Author Chris Reed

Hotel Crisis Communications required

Power to the people! Crisis communications required

The power of the boycott, or a campaign by users (or non-users) is not a new phenomenon.

But social media means that when an issue gains sympathy, particularly amongst an influential group who are well connected and can make a very simple argument work in 140 characters or less, businesses need to sit up, take note, and dust down the crisis communications plans.

The campaign against the Beverly Hills Hotel is a case in point.

LGBT pressure groups have for a long time highlighted the Sultan of Brunei’s (the hotel’s ultimate owner) harsh penal code. In Brunei, gay sex could be punishable by death – as could adultery).

But it was one tweet by Ellen de Generes, which kick-started a celebrity-led, media-followed campaign to highlight the issues

Boycott Beverly Hills HotelSince picked up by a whole range of celebrities – and businesses – keen to be seen to boycott the hotel, or indeed the whole Dorchester Group’s range of hotels

Branson calls for Virgin to boycott Dorchester Group

This attention is bound to be having financial repercussions on the hotel chain as well as causing reputational damage. So much so, that the CEO (eventually) responded, with a line echoing the Beverly Hills Hotel’s response, which I paraphrase: Please think about the detrimental effect this has on our employees and the local community. We would never discriminate. Please try to put our owner’s politics out of your mind.

It just won’t wash. Owners’ politics and pronouncements are an intrinsic way that companies do business these days.

No rebuttal site – not even The Beverly Hills – will work here. The LGBT community, and those sympathetic to the points they raise, will carry this boycott on for a long time to come, with significant financial and reputational implications.

More on Malaysia airlines’ crisis communications…

Just a quick follow up/edit after my last post on Malaysia Airlines’ approach to crisis communications. After the previous post the airline have found themselves in the unenviable place of having no information to share. The vacuum swiftly became all-encompassing, and the distressed families soon became the centre of global attention.

Coupled with the geo-political dynamics involved, the airline has inevitably taken second place to Government communications.

There is still no sign of the stricken plane. Clearly it’s a tragedy for those involved, but I stand by my original assertion – that at least in the first 48 hours-72 hours after the plane originally went missing, Malaysia Airlines ran a textbook crisis communications operation.

Since then though, it’s not been so good at all. There has been inconsistency between Government and the airline, but the worst aspect has been how the families were treated – particularly hearing things after the media had been told, and in some cases, hearing them by text.

Best practice: crisis communications and Malaysia Airlines

No airline ever wants to puts its crisis communications training procedures into practice, but over the last few days the Malaysia Airlines team have done an excellent job in communicating to a global audience what little information they have, in very difficult circumstances. Boeing have also followed their textbook procedures – so soon after the Asiana crash too.

At the time of writing MH370 is still missing. Clearly the airlines and investigators are prioritising finding the plane over communications. Events are still unfolding, and thoughts are with those affected, but the extremely professional approach of the airline instills significantly more confidence than, say, the much-criticised delayed response by Asiana recently.

In any crisis, speculation will fill a information vacuum. And this one has been no different. But what is different is that there has been very little ‘solid’ information since MH370 went missing on 8 March. But still Malaysia Airlines appear to be authoritative and in control.

Malaysia Airlines’ social channels – and once it was up and running their dark site  – is a textbook case in how to use modern communications channels effectively.

Malaysia Airlines’ first statement was released at 7.24am local time on Saturday 8 March on Facebook (possibly before the dark site was ready?) and linked to via Twitter, clarifying that the plane was missing since 2.40am (local time) and detailing the numbers of passengers, infants and crew.

Malaysia Airlines Twitter statement MH370

N.b. Someone from the BBC was the second person to get in touch

Within two hours the CEO had issued another statement on Facebook and the airline was contacting next of kin.

Malaysia Airlines use Facebook to publish statements during crisis

Malaysia Airline’s second Facebook statement re missing MH370

At 11am the press conference and CEO statement (also published on Facebook, not yet on the dark site) dealt with speculation that the plane had landing at Nanming, detailed the nationalities of the passengers, and spelled out the extensive experience of the Pilot and First Officer.

From 2.30pm all the social posts were headlines only – and referred people to a ‘dark site’ (a blog-type platform on a corporate website that only gets switched on during a crisis) via a regularly shared shortlink –

Malaysia Airlines' dark site link re MH370

Malaysia airlines changed their home page to highlight the ‘dark site’

The homepage of the dark site always features the latest information, clearly dated and in order. From this point all company information was  posted once, on ‘owned’ space, and links were shared via social channels.

