Andy Gilman on How Social Media Changes Crisis Communications

Meet Andy Gilman, president and CEO of CommCore Consulting, otherwise known as “The Tylenol Man.” In 1982, when the Tylenol Crisis broke out, Andy prepped Johnson & Johnson Chairman James Burke for his 60 Minutes Interview, considered a turning in helping to resolve that issue.

Today Andy is still working with many brands to resolve crises, but in a digital world. That’s why we asked him to join us on August 27th and host a crisis exercise at xPotomac 15 (register today using the code “Geoff” and get 20% off). Andy will be hosting a live social media crisis scenario to close xPotomac, challenging your ability to handle a tough situation on the fly.

Here is an interview I conducted with him last week.

GL: How have things changed since 1982?

AG: We often talk about what would happen if Johnson and Johnson Tylenol had occurred today in the Internet age, and it would change a lot. First of all, it would have to be faster.

Second, they would probably need to use many more channels. For example, in 1982 they could hold a press conference and get three networks to cover it. There wasn’t even CNN at the time. Now you would have to be able to communicate through Twitter, through a blog, through Pinterest, through Facebook.

The thing that links it all is that you have to develop messages, you have to be consistent in your messages, and you have to have the ability to adjust as time goes.

GL: Is the Internet a good thing or a bad thing for crisis communications?

AG: The Internet changes everything for crises. Because of the power of the Internet – think about mommy bloggers, Food Babe, It can create a crisis without all the facts. That’s bad. On the other hand, the Internet allows you to communicate rapidly to all of your stakeholders, and in some ways not use the filter of media to get out more information.

The New York Times a couple years ago did a piece on Walmart and alleged bribery in Mexico. In a typical old school style, you would have one person from Walmart with one comment in the New York Times article towards the end of the long expose.

Walmart decided to post a Youtube video that afternoon with its chief communications officer. He was able to give the company’s point of view in three or four minutes. If you are a stakeholder, an employee, a shareholder, a regulator or a customer, you can see the entire statement, not just one comment.

Here’s another way the Internet can be used during a crisis. Barilla Pasta a couple years ago had an issue. Their CEO Guido Barilla said he wouldn’t even let a homosexual be in an advertisement. They realized they made a mistake. [Barilla] did use YouTube to apologize, but then they used their homepage, they used ads featuring gay people, they met with groups, they used many more tools to reach out to people.

Now they have regained trust in the GLBT community. Organizations like HumanRights Watch can say here is one of our more favored companies because they turned it around.

GL: Can You Compare Barilla’s Response to the Chic-Fil-A Crisis?

Andy Gilman-3

AG: The Internet is just a vehicle. It really starts with who you are as an organization. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a company, a nonprofit or an NGO. What are your values and your messages? You can decide “I don’t want this community to be my customer base,” that’s your choice. But then you suffer the consequences for it, and it is so much easier to spread that information.

GL: How forgiving are people?

AG: People can be very forgiving. In the United States, it’s pretty easy to get a second chance if you’re sincere. How you get the second chance is really the question. Can you use a traditional media outlet? Do you need to use your social media? Or do you need to work with a third party? I do think people are very forgiving if you do it right.

GL: When you think of a Twitter crisis or a Reddit crisis or another social media crisis, what can a brand do? Do they have to respond within hours or is it minutes? How do they deal with this?

AG: I can’t give you one rule for how to respond. Sometimes the Internet blows up and you let it go. Sometimes you need to post a statement that says we’re aware of it, we’ll get back to you. Sometimes the damage can be so bad that the boycott and the customers’ flight to another product can be almost instantaneous. Other times people can be pretty clever and say it’s just an Internet meme and I’ll still shop there.

So much of what we’re talking about is what we do and how we react. The precondition of surviving a crisis is building your reputation beforehand.

If Apple has a problem with where their products are manufactured, any other company would be down the tube. Because everyone loves their Apple products, they excuse them. When Nike had a problem with sweat shops, the issue went viral very quickly. Yet the average consumer says, “I still like my Nike stuff so I give them the benefit of the doubt.” If Tylenol had occurred to another company without the Johnson & Johnson reputation as the baby powder company they may not have survived.

There are three parts to planning for a crisis. One is to develop your reputation and develop your crisis plan in the event that something happens. Second is your response in the moment, which nowadays has to be fast. Third, how do you recover afterwards?

How Popularity Ends

Popular things can begin to grate on you. Sometimes you wonder when people are going to stop sharing or talking about X item. The good news for the terminally bored is that popularity can and often does end.

The bad news is popular brands and personalities may not like that. Of course, something else will become popular and we can all suffer through the trivial presence of and conversation about new popular thing Y. A select few popular brands will be smart enough to evolve and maintain their popularity.

I was thinking of this in relation to a recent article Richard Becker wrote about social networks losing some of their shine with corporate marketers and PR pros. This popular trend may be losing its shine because of the way social media-based corporate promotion is “supposed to work” versus the very nature of marketing. Rich had a good counterpoint about social networks over-conditioning people to act in certain ways. And he is correct, the like-fest is not delivering the same marketing experience as promised.

The conversation sparked some additional thoughts on what ends popularity, in general. Here are some causes:

1) Reality Sets In


When a popular trend or fad hits, it often brings a promise. Bell bottom jeans thin your profile, that is until everyone starts wearing them and there is enough of a sample out there to immediately recognize the thin and the thick.

Or say you have a baby boy, and you decide to name him something that ends with an “n.” You like the sound, and want him to have a unique name. That is until everyone does it and the novelty wears off as soon as your kid gets to school and half the boys in the room are named Colin, Maven, Chillin’ and Whateverin’.

