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?

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?

CONTEST: Social Business or Social Bullshit?

bull riding
Image by Emmett Tullos III

The sales pitch for social business (see IBM’s definition) has spread from the technology industry to the social media echo chamber. Social media tools will bring a promised evolution of business, but how much of this buzz is bullshit?

Recently, Jason Falls and I visited Dell’s social media command center. We were both impressed with the company’s deepening commitment towards social as a means to facilitate better relationships across the enterprise. Clearly social-media empowered business can become a reality.

At the same time when you start seeing social media experts across the blogosphere setting up social business shingles, you have to wonder. Am I being sold the real deal or just another dose of unicorn powered super conversation?

In that vein, I’d like to invite you to sound off. Is social business a great thing, or yet another overhyped promise from social media experts looking to break into the enterprise? The best five comments pro or con (as judged by me on Friday afternoon) will win a copy of Jason’s book, No Bullshit Social Media.

No Bullshit Social Media

C.C. Chapman holds a couple copies of No Bullshit Social Media

To get you started, I’ve listed three reasons for and against social business. Good luck!

Three Pros

1) Perhaps the best argument for social business is speed. Watching Dell’s team respond to situations by integrating communications, legal and more was impressive. By empowering and encouraging interactions through process and social technology, businesses can better respond to customers and situations. Speed is a competitive advantage in any market.

2) One of the best comments from the Customer Is Not Your CMO came from Ben Kunz, who noted there are three ways to become a great business. One of them is to become completely customer centric. Social business empowers widespread dialogue across enterprises all the way to customers and other stakeholders. This in turn creates the opportunity to become completely customer centric, from sales to operations.

3) While companies like Walmart are leading the innovation wave amongst traditional consumer enterprises, technology players like Salesforce.com, IBM, Atos and more are acquiring social technology companies, changing their cultures, and moving towards the social business ideal. The technology industry is eating its own dog food and leading by example, just as it did with blogs and other initial social media a decade ago. History is repeating itself.

Three Cons

1) Social media experts are beating this drum loudest, and that triggers a big red flag. Many social media experts don’t know marketing basics, and in some cases refuse (or can’t) to deliver return on investment. Now they are suddenly telling the business world how everything must change. So, someone who knows how to game Twitter suddenly understands how to run a multimillion dollar enterprises? Social business sounds like the pedantic ramblings of middle managers ad consultants trying to justify a bigger piece of the pie.

2) Businesses still struggle to integrate social media into marketing, yet, in large part because they don’t see the value. According to a survey of the CMO Council, 66 percent of marketing organizations are not integrating social media into their full marketing outreach.

Facebook Marketing Q5

Social media’s best chance of becoming a part of the regular business mix is through the auspices of the marketing department. But don’t expect it to change everything and transition the CMO’s office into social marketing. Social will only play its role within the larger multichannel experience.

3) The word social doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s gone the way of other cliched technology and media terms, like “2.0” and “.com”. So what are we really talking about here? Widespread social media throughout an organization revolutionizing business structures?

Isn’t this the revolution of email and intranets argument again? Sorry, but while those technologies facilitated better communications and workflow, and evolved businesses, silos stayed silos. Why will commenting faster and quicker change power dynamics between departments and people? Will social technology fundamentally change people? It hasn’t so far. This argument lacks substance.

What do you think?

Can a Villain Become an Antihero?

Denver Skyline

In a great ongoing conversation with Amy Sample Ward about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and whether companies can authentically engage, we discussed whether they can simply create marketing fanfare or tell a genuine story. Authenticity must be something that truly reflects a culture, not some mechanized program designed to bluff stakeholders. This is particularly true of companies who have been publicly decried for great wrongs. It’s not easy to turn a villain into an antihero.

Not all companies are villains. But the point can be seen the same way. Trust in corporations hit an all time low last year. No one believes that companies — particularly public ones — wants to do more than turn a higher profit for their quarterly earnings statements. The resulting tensions with corporations’ burned communities — employees and customers alike — has resulted in the recent cause marketing turn to revamp and boost tarnished images (See David Conner’s 2nd CSR Internet Revolution post).

Makes sense to me. But to do so branding oneself as an angel doesn’t seem like an authentic path. If one considers the archetypal antihero, they are flawed, and lacking some of the attributes that make a heroic figure, as nobility of mind and spirit… But we love them anyway. Perhaps the best post I’ve read on the archetype is Jocelyn Harmon’s Dirty Harry story.

Perhaps a great example of flawed fanfare can be seen with Pepsi’s Refresh efforts. Surely $20 million in a free-for-all contest would impress many, but contest flaws have marred the efforts. Without a rudder or stated Theory of Change, the campaign seems to be marred.

As Zoetica CEO Beth Kanter said in a post last night, “This strategy is more appropriate for selling products, not social change. Let me say this. If brands want to be authentic in their social media for social good effort, they need a fusion approach that balances marketing with social change.”

Now authenticity isn’t showing flair or a rock song or even dropping $20 million. It’s about demonstrating a little heart and passion, even flaws. Be real, and that’s the problem with many corporate social responsibility programs. They lack a frank pragmatism about business and its internetworked ties to the community. To build trust, people need to believe you’re authentic. Thus over-glossed CSR programs without substantive cultural acknowledgment — even flaws — fail to compel people.

There’s no greater example of flawed CSR — of a villain bound to stay a villain — then WalMart’s current efforts (see Joe Waters: Ten Reasons Why CSR Programs Fail). As I discussed on Wednesday, the primary thrust of WalMart’s CSR effort is its green initiatives.

The big issue with WalMart isn’t the green contributions, which are substantive, albeit new. These are great and in the end are smart for the community… and the bottom line. The problem lies in its continued labor practices, it’s detrimental impact on local economies, and it’s terrible healthcare programs. When you read WalMart’s CSR page, you get no insight that the companyhas these flaws or is even trying to address them.

I wouldn’t like it if WalMart said we hire cheap to keep prices down, but I would respect it. Just like Dirty Harry may be abrasive, but does the right thing (sort of, in a very violent way). I would respect them even more if they invested in creating a more vibrant local economy and universal healthcare initiatives (WalMart does have healthcare initiatives, they just don’t directly address their own employees, just their customers).

Instead I get this, “We’re proud to be a “store of the community” for all of the communities we serve.” Still selling, still promoting. All of the local charity and foundation work does not really address WalMart or its problems. Thus for many, in spite of the fanfare, Walmart remains a villain.

Everyone understands business is business, but if you want CSR to work, a company needs to acknowledge its own place in the world, and its positive and negative impact in the ecosphere. An amends cannot be received if there’s no acknowledgment of wrong. Instead of selling and posturing all the time, simply try to be a part of and contribute, too. Show us who you (a.k.a. the employees and culture) really are.