With the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference fast approaching our Austin, TX office, we are readying ourselves by wading through the seemingly endless panel options. Knowing that cybersecurity threats are top-of-mind for many of our clients, we’ve narrowed in on three sessions that will address growing cyber concerns and emerging crises. If you’ll be in town, be sure to join us at these panels. If not, stay tuned for post-panel learnings on our blog.

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We've seen a lot of discussion about Fortune 500 companies using social media as a tool to mitigate risk, with some industries revolutionizing risk management through the application of digital media. But how prepared are organizations for dealing with the spread of a digital crisis gone viral?

We recently completed our Corporate Communication Index 2010 Study, speaking with communications leaders from a select group of the Fortune 500 on the use of social media in their organizations, among other issues. One telling finding was that the majority of organizations are still in the process of formalizing their social media plans, including plans for how they should deal with a viral crisis should it occur tomorrow. With many companies focused on mitigating risk through direct engagement with customers and stakeholders, more companies need to be planning for how they will deal with the dissemination of and syndication of a crisis that hits their business online.

For example, the airline industry understands its digital niche, knowing that the majority of dialogue surrounding their business in the digital realm occurs on Twitter. Delta Air Lines has revolutionized its approach to handling customer service complaints. They established a "control room" where employees can track every word spoken about the company online on big-screen monitors streaming social media platforms in real time. Through a combination of technology and savvy employees well versed in social media strategy, Delta exemplifies the strategic aspects of mitigating risk. However, many businesses are not in a position where there is a clear emphasis on one dominant form of social media communicating messages about their brand online.

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Version of published in PR Week, November 19, 2010

As you may have seen reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board - the independent federal agency that oversees collective bargaining issues - is claiming that a Connecticut ambulance company's social media policy was wrongly invoked to terminate an employee who complained about her supervisor in a Facebook post.

While the case is getting a fair amount of media attention because of its novelty, I want to put the matter in some perspective and also share with you some of the thinking that goes into the guidance we at PulsePoint provide to companies developing their own social media policy.

Three things make this case worth paying attention to:

  1. The NLRB's legal theory that the employer's Internet policy went too far by prohibiting disparaging remarks and by requiring the company's permission before saying anything about the company.
  2. The potential application of that theory to all workplaces, not just those with labor union issues.
  3. The extension of the employer's Internet policy to private use, at home, on the employee's own time.

According to a press release the NLRB recently issued describing the case, the employee had been the subject of a customer complaint, and was angry at her supervisor for not allowing her Teamsters representative help her craft her response. After she got home that evening, the employee aired the grievance on her Facebook page, which generated supportive responses that in turn generated still more negative comments from the employee.

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Laura Moore, Vice President of Global Communications at Kimberly-Clark, on the growing trend toward elevating reputation risk to board-level consideration as part of the enterprise risk map.

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Oscar Suris, EVP of corporate communications at Wells Fargo, on reestablishing trust in financial institutions and the future of Wells Fargo after its acquisition of Wachovia.

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Originally Published Risk Management Magazine, October 1, 2010

Click here to download the PDF.

It’s not unusual for companies to generate more demand for their products than they can handle. But when that company was AT&T, which has struggled to meet bandwidth demand of its ever-expanding iPhone customer base, the company got a lesson in how social media can damage a company's reputation.

Though the irony was probably lost on AT&T's management, angry customers acting as an online "smartmob" used the very connectivity AT&T supplied to organize a national protest against what they believed was the company's poor service. "iPhone Nation," led by blogger and activist Dan Lyons, issued the following call to arms of users in 2009: "On Friday, December 18, at noon Pacific time, we will attempt to overwhelm the AT&T data network and bring it to its knees. The goal is to have every iPhone user (or as many as we can) turn on a date-intensive app and run that app for one solid hour. Send the message to AT&T that we are sick of their substandard network."

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"Your reputation is what you are perceived to be; your character is who you really are,"

– John Wooden, UCLA basketball coach, 1948-1975

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That is a profound statement that has taken on new meaning in light of a string of recent crises that have confronted major global corporations like BP, Apple, Toyota and others.

Is it time for communications and marketing professionals to move from simply managing brand and corporate reputation to more actively asserting themselves -- at a board level -- in the stewardship of institutional character? If not these professionals, then who should assume the role of truly looking at institutional character, not at a transactional level, but at the DNA level of the organization?

 

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Richard Jones, SVP and Chief Communications Officer at Guardian LIfe Insurance Company, on the key communications challenges a tumultuous economy poses for a large financial services company.

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We have gone from near-panic over the emergence of swine flu, to dismissing it as hype.

On May 1, the World Health Organization reported only 331 cases of swine flu worldwide, but still declared the crisis to be at level 5 alert on a scale of 6, meaning that this strain of flu might be considered an all-out pandemic if the numbers keep rising.

On the same day, CNBC reported that flu masks were “flying off the shelves,” and soon after, China quarantined Mexican visitors.

Now, just a few days later, with the virulence of the virus apparently less than originally feared, the federal government has relaxed its attitude toward school closings and the media is asking whether it was all hype. The public has quickly become so blasé that, only a few days after Vice President Biden sounded an off-message travel alarm, “Cinco de Swino” parties were held in Washington and other U.S. cities.

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David Samson, General Manager of Public Affairs at Chevron, on managing reputation in an industry under intense scrutiny.

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