Thinking about a B2B Social Media Crisis Communication Plan

Once a B2B company reaches a certain size, you begin considering hiring a public relations firm to help get your message out using an earned media approach. One of the first recommendations of many PR plans includes developing crisis communication documents. There are two primary reasons for this. Your new agency wants to encourage you to make good decisions and craft well-thought-out responses when your company is not under the pressure and scrutiny of a crisis. This will make your ultimate response better. They also want to be aware of any skeletons in your closet as a means of assessing the need for a crisis plan. This is a big part of PR and people who specialize in this field can give you many more justifications and examples for why this is a good idea, but I just want to use its essence of being prepared with regard to social media.

You may have heard of the recent coordinated attack on the Nestle Facebook page. If not, here’s a search result page. Even though much has been written about it, and it’s not the point of this post, here are my thoughts on what Nestle should do in this specific situation:

  • Create a statement that addresses community concern and clear change of policy.
  • Post this statement on their home page.
  • Resume tweeting and continue to post this statement.
  • Create a landing page on Facebook with this statement. This way the first view of their Facebook page is the statement, not the wall filled with negative comments.
  • While there is no way to stop the comments on the wall, they should create discussion topics and encourage commenters to leave their comments in the discussion threads. This gives Nestle a bit more control and starts to move the comments off the wall.

As you begin thinking about a social media crisis communication plan, look at your pr crisis communication plan. Based on that approach and those documents, here are some steps to begin developing a similar plan for social media outlets.

  • Review all potential issues that are included in your pr plan and prepare social media content around each one.
  • Create tweets that respond to issues with a link to a statement.
  • Determine if you will respond directly to other Twitter users, and if so, in what tone. Social media responses differ from pr responses, as you are communicating with individual people directly, but in a public forum.
  • Know when to take conversations off-line. The answer may be for anything beyond the initial public statement.
  • Establish a Facebook response approach. Because wall posts become permanently associated with your brand, unless you take them down, you must understand how to respond, if you are responding at all.
  • Think about a response on LinkedIn, where there may be no mention of the crisis issue at all. Publish your statement in any groups in which your company or employees are active. This pro-active approach will earn you some respect on the most professional of social networks.
  • Consider a video response for YouTube. While many CEO or executive videos seem canned or stilted, remember that you are communicating with people, and a video may be another way to speak directly to people. The preparation for this would involve determining the appropriate person for different situations and determining the shooting location. It might not be the corporate video studio.
  • Review your social media presence and craft a unique response strategy for each online community where you have a following. This includes forums, social bookmarking sites and industry specific communities.
  • Don’t forget about your employees. They are all now public representatives of your company and they will want to share information with their networks. And they will want positive and honest information that they are comfortable sharing. The last thing they want to do is promote corporate double talk around an issue. Their mom might even be their friend on Facebook.

Have you started thinking about a social media crisis communication strategy? What other things have you included?

Blackberry Apps for B2B Public Relations Pros

Building off last week’s BlackBerry apps for B2B marketers, we’re back with more BlackBerry apps for B2B public relations professionals.

As our society becomes more and more mobile, it’s even more important for a PR pro to effectively execute his or her main job responsibilities – press releases, speeches, media relations, social media, press conferences and event planning, to name just a few – on the go.

Many of the apps I wrote about for B2B marketers translate well into the PR industry: A host of Twitter clients help PR pros navigate between client accounts, keep an eye out for journalists looking for article sources and stay on top of industry news; mobile versions of WordPress and TypePad streamline live-blogging; and location-based apps such as Foursquare facilitate peer-to-peer networking and media relations.

Here are a few more BlackBerry apps that help PR pros reach the ultimate goal of connecting organizations and businesses with interested journalists and customers:

1. Evernote

Evernote – billed as an extension of your own mind – allows you to organize tasks and To Do lists, record voice memos and instantly synchronize everything from your phone to the Web to your desktop.

For PR pros, this translates into an easy way to keep up with press clips for clip books, manage inspiration for future blog, newsletter and Web content and organize notes from client meetings.

2. AP Mobile

Media monitoring is a key job function in PR, and AP Mobile makes searching content published by the Associated Press (as well as more than 1,000 outlets of its members) simple.

The app also has a local news option customizable by one or more zip codes, and integrates delicious bookmarks, Facebook and e-mail sharing features that let users send articles to clients and co-workers.

Beyond the Associated Press, BlackBerry users can also keep up with Time, Bloomberg, CBS News and Business Week through their mobile apps.

3. Dictionary.com

Just like a mechanic’s set of wrenches, a key part of a PR pro’s toolkit is a dictionary/thesaurus.

