#WheresZuck and the Issue of Trust

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Five days. That’s how long it took for Mark Zuckerberg to respond publicly after the revelation that Facebook data was used by U.K.-based Cambridge Analytica to aid the Trump campaign. During that time, Facebook stock lost more than $30 billion in value and #deleteFacebook swept other social media platforms.

Did he respond as fast as possible, gathering all the facts and developing a plan? Or did he wait too long? I’m always a fan of a fast response in the face of a crisis, but also of a response that is strategic and made with all the facts. So, look at the Facebook timeline:

On Monday Paul Grewal, deputy general counsel at Facebook, made the first comment, saying in an email that the company is taking action to make sure the data harvested has been deleted: “We are in the process of conducting a comprehensive internal and external review as we work to determine the accuracy of the claims that the Facebook data in question still exists,” he said. “That is where our focus lies as we remain committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information.”

Monday’s news read like this CNBC report: “The future of Facebook as an advertising platform was called into question by marketers, lawmakers and privacy activists on Monday after revelations that its data on 50 million users was harvested and used by Donald Trump’s political ad firm in 2016.” A hashtag also appeared: #WheresZuck, a sign that the world was waiting for the founder to speak.

On Tuesday, Facebook went further in a statement: “Mark, Sheryl and their teams are working around the clock to get all the facts and take the appropriate action moving forward, because they understand the seriousness of this issue. The entire company is outraged we were deceived. We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information and will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens.”

Their strategy was clear: to say that they, too, were victims who were violated and they would take strong action. They also promised Mark would speak on Wednesday—by which time #DeleteFacebook was trending, a WhatsApp cofounder had joined the movement and tens of thousands of users had, indeed, deleted Facebook. Plus, governments on both sides of the Atlantic were calling for more regulation.

When Mark finally spoke on Wednesday, putting a long statement on Facebook, he took responsibility and laid out a plan to ensure this doesn’t happen again. But he stopped short of apologizing (which he did later in media interviews).

So, was five days too long to wait for the Facebook response? It seems so. Even if they needed time to gather all the facts and formulate a plan, Zuckerberg could have posted this himself, because it seems his audience only would hear from him, something he should have known. And what was never addressed was why nothing was disclosed about a problem that may have known about since 2015.

Dante Disparte outlines the problem nicely:

The coat of Teflon that usually shields Facebook and its affable leader, Mark Zuckerberg, who has matured into a techno statesman in the public eye, is beginning to wear thin. Facebook now joins a growing number of firms embroiled in a trust deficit with a case of reputation risk whiplash. …Facebook’s eroding market confidence appears to be self-induced by 5 days of silence and lax third-party risk management. Reports of more than 50 million personal records being accessed by Cambridge Analytica… is not only a terrible violation of consumer privacy, it highlights how trust (the new thrift of the modern economy), is hard to earn and easy to lose. (Read more in Disparte’s Wednesday article in Forbes.)

Losing the trust of regulators, business partners and the public—that’s what happens when your response to a crisis is too little, too late.

 

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Rod discusses thought leadership in Legal Intelligencer

You may know your stuff, but that doesn’t mean you will be recognized as an authority on the topic. How can lawyers become thought leaders and better media sources? Rod answers that question for Meg Charendoff in a recent Legal Intelligencer article.

Ebola Strikes New York

Photo courtesy of the CDC.

Photo courtesy of the CDC.

It’s official. Ebola has scared the hell out of everyone. With Friday’s news story of a doctor in New York City being diagnosed and today’s “testing” of a 5-year-old boy for Ebola as well in the Big Apple, hysteria is sure to hit new heights.

However, as public relations professionals, our job is to offer wise council in times of crisis. We must anticipate how this latest news impacts our partners and determine how best to help them inform and better educate their audiences. A myriad of businesses can find themselves in the center of a media storm as Friday’s NYC media coverage demonstrated.

So the best advice for businesses is to start with facts.

