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British Airways Crisis Communications Fail

Crisis communications fail. The day British Airways nearly lost its reputation as the World’s Favourite Airline

  • Can you afford to make the same crisis communications mistakes in your PR strategy?

  • How much is your reputation worth?

  • Do you regularly, thoroughly test your crisis plan?

This seven-point  plan could have saved the airline millions in compensation and lost credibility.

BA’s catastrophic computer crash led to hundreds of cancelled and delayed flights.

Thousands of passengers were stranded. Holidays ruined. And families in tears.

But it was the airline’s shambolic PR response, rather than the IT meltdown itself, that threatens its reputation.

BA suffered communications breakdown on an epic scale.

Airline staff on the ground knew no more than the passengers they were trying to help.


“There are no managers here. We don’t know what we are doing.”

– BA ground crew

The seven-point crisis communications plan

Restless Communications develops real-time scenarios to stress test and improve your crisis strategy.

We move your plans from the whiteboard into a real world environment.

And we help organisations plan for situations just like this: where an operational issue becomes a communications crisis.

This is typically because information-flow within organisations breaks down.

When automated systems (e.g. texting customers or guests, or updating centralised systems) fall over.

When the queue of customers get longer and longer.

But the volume of accurate customer-facing information gets shorter and shorter.

We can help you identify the weak points. Weed out what doesn’t work. And build on everything you do well to develop an effective crisis communications plan.

We have helped brands deal with natural disasters, terrorist incidents and PR nightmares.

Find out if you are crisis-ready, by running through this seven-point checklist

1) Can you distribute accurate information around your organisation, and then out to customers? When the normal channels you rely on completely fail

2) Do you prioritise information to your social media and digital comms teams during a crisis? Speedy flow of info will take pressure off call centre and front-line staff.

3) Can you immediately scale-up your social customer service team, as demand on their time spikes?

4) Does your social media team have the tools they need to listen and engage? At scale. And at the busiest times of the year?

5) When systems are down, can you co-ordinate your teams on the ground?

6) Can you quickly identify customers in distress – and offer them meaningful help?

7) Are all your staff trained in crisis protocols?

If the answers to all these questions is “yes”, you are on your way to having a foolproof crisis communications plan.

But there are always things you can do better.

Call us now to find out more.

Our team has decades of frontline experience in crisis comms, journalism, broadcast and social media.

We have worked with brands like Eurostar, Starwood Hotels, Express Newspapers, and TfL.

Helping them to prepare and put in place crisis procedures and plans.

As Facebook becomes Myspace, Google+ becomes Facebook for brands

I’ve been mulling over implications of the recent Facebook f8 news, and the imminent arrival of brands on Google+ recently, and I think we’re about to see a fundamental shift in what both social networks get used for.

Facebook is going to be all about richer and deeper relationships with fewer people, leaving Google+ to work fantastically for brands. And here’s why…

Much has been written about Facebook’s changes, but I think, that at the heart of them Facebook is planning to be an entertainment hub, with ‘real’ relationships at its heart. I think they’ve realised that the one thing people will pay for is shared experiences, where people connect on an emotional level. It’s why people go to the theatre or gigs together with friends. And Facebook’s recently announced partnerships with film, music and media brands bring ‘watercooler’ conversations into realtime – building on their experiences partnering news networks during major events.

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Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer in London

Sheryl Sandberg is an SF .com veteran. She was in London this week, speaking at the LSE’s Polis lecture series.

One of Google’s first 250 employees, and and now number two to Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook she made a decent-enough case to suggest that her career is mirroring the way the web is changing, before getting a bit shmaltzy for my liking… Anyway, to sum up the thread of her talk:

The internet used to be all about finding information. It was the information web. But it was largely anonymous.

But now, it’s all about real identity and personalisation. It’s the social web. We’ve moved from information retrieval to social discovery.

She’s right, and that’s exactly why Facebook is in the ascendancy at the moment.

Microsoft grew by helping the world access the internet.
Google grew by helping the world find things on the internet.
Facebook grew by helping people maintain and develop real-world relationships on the internet.

And Facebook is growing phenomenally fast, as we all know.

She said that the average UK user spends 7 hours per month on Facebook.
15 million people friend each other every day
50 million people like a page each day [not 150 million as Brand Republic originally reported]

Now I’m wary of Facebook. The privacy settings are a nightmare. And if a Western Government had access to as much data about what we all like/think/say/do there’d be outcry. But because Zuck is (currently) a relatively benign dictator, no one really seems to bat an eyelid.

But when businesses start to see staff using Facebook as a communications channel to share commercial information (it is better than email for that, so it’s only a matter of time), I’m sure there will be a backlash. I might even be kicking it off.

It was an interesting session. Nothing new. She’s a very competent public speaker, safe handler of media questions (particularly about the smearing issue), and probably the closest I’ll get to an almost-billionaire I’ll get for a while.

