Over at the Harvard Business Review blogs, Alexandra Samuel ponders whether or not an organization should have such a broad and vague social media policy as the Times does. After all, they claim that it isn’t even written down.

It turns out that such policies may not just be misguided, they may be illegal. In two recent court decisions, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) set precedents for what constitutes a legal social media policy. I’m certainly not a lawyer, but I’ll do my best to lay out the basics as it pertains to social media and PR professionals.

Protected and concerted

The first case concerned another major brand — Costco Wholesale. Part of a larger challenge of Costco’s employee handbook by UFCW Local 371, this case dubbed certain provisions against social media usage unlawful. In particular, the ruling stated that Costco cannot prohibit employees from posting “unauthorized” material while on company property. Also, the company’s employee handbook included broad statements prohibiting employees from using social media to discuss and debate pay, sick leave and what they thought about the company. Such prohibitions are apparently illegal under that National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), because such conversations (online or off) are considered “protected and concerted.”

The judge’s decision in the second case was a bit more nuanced. This case concerned a salesman at a car dealership who had been fired after posting two unflattering items about his employer. In the first, he posted a photo with a caption that criticized the dealership’s choice of food for an event, which led to subsequent comments by other employees. The judge deemed this discussion protected under the NLRA, and also understood that this was not why he was fired.

In another set of posts the same day, the salesman posted a photo of and sarcastic comments about a car accident at the neighboring car lot. He was apparently fired for the second set, which did not fall under the protection of the NLRA.

Still, in another case, the dealership was ordered to remove unlawful rules from its social media policy. The policy was deemed too broad and restrictive of employee communications, particularly where it concerned “courteous” language and not damaging the reputation of the dealership.

What’s in your social media policy?

Is this making you panic yet? After all, it seems that most social media policies list rules about not discussing sensitive issues like payroll or anything that will hurt the company’s image. Apparently, under the NLRA, this is illegal. Employees have a right to discuss hours, pay and other employment-related issues. And in both of these cases above, employers got in trouble with policies that were too broad and could be construed to restrict such “protected and concerted” discussions.

However, employers can ask that their employees follow appropriate laws when using social media. Posts that clearly constitute harassment and bullying are never okay and should never be condoned. Furthermore, employees must heed industry-specific laws when discussing their work online. This has been tested many times in the medical professions. Nurses and doctors have both been fired for posts that violate the privacy provisions of HIPAA. Financial sector employees can also be fired for violating industry-specific laws — and they may also face massive fines, as the recent case of a Citigroup analyst demonstrates.

Clearly, this is a far more complex issue than most business owners realize. So how do you write an enforceable, reasonable and legal social media policy? Here are five starting points:

  1. Start with your existing employee handbook and laws governing your industry. This will ensure that social media policies are consistent with current workplace culture and regulations.
  2. Engage employees in the process. Recruit employees who are active on social media to be involved in the development process. Provide social media training for everyone, to make sure that less tech-savvy employees understand enough to follow policies competently.
  3. Engage your lawyer in the process. This should go without saying, but not enough small businesses heed this advice.
  4. Keep your policy narrow. If the above examples tell us anything, it is that employers must be very specific about what behaviors are prohibited.
  5. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. New social networks emerge and gain significant traction quite frequently. Do not base your entire policy around Facebook and Twitter.

For more information on developing quality social media policies Inc. has a great article, and Socialmedia.biz has an excellent guide. From where I sit, it seems a good place to begin is to encourage your employees to be safe, savvy and engaged participants in the social media sphere. Didactic, restrictive policies won’t necessarily protect your business or foster positive use of social media among your employees.

Photo credit: jimdeane / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Keeping Facebook Posts Short and Sweet

Let’s face it, no one wants to read a novel on Facebook. Who has the time? Shorter is sweeter. People tend to gravitate towards shorter, more simple posts. To honor that shorter is indeed sweeter, I’m keeping this short.

Convincing your Clients Shorter is Sweeter

Some clients tend to post long updates and it can be difficult to sway a client in the “right” direction. Given how quickly people scan their news feeds it’s important to get to the point right away and drive more traffic to your posts.

Here are some tips to help convince your clients:

  • Show clients examples of what other pages are doing. Are shorter posts receiving more feedback? Chances are yes!
  • Give them the facts. (see below)
  • Remind them that posts cut off on Facebook and you must select, “See More” to view the rest of the post. Chances are if someone sees the word, “See More,” they are going to pass and move on to more succinct information.
  • Ask them what posts they tend to view on their news feed. Most likely, they stick to the shorter posts with only occasional exceptions.
  • Remind them only a sentence or two will appear in the Ticker on the right side of the news feed.
  • According to Social Media Today, nearly 70 million people will access Facebook from their phones each month. People don’t want to scroll forever to read lengthy posts. Advise your clients accordingly.

It’s a Fact

It is a fact shorter posts receive more likes, comments and shares. According to Facebook.com, “Posts between 100 and 250 characters get about 60 percent more likes, comments and shares.”

Final Thoughts…

Time is everything. It’s important to realize people often multitask while viewing updates. They don’t have time to read wordy posts that seem to go on forever. If you want to run a successful page and receive more feedback on posts, keep them informative but short! And remember, just because a post is shorter doesn’t mean it doesn’t have substance. You can still provide exceptional content through short posts. Have you had more success with shorter posts?