I’m very excited to introduce my Cup of Coffee Interview Series at SchneiderB.com and I’m even more excited to have Chris Syme as my first guest. Not only is Chris a friend but she is my go to person when I need to learn and understand using social media in a crisis.
Chris has been extremely busy lately having just released her first eBook: Listen, Engage, Respond, and she is currently preparing for her upcoming webinar: Update Your School Crisis Plan: Key Social Media Strategies for Success. With her schedule I’m even more excited that Chris has taken the time to have a cup of coffee and answer questions about her eBook, webinar, and her use of social media.
1. What was the motivation for writing your first eBook?
I wrote Listen, Engage, Respond for a couple reasons, actually. First, I saw an alarming lack of understanding on the part of crisis managers that knew how to effectively use social media as a strategy (not as a channel) in a crisis. It seemed like every book I picked up on crisis communications in the last couple years was lacking in understanding the power of social media to build reputation and mitigate crisis. Most of the information out there was just on how to use or implement the channels once a crisis hits. That was a concern to me that the consultants people were turning to in crisis knew how to set up a Twitter account but didn’t know how to effectively use it in a crisis.
Second, I wanted organizations that can’t afford to outsource crisis planning to learn how to do it effectively on their own. So, the book ended up being a training manual of sorts. I found it to be a great supplement to actual on-site training.
2. Can you explain the title of your eBook?
Listen, engage, and respond are actually the three “pieces” or segments that should be involved in every crisis communications plan. I found that there are a lot of books and papers out there on how to plan for a crisis, but nothing as extensive as this. And they are really three necessary parts. If you only do one or two, there will be a hole somewhere in your crisis strategy. Listening points to the need to monitor the digital space for mentions, good and bad, of an organization’s brand. Also, key is learning how to do a hands-on sentiment analysis and have a triage plan for handling comments and posts. Engage is the most interesting piece to me because it’s strategic and really revolutionary to crisis management. Most people don’t realize that there are particular social media engagement strategies that will bolster their reputation and develop a strong core of advocates that will go to bat for an organization in crisis. I’ve seen some more writing on this recently, but not as it relates to crisis. We’re starting to realize that equation that’s so important in social media: reach<influence<advocacy. It’s exciting to see people have an epiphany or sorts when they get that. The respond section of the book covers all the necessary technical elements in an effective crisis communications plan—that is where most books start and end.
3. Why do you think that schools, whether higher-ed or secondary, have been slow to plan for crisis?
Actually, just to clarify—K-12 is much more prepared than higher education. I think that there is a faulty understanding of risk in education institutions. Obviously, there are some operations-related risks, but we don’t think much about the bottom line of how a crisis can affect our reputations. I think the fact that K-12 deals with much younger children and have more of a structured operations system makes them more diligent. But, we just don’t think anything is going to happen. And, if it does, we’ll handle it without the public getting involved or needing to know. Society doesn’t honor closed doors anymore. Now, they feel they have a right to know, and if they don’t agree with you, they’ll hit social media and let everyone know. We are so exposed today with social media—it’s scary what some institutions are doing…and not doing.
4. …and if they have planned why do they typically fail to include social media in that preparation?
I think social media befuddles and scares people. Befuddles because they don’t really understand how to use it well, and scary because they fear they are losing control. The thing is, we never really had control to begin with. Now, everything is common knowledge and out there 24/7.
5. Can you relate a story where a school has had a crisis and where prior planning made the difference?
I have a buddy who is in charge of social media at Cornell University’s alumni. A couple years ago Cornell had a student giving program in which seniors were having a contest of sorts to raise money for the alumni. The competition got a little out of hand and someone decided to publish names of people who were not giving. The incident got picked up by a blog or two on the east coast. At that time, Cornell was using Meltwater Buzz to monitor mentions of their brand online. My friend picked up on the story and started doing an informal sentiment analysis.
While some of his worried administrators kept asking if it was time to address the “problem,” he kept encouraging them to hang tight and watch. They did so for a while and finally concluded that the story wasn’t gaining enough traction for them to draw attention to it. Crisis averted.
Contrast that with the story of the college pep band members that were dragged through the media, social and traditional, by their own school for yelling a racial slur at a basketball game. The school kept the story in the public’s eye for so long mulling punishments and apologies that it became a national story. I’m not saying don’t deal with it, but have the common sense to know how to deal with it. Every comment in social media doesn’t need a response. That’s where triage comes in.
6. Can you relate a story where planning could have helped manage a crisis?
I have two words for you: Penn State. I’m glad you said manage and not avert, because the Penn State mess couldn’t have been averted, but they definitely fumbled the first month of the crisis.
7. One of the reasons I enjoyed the book was your balance between strategic thought and practical advice…can you share the first thing a school should think about with crisis planning and a tool they might use?
The first thing is you need to be listening. I wrote a piece recently on how to put together a no-cost monitoring dashboard. If you’re not listening, your response mechanism is flawed. There are a lot of no-cost and low-cost solutions out there for monitoring your brand. Just make sure you have a triage response plan in place to partner with that dashboard so you are confident in what you will and won’t respond to.
8. Is crisis planning a checklist item or an on-going commitment?
It can be both but I lean to on-going commitment. You need a checklist (plan) to plan for and execute the right response. But you never quit being diligent.
9. How will the webinar be an extension of your eBook?
The webinar is patterned after the book. What I hope to do is detail a number of important strategies from the book that are practical—things schools can do today. I will share how to do a number of practical applications including sentiment analysis, triage response, social media strategies that develop advocacy, how to make a basic strategic social media plan and much more. The webinar includes a detailed handout that takes the applications through a step-by-step process.
10. What can a school plan on walking away with after participating in your webinar?
I would hope they walk away with a number of important practical tools they can work on implementing right away, Also, they should understand how to build an effective crisis communications plan that revolves around the development of solid social media strategies. I hope that people start to understand the difference between template social media plans and how to build one that reflects their own organizational structure, resource, time, and people. They should have a pretty clear understanding of social media enhances crisis communications.
11. If a school is just jumping into social media can/should they participate in the webinar?
Oh definitely. That’s the time to start a crisis communications plan. It’s also the best way to build a social media strategy. Many schools today have social media strategies that are strictly built on reach and influence. They haven’t crossed the great divide of learning how to build advocacy yet. This will be a good road map for them.
12. Which do you prefer: Twitter, Google+, or Facebook?
As a primary channel for my business, it’s Twitter (because I’m a curator). As a primary strategy for schools, I think it’s Facebook first, Google+ second, and Twitter after YouTube or Vimeo. Surprised?
13. How much time do you spend using social media?
Oh boy, do you really want to know? Well, let’s just say for my own business promotions purposes. I’d say one hour a day. I also blog three times a week, so that’s another hour three times a week. Not much, really. I have a pretty good system and a great dashboard set up. When I have spare time throughout the day, I peek on Hootsuite to see if there’s anything good there to retweet. It’s just a time filler for me.
14. If you knew then what you know now — what is one piece of advice you can share?
Social media is not a fad. It is a new way of communicating, and the preferred way for many demographic groups. Never underestimate the power of the audience to bring you down or get you up out of the mire.
15. iOS or Android?
Personally, Android. I drank the Google kool-aid many years ago. However, I did grow up with Apples and used Macs as a teacher starting in the early 90s, so I like both. I have a Droid and a Xoom tablet and can’t imagine watching TV without one or the other.