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, change.org. 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?

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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?

xPotomac Returns on June 12

My DC friends will be happy to know that Patrick Ashamalla, Shonali Burke and I have been very busy over the past few months. We can finally announce xPotomac 15 this June 12.

Our keynote this year is author Mark W. Schaefer, who just released The Content Code, which highlights how the marketing world has gone mad.  In his new book, Mark challenges communicators to break through information density by thinking about audiences in a new way

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This year’s xPotomac returns to the Georgetown University Campus, but will be held at the Healey Family Student Center, which includes an in-building parking garage. Special thanks to our event host and sponsor the Communications Culture and Technology programShana Glickfield, cofounder of the Beekeeper Group, will again emcee xPotomac.

The remaining three sessions and their speakers have been selected:

It’s a data driven world, but you still need creative free thinking to succeed. Senior Vice President for Social@Ogilvy Kathy Baird will discuss some lessons she learned at the Burning Man festival as they apply to digital communications.

Next up, Gannett’s Director of Social Media and Engagement Jodi Gersh and Assistant Managing Editor, Video for the Washington Business Journal Jen Nycz-Conner will discuss how digital media continues to impact the way news is developed and shared.

The first millennials are now 35 years old and taking over executive leadership positions. How does the new digital-savvy leadership impact workplace culture. DC-based authors Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant will discuss the concepts discussed in their new book, When Millennials Take Over.

After our lunch break, crisis communications expert and Commcore Consulting Founder Andy Gilman will join xPotomac cofounders Shonali Burke and Geoff Livingston for a digital crisis communications bootcamp.  Help resolve a digital crisis live! For those that don’t know Andy, he has counseled clients for 60 Minutes appearances, Congressional hearings, and most notably provided counsel to Johnson & Johnson during the Tylenol 1 crisis and the Government of Canada for the SARS Outbreak.

Register today for xPotomac 15 today! A version of this post also ran on the xPotomac site.