• Russ Fradin
    Russ Fradin on July 29, 2014

    An Introduction to Employee Advocacy

    Employee advocacy is an emerging new marketing strategy where companies empower their influential employees to authentically distribute brand approved content, create original content, and in turn earn recognition and rewards for their activity and participation.
  • Organizations in the midst of digital transformation need to take another look at how they are managing overall customer experience throughout the complete customer journey. And when they do so, they will realize that social technologies are key in creating connective tissue across that journey. Social is not a channel, it's a core competency of marketing in the post-digital world.

    Recently my colleague David Cushman published an article titled The Strategic Role of Content in Proving Brand Promise -- which I highly recommend. David offers a terrific analysis and infographic on how to think about content marketing. But for me the core message was in the scalpel that David applied to the question of why marketers often struggle to succeed with social technologies. I have often railed against the common attitude that social is a "channel" alongside print, broadcast, outdoor, etc for the marketer to consider when planning a campaign. But David puts it very precisely in the first paragraph of his article:

    Social Media has confused many marketers for many years. Mostly because it isn’t a media. It’s an exercise in relationship building. 

    Right. It's an exercise in relationship building. Or, taking the "exercise" metaphor a bit further, its the connective tissue for customer experience (you know, muscles, exercise...). Marketers are now in the relationship building business, not just the communications business. And that joins them to their colleagues in sales and service who have always been relationship builders. As a customer talking with a company I expect that marketing, sales, and service will all be engaged, or each engaged at the right time in my journey. And social can provide that connection to the company through the different phases of consideration, purchase, and consumption. 

    As I've written about in previous articles, companies in every industry are engaged in digital transformation -- reforming their business to adapt to the changing customer expectations and new opportunities afforded by technology. A focus on customer experience can help align your organization in that transformation process to understand the role of social and how it creates the need for a very different kind of cross-functional behavior across your business. In order to address customer experience holistically (across the complete customer journey) your company will need to develop four distinct types of systems and related operational competencies which will then be utilized across marketing, sales, and service functions. 

    Systems of Record -- Where your transactional information is stored - critical to empowering your employees to know what is happened in the past with your customer in order to track performance, define additional sales opportunities, and provide service.

    Systems of Insight -- The extended data on your customers and prospects which provides the analytical base for insights, both about customer segments and about individual customers.

    Systems of Engagement -- How you engage with the customer and manage those interactions

    Systems of Co-ordination -- The platform for supporting interactions between employees and with business partners

    These four systems together, used consistently across the organization, provide the framework for supporting customer experience. Social is key - providing both a way to link together the touchpoints of customer interaction but also to provide the means by which coordination can occur across the functional teams engaged in that interaction. Social can be a part of deriving insights, can be a part of how interactions are managed, and is core to the collaboration that has to occur in this new interconnected operating model.

    So start exercising - you'll need strong social muscles to work through your digital transformation.