(As an aside, both the dark site and the social channels pages appear to have ‘greyed out’ the colours in the corporate logo – a small but significant detail).


Boeing – crisis communications experts – in action again

At the time of writing, Boeing also seem to have suspended ‘news as usual’ on their corporate pages as well, instead, defaulting the home page to a “Deepest concern” statement, as it did post-Asiana.

Against this backdrop, and, given the lack of ‘news’ there is a lot of speculation, often in ‘reputable’ news organisations like Fox News, which Malaysia Airlines are not commenting specifically on. The airline has also (wisely) not been pulled into any of the discussions about the passengers with the alleged false passports.

Surprisingly perhaps, some of the Reddit threads, even the very early ones, have been extremely well-informed. Someone claiming to be a 777 pilot debunked a few myths, while someone else shared the link from Flightradar which showed the flight disappearing from the global tracking system. Genuinely very eerie.

News reports depict the family and friends of the passengers and crew being very upset about the lack of information available. As you’d expect them to be.

But given the lack of information to date, Malaysia Airlines and Boeing have shown how effectively crisis communications can be done, up until now.

How well they’ll do when there is information about what has happened to MH370 remains to be seen.

“All that happens must be known.” The Circle is Google in disguise

I’ve recently finished a novel, The Circle, written by Dave Eggers. I’d recommend it. Not for the earth-shattering quality of the writing. The writing is average at best, but for the issues that Eggers introduces.

The Circle is Google (or maybe Facebook) by any other name. It’s a highly desireable place to work, full of young and brainy technological innovators, where employees are expected to share the most minute details of their private lives on social channels. The company creates tiny cameras which record everything that happens. Everywhere. Once one politician agrees to wear a public camera 100% of the time, others are chided for not doing so.

You get the gist.

But the interesting part is, that as the story unfolds no-one really challenges the authority of the company to behave this way. Someone dies. And still the company is not challenged. If anything, it gains greater social approval.

if you can cope with some extremely ‘blunt’ writing – there is no subtlety at all. It’s like it’s written for a middle-America audience where everything needs to be explained – then it’s worth a read, purely for the issues raised, and to understand one possibly future.

How long until Google Glass gets rolled out anyone?

(pic credit: WSJ blogs)

Oxfam and DEC – Crisis Communications experts

We’re still adjusting to the destruction and havoc caused by the Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and there’s plenty more we don’t know about, so it seems almost churlish to look at the crisis communications involved while there’s still so much suffering on the ground. But I want to applaud the comms efforts of the Aid agencies, particularly Oxfam and the DEC. And criticise the automated ad-booking systems of Expedia and (amongst others).

I regularly look at how corporates respond to a social media crisis, or a crisis that plays out in social media. Typically it’s about them and how they react. But something like the typhoon is much bigger than that. It’s about how the world reacts. And how (in many cases) the Governments and Aid agencies act to motivate people to donate.

In this case, the speed at which the Aid agencies have acted both operationally (getting people on the ground) but also in comms terms has been extremely impressive. The use of ‘dark sites’, populated extremely quickly and updated in real-time is commendable. The DEC have got a decent site live, but Oxfam’s is really very excellent. In particular the way they’ve rolled in a liveblog to publish their news and collate others’. Fingers crossed it helps increase donations, and then action.

But on the other hand, we have and Expedia. Really, did no-one think to stop buying ads against Google searches for ‘Philippines Hotel’? At least for a week or so. Hats off to Oxfam (again) for bidding for the top spot, but, while I appreciate Expedia,, Asiarooms etc. have businesses to run, surely they could put one aspect on hold for a little while?

[update – after spotting initially I couldn’t screengrab it. Maybe they’ve turned their booking off]

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 11.43.33 Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 11.46.06


Google goes behind the firewall

Perhaps it’s not the most exciting news in social media land, but I think it’s certainly some of the stealthiest.

Google+ has just announced ‘restricted communities’ to complement ‘restricted posts’. Not particularly glamorous, but what it does do is open the doors for enterprises to start adopting the tool internally, safe in the knowledge that restricted information would be much less likely to breach the corporate firewall.

It also gives Google potentially huge amounts more sensitive corporate data to crawl over and index, but that’s another thing entirely.