For those businesses being asked about Ebola risks and protocols – and the public’s perception of your business’ Ebola risk – there are five steps to take quickly:

  1. Share the latest information from a recognized authority source (e.g., the CDC, the World Health Organization, your local or state department of health, etc.). Unless you are a medical professional well versed in infectious diseases, regardless of your business, you have no business advising on health issues. Leave that to the professionals and simply point people in the right direction.
  2. Examine your realistic exposure. NPR recently reported most American’s have a 1 in 13.3 million shot at contracting Ebola. In fact, NPR suggests studies show you’re more likely to die from a lightning strike or a bee sting than you are of catching Ebola. While many businesses are not likely to be at risk, the Manhattan case from Friday demonstrated how Uber, a Brooklyn bowling alley and NYC Metropolitan Transportation Authority needed to address Ebola concerns on a moment’s notice. Therefore it’s helpful to have thought through your messaging and delivery method in advance.
  3. Reassure your audiences you are following coverage and authoritative information of U.S. Ebola cases so as not to be surprised by developments that could impact your business operations or vendor relationships.
  4. Consult with your public relations professional to ensure any crisis communications plan your organization has in place is updated and that your team is prepared to respond quickly.
  5. Update your audiences as appropriate.

A sixth but less urgent step is to revisit your crisis communications plans at the conclusion of this latest pubic health scare to fine tune your policies and procedures so you are better prepared next time. And trust me, there will be a next time.

Ignorance Is Not a Brand Attribute

Media outlets everywhere have covered Groupon's Presidents' Day marketing stunt. The question is if this hurts or helps the brand in the long term.

Many media outlets, like the Chicago Tribune, have covered Groupon’s President’s Day marketing stunt. The question is if this stunt hurts or helps the brand in the long term.

As marketing tools, sometimes stunts work. They get the media’s attention. They take your brand “viral.” They get people talking about you. They create “buzz.”

When activists delivered a 13-foot tall gluten-free cake to Capital Hill in May 2011 to advocate that the Food and Drug Administration enforce gluten-free labeling standards, the stunt worked. There was plenty of media coverage. It supported the mission to which the activists were committed. It alerted consumers to issues surrounding the food they eat.

However, Groupon’s latest stunt – calling Alexander Hamilton “undeniably one of our greatest presidents” to promote a Presidents’ Day special – will not serve the brand well.

Sure, Groupon is quirky. Some might say it’s quirky to the point of being ridiculous. I’ll also grant you the Groupon stunt is getting buzz. There’s plenty of media coverage (heck, it prompted me to write this spiffy blog post).

But this stunt also gives the impression Groupon doesn’t know the facts (e.g., Hamilton was U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, not President). In trying to look too cool for school, Groupon instead comes across as out of touch with details – something that might make consumers wary. Thoughtful consumers might at first be amused. But on reflection, will they trust leaving their credit card information with a company that portrays ignorance as an attribute?

Hamilton’s briefly mistaken moment in U.S. presidential history won’t sink Groupon – assuming people are still using it. In fact, in the short run, it will have everyone talking about Groupon. That is what stunts do; they create buzz.

It’s the long run that is a problem. How does Hamilton fit the brand? More importantly, how does portraying a fundamental misunderstanding of history convince consumers to spend their Hamiltons, and Washingtons and Lincolns with Groupon?

Any good public relations professional will tell you buzz doesn’t always last and stunts like this don’t help the long term reputation of Groupon with consumers.

Mr. Hamilton would not be amused or impressed by Groupon’s stunt. Those using his likeness shouldn’t be either.

 

 

Best of Show: Standout Products of Natural Products Expo East 2013

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If you haven’t been to either Natural Products Expo East or West yet, it’s a must attend for good-for-you-foodies as well as those looking for products that take an environmentally friendly approach to consumerism.

With thousands of vendors and products to see and only four days to try to see them all, here are just a few standouts from the food category I came across in Baltimore while there on behalf of Kimball Communications:

B’More Organic When I heard “organic skyr smoothie” my skepticism kicked into high gear. Then I was told it was ideal for those, like my brother, who are lactose intolerant. Sure, I thought. Then I tried their Mango Banana Skyr Smoothie. Stunningly good, loaded with protein and good for you. I took a bottle for the road-trip home.

Conti Gourmet Coffee I can’t say enough good things. Roberto “The Coffee Man” serves a great cup of coffee, keeping me fueled for the entire show. I’m ruined for Starbucks from here on out.

Epic This was the biggest surprise for me at Expo East. Epic’s 100 percent grass-fed, animal-based protein bar caused me some hesitation. However, at the urging of others, I tried the Bison bar and was remarkably surprised at how good it tasted. I’ll be ordering a box this week.

Gelato Fiasco This group from Maine was a lot of fun. We talked a little about social media, and a lot about their awesome gelato. While they are primarily in New England right now, I fully expect to see them on a store shelf here in Pennsylvania area soon. They are definitely worth stopping for the next time you are in Massachusetts or Vermont.