    Sabrina Stoffregen has been running Intel's employee advocacy program globally, since its inception. She brings amazing perspective as the leader of a program that is far ahead of most programs in this space. We are very lucky to have her sharing lessons from her program at the September 15 Employee Advocacy Summit in Atlanta.
    Sabrina Stoffregen has been running Intel's employee advocacy program globally, since its inception.  She brings amazing perspective as the leader of a program that is far ahead of most programs in this space.  We are very lucky to have her sharing lessons from her program at the September 15 Employee Advocacy Summit in Atlanta.
    Below is an interview I did with Sabrina last Spring at SXSW 2014.  Transcript is below the video.
    I know you've done some interesting things around moving away or augmenting in historically using people who demo your products as professionals who are trained and very good at that, to using more regular employees, and had some interesting success with that.  I would love to hear what you guys did, and how that played out.
    We did something a little bit different last year.  We created pop-up experiences, these short-term installations all around the world.  We were in Beijing and Sao Paolo and London, and lots of great places, where we wanted to re-introduce the brand and our products to the consumer. Normally what Intel would do, as most companies, I would suspect, is to hire local demo experts to demo our products. And they're brilliant.  This is what they are trained to do.  But we had this idea, that I had Intel Ambassadors at every single one of these places where we were going to have these pop-up experiences, and I thought, what if we were to activate our Intel Ambassadors and to train them to be demo experts?  What I thought would be different about that experience is that they would be able to tell the Why story of our product and our history and our brand.  They are the employees who actually made the product, marketed the product, engineered the product, and the results were spectacular.
    What we found was that when we surveyed the customer experience these pop-up experience stores, they (consumers) really engaged longer and more deeply when it was an Intel employee versus a demo expert. From the consumer perspective, that was wildly successful. 
    From the employee perspective, the Ambassadors were honored that they were chosen to have this experience -- a direct experience with the consumer.  That was outside of their normal day job.  Instead of being in a validation lab, they were out talking to the customer. They got a fabulous trip to Beijing, and they got to speak to the customer.
    Also, what we noticed, was that they brought back that information, that experience with the consumer, back to the labs. They brought that first-hand knowledge of what the consumer was asking for and looking for, back to the labs, which influenced our product development.
    That's fantastic because so many brands talk about being connected to the customers, but then they stick these things in between themselves and the customer to create that connection.  It's kind of crazy, right?  Why don't we just let the employees talk to people?  Brilliant.
    Looking Forward, How Will Employee Advocacy Add Value to Intel?
    More strategically or longer term, as you develop your program -- and you've been working on this for two years -- how have you seen and how do you see, going forward, the thinking of the organization around how this needs to relate to the rest of the business, the value of this, what should it do or how should it create value, and how should it tie into the business... what are you seeing as you look forward?
    One of the things that we want to do with this program is to scale.  We started small with 300 people out of 100,000, and we grew that when we had the Tablet Smart Squad, and we've done four other Smart Squads since then.  We've done all-in-ones, two-in-ones, smart phones, so we have expanded.  I think we've had about 2,000 employees who have been engaged in that process. But we need to scale more. 
    If you look at the adoption curve, you'll note that you need 16% of the population to hit that tipping point.  That would be 16,000 people at Intel.  I'm not close yet. 
    So I have to think about how do we scale in a way that makes sense and will have impact. One of the things that we're thinking about is how to tap into those passionate employees.  At Intel, we have something called Employee Resource Groups, which are like-minded people that come together because they have a common interest or passion point.  It could be women at Intel, as one example.  Those people tend to be extremely passionate about Intel, our brand and our story.  So we're thinking about how we tap into them, to expand our Ambassador base.
    Our new CEO has given our employee groups a challenge, saying that he loves the energy and synergy of what happens in the employee groups, but he wants them to tie whatever they're doing to the business. That's something that they haven't done before. So we were thinking, from an Ambassador perspective, we really have that connection back to the business, and we could really engage the employee groups, and activate them that way.
    With the advent of the Internet and the virtual community, it’s been easier than ever for birds of a feather to do much more than just flock together – they’re able to discover that they’re swans and not ugly ducklings well before taking to the sky in V formation.

    One of the side stories of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas TV special was the Island of Misfit Toys.  The island is a sanctuary for defective and unwanted toys. Thing is, once these alienated holiday presents found each other, they found home, friendship, community, and a family. Once, people physically moved somewhere else to find themselves: to Los Angeles for film, New York for art and fashion, Boston for academia and music, or San Francisco for a more open lifestyle – free from consensus reality and puritanical mores.

    Birds of a Feather Flock Together

    With the advent of the Internet and the virtual community, it’s been easier than ever for birds of a feather to do much more than just flock together – they’re able to discover that they’re swans and not ugly ducklings well before taking to the sky in V formation. If you don’t fit in where you live, you are by very nature a misfit toy, whether or not anyone around you knows (you may look to me like a middle aged dude in khakis and Weejuns, but you’re actually a Furry who identifies more with being a fox than being an accountant.) I get it.

    The Walled Garden Versus the Wilderness

    RudolphDuring the height of my online community involvement, from ages 23-31, 1993-2001, even my home base online, The Meta Network, was a walled garden. First of all, you needed to know about it, you needed to be at the cutting edge of technology and the Internet, you needed to be willing to spend money to be a member, and you needed to believe it was worthwhile spending time with people you’ve probably never met--instead of the people who are all around you in the form of your family, spouse, children, and the people you drink and work with.  Even then, while I met the best, most creative people of my life, I only got to know the people who were already members of MetaNet or the smaller communities inside: ArtsWire and Education for the Arts.  Maybe the comparison is like choosing a college: the people you meet at university are amazing; however, by choosing to attend GWU or UEA I am missing out on the people I would have met at Cornell, Georgetown, or American.