I still think G+ will be big (especially behind the firewall – something the Altimeter crew have picked up on too). Hangouts are the future for customer service imho. And Google’s recent change to YouTube commenting – meaning you now need to have a G+ profile and can’t post anonymously (there goes Adam Buxton’s Bug comedy set) will bring even more people into the G+ fold – in many YouTubers cases kicking and screaming…

We are all advertisements now – and that’s not a good thing

Here’s a little piece I originally wrote for The Wall Blog:

I’m not saying we should rewind the clock. But I am saying we need to discuss the future.

I spend a lot of time noodling around Facebook and on blogs and forums, much of it for professional reasons.

But the blurring of editorial and advertising via personal (and apparently editorial) endorsements is starting to genuinely worry me. I therefore really like the fact that in the last couple of days, regulators on both sides of the Atlantic seem to have started to pay close attention to how the world is changing

In the United States, a coalition of consumer privacy groups has written to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) complaining that Facebook’s proposed changes violate a 2011 agreement by making it easier for the social network to use personal data about its users, including children under 18, in advertising on the site.

And in the UK, the Committee of Advertising Practice (the body that writes the rules the advertising industry has to follow) recently reminded advertisers of the rules around ‘native advertising’ – essentially that brands should not misrepresent paid-for content as editorial endorsement anywhere, in particular online.

Of course the two things are totally separate, but they’re also linked – it’s getting increasingly difficult to understand which endorsements are genuine, and which are paid for. And who gets paid.

And we’re potentially all about to lose our own image rights on Facebook.

Facebook’s proposed rule change, in simple terms, means that unless you explicitly opt-out (which actually seems harder than ever to do), any user can have their name and their image associated with anything they ‘like’ on the platform.

Where once you had to opt in, now you have to explicitly opt-out if you don’t want your face to appear in your friends’ timeline giving a virtual ‘thumbs up’ to a place or brand you’ve liked on the platform.

Oh, and you don’t get any credit/payment for it either. (Tough luck Z-list celebs – there goes another income stream). In fact, you won’t even know when it’s happened. Or how often it has happened. Whoever sees your normal updates can also see branded ads with your face in.

Of course, Facebook’s ads are clearly labeled as ‘sponsored stories’, but the link between individuals’ faces, likes, and ads is now potentially closer than ever. Too close in my opinion.

In the good old days, we could choose which logo or band we would wear on our T shirts, and we’d walk down the street wearing it with pride. But if this change happens then it’s the brands who will get to choose who endorses their products, based on what might have been one casual ‘like’ on Facebook.

Such a massive change in such a short a time.

I already feel sorry for the teenagers who ‘like’ the uncool brands and then un-knowingly advertise it to all their Facebook friends – so I welcome the FTC and CAP’s involvement.

I’ll also urge a degree of caution to our clients. Just because you might be able to use people’s faces in ads, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

And of course, just because Facebook is consulting on these changes doesn’t mean they’ll happen. But clearly it’s what could happen. It’s yet another reminder of who the media ‘owner’ is, how they make their money and how they rely on all of us to do so.

The Collaborative economy: why the future is here already…

Those Altimeter types remain ahead of the curve, and this post by Jeremiah Oywang is no exception.

The long and the short of it is that all organisations will become more porous, more collaborative, and  more – dare I say it – helpful to their customers, and their colleagues, and their supply chain.

We’re already seeing a massive rise in businesses starting up to help people use ‘down time’ and excess capacity in products – think air b’n’b, city car clubs etc etc.

The social tools can now help real-time trading of (not so) scarce resources. And it’s the future.

Strangely enough though…didn’t lasminute dot com start out with that same premise – helping hotels fill up otherwise empty rooms… What goes around, comes around I guess. Who’d have thought of Run DMC as digital role models back in 1986. All they were doing was telling millions of people about a product they loved. Using music, not Facebook.

Anyway – the post is well worth a read…as are the follow-ups

Collaborative economy

Altimeter’s past present and future of the internet

Still counting likes? Think again

I’m not one to gratuitously re-post other people’s infographics, but I thought this was worth a share…because I was surprised quite how (ahem) rudimentary many companies’ analysis of social media activity is.

According to this research (over 2,000 companies, but not split by size – which I’d hope would show up way more variations), even though more than a quarter of them have dedicated social media teams, 90% of companies measure social media in terms of likes and followers.

Scary stuff.

Yes, those numbers are useful indicators, but pretty much all companies should look beyond that, at what people actually ‘do’ as a result of  exposure to that social media content. Or any content at all.

There’s some other interesting stuff, both in the infographic, but also in the white paper about team structure too. Worth a read.

Hey Ho.

why counting social media likes is wrong