[more coverage on the Telegraph, WSJ, Brand Republic and Joanne Jacobs’ liveblog)

Social business – a definition

IBM recently published one of their ‘redbooks’ in which they describe social business as “a game-changer for small, medium and large businesses” (not afraid of hedging their bets are they?)

Anyway, they’re right.

Social technologies are transforming the way that people communicate with each other. And they’re also now starting to transform the way that organisations communicate with customers, and colleagues.

In amongst all the various definitions of social business, IBM have a pretty good idea of what they’re talking about…

IBM® defines Social Business as a business that embraces networks of people to create business value. Social businesses embrace technology to enhance relationships between employees, customers, and partners. They augment business processes and applications with social interactions and insight. They provide integrated activities that use business data and social data. Social businesses more fully integrate the collective knowledge of people-centric networks to accelerate decision making, strengthen business processes, and increase innovation that matters.

Every business needs to build and nurture relationships in order to retain and grow its customer base. These relationships are built by providing quality products and services and by giving customers a way to offer feedback and share ideas about improving products and services. By enhancing these relationships, social businesses achieve the following benefits:

  • Ideas that improve products and services
  • Increased loyalty throughout the ecosystem
  • Excitement that spills over into a broader network of people

Enhancing relationships with customers is only half of the story. To make a profit, a business needs an efficient work environment and an effective work force. Business processes drive the work environment. Special situations, custom requests, and exceptions can slow processes. Businesses need a way to get the right individuals (knowledgeable workers and experts) working together where ever they are as quickly as possible to keep their operation running smoothly.

A number of other definitions abound – but this is the one we’re happy to go with for now…

Social media channels are a part of the communications mix. They’re not the be-all and end-all

Some people have got extremely excited about the rapid rise of social media over the last few years.

While I share their excitement – social channels are here to stay – I don’t believe they’re going to usurp some ‘traditional’ media channels in terms of global importance.

For every Huffington Post, there’s still a Guardian. It’s no surprise to me that a recent study showed that the most retweeted stories are those which originated from a ‘professional’ news-source.

Where social media campaigns have worked extremely well (think Old Spice Man, or even Meerkats), it’s tended to be because those ‘social’ campaigns – while brilliantly conceived and executed – have also been kickstarted, often with either a mix of paid-for and word-of-mouth/PR campaign, which deliberately targets people with a disproporionately high social media footprint. Many of whom (unsurprisingly) are either celebrities with high Twitter-follower numbers, ‘traditional’ media channels (again, because of the authority they bring, as well as the numbers), or social media heavy-hitters themselves. With great content, and great seeding comes great numbers.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule (e.g. Sony’s Bravia campaign, which arguably kick-started an industry trying to replicate their success), but social media successes rarely operate in complete isolation. And social media crises (think Eurostar) also rarely operate in isolation – they soon get picked up by ‘traditional’ outlets, which escalate things at a different pace, and often to a very different audience.

The best way to plan use of social media, is therefore never to do so in isolation. For either publicity generating, or reputation-defending, the team responsible for overseeing social media within an organisation must include representatives from customer service, marketing, corporate comms, PR and even HR and legal. It’s the other channels which often take a social media campaign beyond a bubble, and into the big wide world

(Disclaimer – I’ve recently worked with both Sony and Eurostar on publicity generating/reputation-defending work respectively)

The best communications starts with listening

One of the biggest mistakes organisations can make with regard to social media is to jump straight in.

In fact, one of the best uses of social media from a business perspective is to simply listen and analyse all the relevant conversations about your organisation, your brands – or your competitors.

With a vast array of free and paid-for tools available to do just that, we always advise clients to make more time to understand what’s driving relevant conversations, and who the most influential people participating in them, than speaking.

You might not hear what you want to hear, but the information is bound to be valuable. And it’s relatively easy to tap – using free tools like Tweetdeck or Google Alerts, and paid-for tools like Brandwatch, Sysomos or Radian 6 – all of which we’ve used and can help you set up.

Then, when you know what the issues are, you can decide when, and how to join in those conversations. And you also know who might help you kickstart the conversations you want to be involved in.

What’s the value of a ‘friend’ on Facebook?

“If I tell my Facebook friends about your product, it’s not because I like your product.

It’s because I like my friends.”

There’s a lot of research which purports to work out the ‘value’ of Facebook friends to brands. It’s virtually all rubbish because the value of a ‘fan’ or a ‘friend’ also depends on the relationship between those friends, degrees of influence and nuance which no algorithm currently picks up.

Yes – someone who ‘likes’ a brand on Facebook is probably more likely to talk positively about it, and even spend more money on that brand (Brian Solis quoted an average of $253 spent on Starbucks by Facebook fans) but researchers who talk generically about the value of a Facebook fan being $4 or $400 don’t really have a clue.

The value is one of a long-term relationship, which is just too complicated to be boiled down to a numeric figure.

(p.s. I’m a fan of Starbucks on Facebook because I’m intrigued as to how they use the channel. But will cross the road to avoid their coffee compared to a Cafe Nero)