    Google+ Is Potentially Everyone

    9D0rp8scy3yXprhVdho2qxsvw59Maybe the promise of Google+ is not reconnecting with everyone you have or will have ever know – Facebook is amazing at that – maybe Google+ is designed to be the most affecting olly olly oxen free ever to exist, potentially. Realistically, amost everyone will have had a Gmail account, and those who haven’t and won’t are still addicted to YouTube and Google Search. Eventually everyone will have a Google Account and possibly have a come to Google moment when they will dip their toe into the waters of Plus. No matter if they’re my friend or not, no matter if we’re already connected or attached through friendship, I can potentially connect with you in a very real way no matter who you are, where you live, how old you are, or whether or not we’ve ever actually met. Then, if we have even a modicum of chemistry, we can then explore our likes, dislikes, passions, interests, and we can even build a larger and more persistent community of purpose, action, circumstance, interest, inquiry, position, place, or practice by attracting, including – in Circles and Groups, presumably – and creating real tribes of choice outside our families of obligation and blood which we have at home, in our physical towns and villages. We can use the strength that we have in concert to make real world changes, allowing the confidence inspired by belonging and acceptance to overpower the natural feelings of fealty one tends to have for the status quo. I get it. That’s powerful.

    Does Google Know How Money Plus Is?

    Do you think Google knows what they have in Google+?  I know for a fact that the founders and owners of Linden Labs knew – and still know. We’ll see what happens.  Currently, on Google+, I don’t know what the numbers are, but even if there are a couple million zealous users, is that enough momentum to keep the whole endeavor moving forward deep into the future? The Meta Network, The WELL, EchoNYC, Howard Rheingold’s Brainstorms, and even Second Life are all alive, but only shadows of their original selves.

    Google+ Is Suffering from a Catch-22

    image5The reasons why people like Google+ are three-fold. 1) For whatever reason, people consider Facebook to be Goliath and Google+ to be little David. While Facebook has sold out, Google+ is still legit, authentic, real, intimate, and deep (though Google is valued at $400B while Facebook is valued at $192B – some David). 2) The fact that nobody but a few nerdy, arty, geeky, creative makers have committed to G+ makes it a very cool and exclusive all-access pass to a virtual TED/Aspen Ideas Fest/Burning Man. 3) The perception that Google+ is a ghost town works for the current community: there’s an intimate Salon happening among some of the world’s most interesting people happening right in the midst of the biggest virtual city every designed by man.

    Every Plus Is Holy, Every Plus Is Good

    There are quite a lot of people who are just now discovering how beautiful they really are – and they’re doing it on Google+. With Google’s global and almost ubiquitous reach, more people have more access to each other than ever before. The reason why people have not responded well to my series of anti-G+ articles, Google+ on its third birthday, How to be a Google+ success, and Google+ is an antisocial network, is because their experience is almost sacred, holy – and I have been more than a little profane.

    Evangelical Zeal

    king_moonracerEvery new generation fancies itself the first. The most zealous Google+ devotees think they have discovered something new just as I thought I had discovered something new back in 1983 with the advent of the BBS and then again in 1993 when I discovered a platform called Caucus that enabled me to find some amazing birds of a feather on ArtsWire, The Meta Network, and Education for the Arts. Before me, there were researchers using Unix and BSD tools such as talk, IRC, and USENET to globally connect and change the world. Before that, there were Universities, salons, cafés, secret societies, fraternal organizations, private clubs, book clubs, religious orders, and any number of other excuses for coming together to share experience, knowledge, and understanding.  What the newest and most passionate proponents of Google+ are enjoying right now is the zeal of the newly converted. They will mellow with age and time, though hopefully the high quality and depth of their experience leads quickly and readily to an infinite number of the newly converted.

    What Happens if Google+ Sells Out?