Late July Organic Snacks Celebrating 10 years in the organic, non-Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) snack space, this established player still has the power to surprise with its new a tangy and impressive new Sub-Lime Multigrain Snack Chip. I’ll be looking for this one in my local grocery store.

NoTatoes This super-young start-up made quite a big buzz at Expo East with delicious Cassava Tortilla Chips. Keep an eye on this company. I have no doubt you’ll be seeing them in a lot more stores soon.

Sibu Sura A micro-batch chocolate producer out of Maryland (using 100 percent organic and fair trade cacao beans from Peru), Sibu Sura not only offers some of the best chocolate from Expo East (I tried just about all of the chocolate available), but their mission of social good and environmental friendly packaging make them a distinctive standout in any crowd, including at Expo East.

Suzanne’s Kitchen Amazing pepper jelly. I’m a connoisseur of sorts where pepper jelly is concerned. I once drove to Virginia because I heard a company there did a good job with pepper jelly and I wanted to verify it.  By far, Suzanne’s is the best I’ve ever tried. I picked up a jar of Pepper Jelly Heaven from my local Whole Foods on Sunday night to snack on while watching the finale of Breaking Bad.

Wild Poppy Juice Company I gave up soda and fruit drinks almost 20 years ago, but this organic craft fruit drink – which offers just a hint of soda-esque texture – made me think I was missing something amazing. The Organic Peppermint Lemonade was a surprising discovery, and one worthy of singling out as a Best of Show from Expo East.

There are so many others worthy of a mention, but only so much you’ll want to read on your tablet or smartphone. Be sure to check out our video round-up (posting shortly) of other impressive stand-outs from Expo East.

Three Crisis Communications Mistakes Companies Make

morner / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

In the shadow of the Boston Marathon tragedy, it’s painfully apparent – if it wasn’t before – that crisis scenarios are part of our collective new normal. From threats of terrorism and senseless acts of violence, to economic chaos and world events, crisis events can easy overtake the best-laid plans of any business.

At these times, there is a balance to be struck between business operations and consideration of outside events. Customers don’t want to be marketed to and reporters don’t want your new product press release in times of crisis. In addition, your own employees – even many miles removed from events – might struggle to cope with news from towns like Boston, Aurora, Colo., Sandy Hook, Conn., West, Texas, and others.

What do you say or do as a business owner or manager? Your response in such times must be genuine, sensitive to events and true to the culture of your organization. There is no one-size-fits-all communication solution.

However there are three things you should not do in a crisis. Don’t:

  1. Continue Your Social Media Strategy as Planned. The moment you start receiving breaking news alerts via smartphone apps, email or after watching the news, you need to assess the impact of your planned social messaging. Think about how your messages might be received against the backdrop of what is happening in the news. In most situations, you should pull your planned content immediately and take a wait-and-see approach for at least the first 30 minutes of the news event. This means deleting or rescheduling posts in HootSuite, TweetDeck and other social dashboards.
  2. Assume It’s Not a Big Deal for Your Brand. Gather your public relations and marketing teams to evaluate next steps. Create a plan for what your external messaging (including social media) needs to look like in the first hours and, in some cases, the next several days after a national or global event. Poor planning can lead to significant customer backlashes and damage your brand. You need only look at American Apparel, GAP and others whose early social media efforts during Hurricane Sandy not only failed, but angered customers by appearing insensitive to those in Sandy’s path.
  3. Ignore Your Crisis Communications Plan. If you have a Crisis Communications Plan, use it. This valuable tool will detail a methodical strategy and tactics for handling relevant crisis situations. Don’t try to wing it in the middle of a crisis. You’re more likely to miss something, and the risks can be enormous. If your plan is out of date or, worse, if it doesn’t exist, set a goal for updating or creating one and use the current scenario as a case study (for better or worse) to help guide your Crisis Communications Plan development later.

While you cannot plan for every eventuality, a good Crisis Communications Plan will best ensure your brand is protected while also being sensitive to events outside of your control.

Photo credit: morner / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Gary on Insurance PR in Best’s Review

There’s a familiar face next to the “Top 5” insurance marketing column in April’s Best Review.

Gary shared his top-line insurance communications rules for the social media age, including best newsroom practices and the importance of a social media strategy.  Download the PDF of the column to read more — and let us know what you think.