By the way, please don’t name your daughter Soleil. Thank you!

In all seriousness, I think this is the case with social networking-based marketing. Rich made this point pretty well in his post: The medium’s true nature may not lend itself to marketing, or the way communicators are being conditioned to market by both the networks themselves as well as industry thought leaders.

The hit or miss nature of many of these tactics creates a need for the analytical revolution of now. Big and small, company’s are tired of the latest gimmick (You need blogs. No, try Facebook and Twitter pages! Wait, it’s content! Now, it’s Facebook ads. Hold on, it’s Instagram for Business!). Experimentation remains the rule, but community activation and interest is an empirical must.

2) Boredom


Let’s be honest, over-exposure makes popular things boring! I love chocolate mousse. But if I ate chocolate mousse every day I’d get sick of it pretty quickly. Particularly, if it was my own or my wife’s chocolate mousse.

This phenomena is what my friends at Power Supply like to call single source provider. When the same person cooks your meals over and over again, your palate gets bored. Your poor spouse’s cooking is probably better than you think, you are suffering from eating the same thing cooked by the same person over and over again.

Ever listen to top 40 radio? I do now thanks to Soleil (remember, you cannot name your daughter Soleil). I’ll admit it, I kind of like the recent Taylor Swift songs that came out, until I heard them a few hundred times. Now I am bored. I am also severely bored with songs that have sampled deep male bass voices rhythmically chanting “Hey.” Sorry, Maroon5 you were late to this game (love the 5 by the way).

Sooner or later something new comes along, a new innovation or just a different jingle. How does a brand survive? It continues to innovate. You may be tired of iPhones, but you have to admit Apple does keep evolving the product. Every time it release a new iPhone, people get excited. Brands like Apple, BMW, Coke and others possess longevity grounded in commitments to evolve, whether in product or in marketing.

This may be Faceboook’s primary problem right now. No matter how much Zuck and co innovate, they cannot improve the Like, nor can they make it more attractive.

3) Stop Evolving


The other aspect of ending popularity deals with the behavior of the popular themselves. Perhaps they take their popularity for granted. They believe in their own myth, and then their behavior betrays their ego. There is no greater example of this than Lance Armstrong.

I would also argue that Blackberry lost its market position in spite of clear warning signs and competition. It believed its market form and IOS were superior, and did not respond to the challenges in time.

Or in some cases a personality or brand chooses different priorities, and simply stops taking the actions that maintain popularity. Have you ever seen a popular personality simply retire or retreat to focus on other things such as family matters? David Bowie literally disappeared for a decade to focus on raising his children.

In that vein, some brands choose not to extend themselves into other markets and form factors. They don’t innovate, and just remain true to their basic promise. However, the novelty of the item wears out.

I think Lincoln Logs are a classic example. You won’t see a Lincoln Logs movie anytime soon, nor will you see a Star Wars edition. Nor will you see a Madagascar edition with African animals. It doesn’t mean that Lincoln Logs aren’t a good toy. They are still awesome, but they lack the popularity of a brand like Lego which has expanded its toys and its marketing to meet the culture of now.

Whatever the cause, brands and people stop the actions that created their popularity. So they lose it.

What do you think about popularity and how it ends?

How Will Project Glass Impact Marketers?

I will be speaking at xPotomac this February 25. Co-organizer Patrick Ashamalla and I are presenting together on Google Project Glass and augmented reality. Here’s a sneak preview of our session.

Google Project Glass promises to take ubiquitous mobile Internet access and layer unprecedented information into our day-to-day existence. While Google doesn’t like the term augmented reality, wearable computing could move this concept from a geeky work in progress to a breakthrough Internet application.

This glass monocle features a wirelessly connected computer built into it. A half-inch display allows you to take and share photos, chat and access information like calendars and maps on the Web. Bone conducting audio will allow information to transmit without interfering with outside sounds.

Scheduled for release in 2014, Project Glass holds so much promise Apple and Microsoft have competing projects.

Wearable computing empowers two things: Sharing and accessing information anywhere.

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Does Google Deserve More Credit?

Sometimes I think Google deserves more credit.

This is not a defense of Google+, anti-trust issues facing the company, or the apparent sunsetting of Feedburner. Rather, more admiration for the company’s overall approach and success online in recent years.

When I learned Google had scrapped its facial recognition technology because the negative uses outweighed the good, I felt they were the better player of the big companies operating in this space. It’s not an isolated incident.

Google changed its privacy earlier this year, uniting its many disparate policies across different products into one holistic company-wide statement. The company waged an extensive public relations and advertising effort to explain the new policy to the general public.

When was the last time Facebook did that? Never, to my knowledge. You just log in and find everything switched without any communication whatsoever.
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5 Forms of Apple Link Bait

Apple iPhone 4s 3rd August 2012 12:09.53pm
Image by dennoir

Everyone wants to talk about tomorrow’s iPhone 5 announcement. Why bother trying to compete?

Instead, let’s “newsjack” the iPhone 5 reveal with a fun post lampooning the most common forms of Apple link bait! Here we go:

1) Find a “Lost” iPhone/iPad Prototype

“We found this prototype iPhone in the restroom of a Palo Alto bowling alley.”

Come on! Does anybody believe these iPhones find stories anymore?
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You’re Still Not My Audience

Crowd jumping!!
Image by being LarsLars

Let’s be clear. You’re not my audience.

We have a relationship here, and you can talk back. Further, I realize that I am just one of you, all members of the same community.

I’m just lucky enough to have you come here now and again, and read my posts.

The miracle of social media empowers this very public symbiotic relationship of equals.

It’s also why communicators who call their stakeholders audiences drive me crazy.

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