    Currently, Google+ is pristine. There’s no advertising. It’s all about us, it’s all about the Plussers. How would the  pH balance change were Google decide to monetize the Google+ experience the way they've monetized Search and Gmail? Would it ruin it? Would monetizing G+ kill it? And even if that never happens, what would happen if everyone were to jump ship from Facebook and flood into Google Plus? What would he consequences be? Right now, very few people know there’s a "there" on Google+. We’ve all been calling it a ghost town. Many of us have become disheartened with Google+ as we take what we know about Facebook and try to map it to what’s going on with Google+. Everyone you’ve ever known is on Facebook right now. There’s a chance that nobody you know is on Google+ right now – or ever has been. What happens if everyone were to pile in?  Would it become better or worse? Are Plussers fickle? Only time will tell.

    Eternal September

    maxresdefaultUSENET used to be it. It was the true precursor to Google+. In fact, Google bought it and turned it into Google Groups.  Then, everything changed. There was an apocalypse. In September 1993, AOL created a gateway to USENET that resulted in millions of bozos, newbies, goobers, wankers, bros, cruisers, trolls, and freaks – the bad kind – flooding into USENET and “ruining it.”  Well, I thought it was ruined, anyway, and a lot of us did.  They called this fateful day Eternal September; they called it the September that never ended.  God, I really hope this never happens to the vibrant communities that are emerging, coalescing, deepening, tightening, growing and persisting right this very moment on Google+.

    Google Plus Is a Ghost Town

    I am only perpetuating this in order to protect you. I guess it’s a very dangerous game. On one hand, I kind of don’t want to make G+ seem too worthwhile because I would hate to be responsible for anything akin to the Eternal September. On the other hand, I would really hate Plus to go the way of Orkut, Dodgeball, Jaiku, Google Wave, Google Buzz, and the dodo.  With the loss of Vic Gundotra and the reassignment of the Google+ 1,200 person team to other Google projects, who knows how much time there is left in this iteration of Utopia.

    Letting the Genie out of Pandora’s Box

    Well, the good news, no matter what, is that a couple-few million of the newly converted now have Jesus in their hearts – and by Jesus I mean they’ve been touched by something profound. They’ve recognized that no matter where they live, no matter their means, no matter their education or wealth, and no matter what their time zone, native tongue, or how much of an oddball or misfit toy they are, all they need is just a little bit of bandwidth, a browser or an app, and the will, and they’ll be forever be able to discover and engage tens, hundreds, and thousands of people with whom you can deeply and profoundly connect.

    Platform Agnosticism

    With that knowledge, none of us really need Google+ at all. Maybe that’s why Google calls Plus a social layer instead of a social network – it’s the people who are making Google+ what it’s becoming and not Google+ itself. What Google+ is offering is direct access to 540 million potential best friends and intimates. The Internet offers the same exact thing, even without Google acting as a social connector, a social concierge.  No matter what the ultimate outcome – whether or not the members of Google+ will become Orkuted – these people will never be the same. They will have evolved past the short-form passive engagement and play encouraged by social networks like Pinterest, Facebook, or Twitter and into a much deeper, longer-form, and intellectually profound collaboration.

    Google+ Isn’t a Joke

    Google+ is an important and profound community. So is Second Life, reddit, and IRC. I admit I have been poking the Plus beehive pretty hard with a pointy stick. I think it may well be out of jealousy. I had a profound personal virtual community experience from 23 until I was around 30. This was before living a digital life was normalized, 1993 until 1999. What happened then? Blogging, maybe; then, social networks. I’ll be honest, I feel like my life transitioned from virtual to actual. I had moved in with my girlfriend, joined the Renaissance Weekend family, an actual conference with actual panels, making actual friends and all that. But here’s the thing, I refuse to call online communities “virtual” because they were more influential, more real, and more essential in my early development than the majority of face-to-face relationships that I have had.

    “But Chris,” you say, “you’re the most persistent, prolific, and committed social media devotee that I know.” Maybe so, but I don’t believe I do it for the joy of doing it anymore. I notice that the complaints that I have had about Google+ are that it’s only use is for SEO, for content marketing, for representing your brand, and for hanging your shingle. When I was 13, back in 1983, I discovered the dial-up BBS from the office of my Kaimuki childhood home. I had an IBM PC AT with a 1200 baud modem. I explored but I never really belonged. When I was 23, in 1993, I joined ArtsWire and then The Meta Network – and I had found a home. It was all via Telnet, all text, and I had never been so open, creative, vulnerable, or expressive in my entire life. There was one men-only discussion, called the Fire Conference, where I discussed my heartbreak, the loss of my father, the frustrations I felt, and sated my hunger to be understood, for real. MetaNet was made up of only hundreds of members, none of whom I had met before.  I was a member of The WELL but I never cottoned to that community the way I did TMN.COM. ArtsWire, a New York Foundation for the Arts project, allowed me to be part of a hyperfiction, name is scibe, that Judy Malloy produced when she was painfully convalescing from a terrible accident back in 1994. Who knows, it might be the most important work of writing I have ever been a part of, and yet I really hadn't met any of my co-creators.

    It’s Not You, It’s Me

    Every time I write an article critical of Google+ I get blowback and each time this happens, I understand the Plus Loyalists better. It all started with Google+ on its third birthday then on to How to be a Google+ success and finally to Google+ is an antisocial network – today, I leave a palm print directly on my forehead as everything became clear to me: Google plus is a virtual online community and not a social network at all – not even an antisocial network. I even understand why Google refers to Google+ not as a social networking service but a social layer! Social layer must be code for virtual online community Howard Rheingold’s likeness. Maybe it’s called a “social layer” because it’s an open floor plan. It’s pretty much all cardboard box and access to 500 million people globally. Google+ is what you want and need it to be. It is the Maker Faire of online communities. Go ahead: drop links! Market! Share your latest posts! Dump everything you have – even as an afterthought – into Google+ and you’ll be fine. Or, instead, Google+ can be a de facto Dreamtime, en exploration into your soul, your creativity, and global birds of a feather. Either way, you can find hope on Google+. If you don’t engage with Google+ and the Plussers seriously and with respect, they’ll probably shun you. If you take a little time, as I am told, to do a little bit of following, sharing, engaging, commenting, and spend more time than usual sorting out Circles, Hangouts, and eventually bringing content and insights into G+ and onto your “wall,” for lack of a better word, before you know it you might start discovering birds of a feather of your own. Maybe you’ll end up with a flock. Good luck and go git ‘em, Tiger!

    This article addresses why and how shy people should bolster their personal branding. Different from introversion, shyness can be a barrier to success. Thanks to the opportunities and variety of tools online, there are useful and appropriate strategies for shy people to make a name for themselves, notwithstanding their shy personality.

    “If there was ever a group of people who benefited most from social media it was shy people.” Jeremy Waite, Head of Digital Strategy @ExactTarget, Salesforce.

    If you’re shy and you have a product (or services) you want people to buy, it is likely that -- just as everyone else -- you seek a wider audience. However, you don’t want to compromise yourself in the process. You see others “pimping” themselves and find them foreign, if not unappealing. You want your products and services to sell better without having to degrade yourself with selfless promotion and being obnoxiously loud. You want to be successful without feeling embarrassed about how you get there. 

    Shy versus introvert

    Shy and introverted people are too often dumped into the same box. Research shows there is a dramatic difference between the two. Shyness is a learned behavior of discomfort and anxieties. Introversion is a trait whereby people recharge and gain energy through “alone time.”

    Introversion is not a barrier to success or to building a strong personal brand. According to USA Today, roughly four in 10 top executives test as introverts. As Susan Cain pointed out in a Psychology Today blog, Bill Gates is introverted but not shy. He is quiet and bookish, but is not bothered by what other people think of him. Dorie Clark, a marketing strategy consultant who is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review and Forbes, says, “As an introvert, I've learned to play to my strengths in building my personal brand." 

    Shyness, on the other hand, is a barrier to being successful. Shyness stops people from taking action because they are essentially scared of what others will think. Shy people can tend to believe their material is not worthy of promotion. Assuming there is sufficient value in what you offer, there are techniques to overcome shyness and build your personal brand simultaneously.

    Shy and successful personal branding

    You may be shy, but you still strive for success and have some great ideas. In today’s world, thanks to the Internet, everyone is a media. Whereas personal branding used to be the bailiwick of entrepreneurs (especially common of web entrepreneurs), there is an opportunity, if not a need, for individuals in all instances to create their own personal brand. [And, we suggest that companies should also be providing support to shy personnel to help them with their own personal branding as part of a core HR policy.]

    A good personal brand reflects who you are in the best possible light. The ideal scenario of a good personal brand is that people know about what you do and trust you. You attract like-minded people who think like you and appreciate you for who you are. Growing and managing your brand can be a fun and interesting activity. The process of building your personal brand takes place without losing your integrity or corrupting your core values. 

    Finding the right strategy

    Your personal brand is most effective when you are your brand and there is congruency between the presentation and your self. Your brand must be an expression of who you are. A powerful brand is the expression of the best of you. By clarifying what you are shy about, there are strategies you can employ. The good news is that you can use platforms such as social media, blogs and forums to avoid interactions that make you feel uncomfortable, all the while achieving your goals and building your personal brand. Taking stock of the specific components of your shyness / introversion is the first leg of the personal branding journey for shy people. For example, if you are shy about your appearance, you wouldn’t want to start with selfies or a video blog. You might rather focus on writing and curating content.

    Understanding yourself

    What are you shy about? Typically, shy people have specific zones of discomfort. 

    • Your voice?
    • Your appearance? 
    • Eye contact? 
    • Colleagues? 
    • Strangers?
    • The unknown
    • Your failures? 
    • Your successes? 
    • Your aspirations?
    • Your values? 
    • Other?

    The second leg of the personal branding journey is defining whom you are not shy around.

    • Family
    • Friends
    • Colleagues
    • Boss
    • Sports Team
    • Hobby Partners
    • Others

    In this manner, you can get a starting point for your personal brand. Leveraging areas of comfort, you can start to craft an online identity. One of the great first steps – especially effective for shy people -- is to affirm your presence by simply liking other people’s posts. The mere act of “liking” (on Facebook) or favoriting (on Twitter) is a fabulous way to start being present. Further along, taking a few close friends, you can start co-writing a blog related to a shared hobby or passion. Alternatively, you can start by keeping the blog to a closed membership.

    By taking the time to answer these questions, you will dip your toe in the sea of personal branding. In our next articles, we will explore the purpose of your brand and how to use social media to build your personal brand.

    About the co-author Noam Kostucki

    Noam Kostucki is a professional speaker, coach and consultant on communication, strategy and innovation. He believes that everything can be turned into an art form, whether be public speaking, building a brand or running a business. Over the last decade, he has engaged with over 20,000 people in 12 countries. He worked with multinational clients like HP and Tata Consultancy Services. He has made over 30 media appearances, gave two TED Talks and received the UK Business Speaker of the Year 2011 runner-up award. He has spoken at over 80 international conferences and at prestigious institutions like Harvard University, Yale University, the London School of Economics and executive networks. He has written two books, Personal BrandingHow perception and beliefs affect important business decisions and a third, How to find the best teachers (mentors) in life and keep them, is due mid-2014. Find more on about.me/noamkos.

    Are you playing Russian Roulette with your social media practices? Maybe it's time for a social media crisis check-up to see if you're engaging in any risky behavior. Here are five red flags to get you started.

    The summer has been full of tragic news: two airline disasters, killer storms, and scores of apologies from businesses whose social media screw-ups made national news. Crisis is not an “if” for brands, it is a “when.” If you are not operating under the assumption that an issue can turn rapidly into a crisis in today’s social media world, you might be engaged in risky business.

    In 2011, Altimeter published a report on the crisis preparedness of businesses and found out that the cause of most crises comes from within a business. The causes, seen below, are still accurate in 2014.


    There are five basic risky behaviors brands engage in that can contribute to the escalation of crisis. Even though you may have a crisis communications plan, you can still be rolling the dice with irresponsible business operations. It might be a time for a social media check-up to see if you are engaging in risky behavior.

    1. The Negligent Parent

    Have you given away the keys to the social media car? I’m not sure why, but there are still major brands trusting their real-time social media content to interns and inexperienced employees. Are we still operating under the delusion that anybody can manage brand social media? If so, we may end up with a social media disaster like American Apparel. Not only was American Apparel outsourcing their social media (red flag), but it was apparent that in an attempt to enter the real-time stream of tagging popular events and holidays, there was no filter or supervision in place to catch the mistake.

    I should add that I don't believe age is a criteria for social media smarts. There are an abundance of well-trained, savvy social media managers out there that are young. But it’s important to remember that branded journalism is not about the tools, it is about the messages. Knowing how to post on social media does not qualify you to be a community manager. Even though experts are saying that events like these are harmless and soon forgotten, smart brands will lower their risk by hiring competent trained social media managers.

    As crisis expert Jonathan Bernstein said in the above article, “Being a social media manager is about more than knowing how to put all of the platforms to work. If the people behind your accounts aren’t doing their homework, if they don’t know how to spot potential crises, and they aren’t intimately familiar with their audience – including its past – you’re going to run into trouble.”

    2. The Ostrich Says, “It’s None Of Your Business”

    There is nothing you can do to prevent a disaster like the disappearance of Flight MH370. Even though crisis experts are saying cultural differences played a part in the bungling of crisis communications (PRSA Strategist, Summer 2014), there are valuable lessons to be learned here about withholding important information in the face of a crisis. The heartless text message sent to families aside, the company’s lack of communication was a critical factor in the escalation of the crisis. Not only did the airline handle facts poorly, but they were slow and unresponsive about basic information surrounding the tragedy—information they already had in hand.

    Sandra Brodnicki, president of Brodnicki Public Relations wrote, “Should a crisis occur, communicating accurate information quickly is essential. Do so by quickly communicating what you know, when you know it, and by minimizing speculation by addressing rumors, which have a way of taking off, especially through social media.” When there is a void of information, people will fill it with rumors.

    3. Fly By The Seat Of Your Pants

    In the face of a mounting crisis, brands without a plan can end up with an emotionally charged response that can quickly sink a reputation. The age-old adage is true for crisis: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. And in crisis, the consequences of that risky behavior will affect all aspects of your bottom line. In the Altimeter report above, strategist Jeremiah Owyang said, “Interestingly, we found that 76 percent of these crises could have been prevented or diminished had the brand been prepared and had proper training, staff, and processes to respond.” 

    That’s a big number. If I told you that you could lower your chances of a crisis by as much as 76 percent, wouldn’t you be interested? Crisis managers not only suggest practicing for a crisis – called table top exercises – they also recommend that a number of preparation-based operations be integrated into your brand’s culture. Before you make a plan, there are basic rules about crisis you must understand to inform that change of culture. Melissa Agnes, president of Agnes+Day, gives a good synopsis of those new rules in this informative infographic.  

    4. No Brand Is An Island

    Even though a crisis plan and practice are an excellent start, there is no substitute for implementing crisis prevention practices into your everyday social media operations. First and foremost, this involves listening to what’s going on in the social media universe. Many brands I have worked with say they don’t have time to monitor social media. They are only concerned with creating their own social media content. In doing so, they have neglected an important function of social media: feedback about your brand and how others experience your brand. Communication is a two-way street: talking and listening.

    Setting up a listening dashboard is critical to your brand’s success and reputation. Here are some key conversations you need to listen to and advice on how to set up a social media listening dashboard. Many crises can be averted just by listening to what others are saying.

    5. The Gambler

    A brand that thinks a crisis will never happen to them has some severe blind spots. Ask Penn State how that worked for them. Lack of social media risk analysis is at the top of my reasons why brands get into trouble on social media. According to authors Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel, “we are unaware of the gap between how ethical we think we are and how ethical we truly are.”

    A risk analysis is one of the most important tasks you can do to decrease the possibility of an issue turning into a crisis. Bringing in at outside experienced agency to conduct the initial analysis is your best hedge against overlooking those pesky blind spots. Also remember, the key here is regular. "Cultures shift, staffs change over, business practices change," according to Bernstein. Find out where you are vulnerable and fix it. Bringing in a risk manager to analyze the cracks in your cement is humbling, but if you don’t do it regularly, you are gambling with your brand’s reputation and well-being.

    Which of these risky behaviors are you engaged in? Time to get a plan to lower your risk.