The Dictionary.com app, the only free dictionary app available for the BlackBerry, puts more than 500,000 words at your fingertips, and phonetic and audio pronunciations help to ensure a tricky word in that speech you just crafted for your CEO isn’t mangled beyond comprehension.

4. miTimesheet

For PR pros on the agency side, there is nothing more dreaded (beyond a 4 a.m. wake-up call alerting you to a breaking crisis) than keeping track of billable hours for a variety of clients. Enter the miTimesheet app ($3.99), which allows users to track clients by project, as well as export that info via email.

5. Qik Live Video Streaming

Social media tools have given PR pros more opportunities to disseminate content directly to the end-user. With the Qik app, you can live stream video content directly from your BlackBerry, automatically archive footage and instantly share on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. This app would be especially handy for press conferences, tweetups, award shows and tradeshows.

What BlackBerry apps have helped you in your role as a public relations professional?

My Recent Social Media B2B Pitch Talking Points

Recently I was part of a client pitch. I handled the social media portion for an old school, B2B industrial firm. Before I share what I talked about, I want to describe my presentation experience. Six different people from our team would be sharing the presenting responsibilities. We practiced beforehand standing at a podium at one end of a conference room table. This was a very comfortable way for me to present. When we arrived at the client’s site, due to technical difficulties that I didn’t fully understand, we presented from a laptop in the middle of the table, rather than at the podium. This now meant our presentations would be given while sitting at the table. After my first segment was done sitting at the table, I decided that did not work for me. It was conversational and informal by just turning to look at the clients at the other end of table, but it was a bit too confined for me.

When I talk about social media, especially to people who are just starting to wrap their heads around it, I tend to get excited. I speak with my hands. I also needed to point to the slide on the screen just a little bit. I decided that I would stand at the end of the table. I waved my arms. I walked back and forth while I made eye contact with our prospective clients. I spoke about our social media plans with passion. I had a few notecards with some bullet points on them. I didn’t look at them, but just waved them around. Below are some of things I said as an introduction to Social Media in the B2B space.

Social Media’s Role in Public Relations

There is an ongoing discussion about whether social media lives within marketing or public relations as a primary communication medium. While most social media strategists would recommend that social media needs to be pervasive throughout an organization, one department or function frequently launches the foray into social media. Using the conversation prism model, this demonstrates the modern view of public relations that includes an ongoing feedback loop with traditional sources, as well as social web outlets.

Public relations involves crafting messages that express the company’s position or touts their products. What if you can send those messages out into the wild and let them go? Find the influencers that can take those messages, change them, make them their own, and spread them further than the reach of a news site or a printed trade magazine. And you must monitor those messages and mentions. Traditional PR services involved clipping. Now we “clip the web.” And this can be done at a simple level using basic monitoring tools, or at a deeper level with more complex tools. These choices are determined by the scale of your online universe. As these idea come back through monitoring you can determine what worked and what didn’t in a continuous evaluation and analysis process.

Content

Much of the legwork of the content creation of a social media plan can occur within the PR function. They interact with company subject matter experts. They interview industry thought leaders. They are in constant contact with editors, writers, bloggers in the industry to keep a pulse on what is happening. While press releases are happening in this world, this is not important to this part of the story. We are more interested in the deeper dives of the case studies and white papers. This information can be turned on its side for the more informal content required for a blog, which is the core component of social media for a B2B company. The best thing about a blog is that it shows how a company thinks. Don’t talk about products, services, features and benefits, but use a blog to show industry leadership. What are the questions others are asking? You can answer them. And all this content needs to be published on a regular and consistent basis. Your PR team can develop and maintain an editorial calendar to keep this on task.

And this blog content can now radiate outward. Repurpose it on a Facebook fan page. Post links to in Twitter. Share it on LinkedIn. When people ask questions in an online forum use content from the blog to answer them. You can tell them you wrote a blog post about it, excerpt the relevant section, and provide a link if they want to read the rest of the post. This will start building relationships.

Relationship

So now the question comes up is social media right for B2B? Is it too early? Are we ready? Well, B2B selling is all about relationships, engaging and a long sales cycle. That’s why social media is perfect fit, because that’s what social media is all about. It’s about building relationships. Engaging with others with similar interests. Developing trust by providing value and solutions. Social media provides many opportunities for continuous touch points over a long sales cycle. But social media can’t fix your product. If you have quality issues, those become magnified through these relationships. No social media plan can cover up company problems. In fact, many times, these types of programs provide the incentive to get the product right. And if you brand stands for quality, now is the time to back that up.

Community

So the last piece of the social media landscape is community. These relationships don’t happen in isolation. The point is to connect with others in an ever-growing web of connection and influence. By engaging and building trust with your connections, they can share you ideas with their connections. The influencers are the leaders of these communities. Some are formal, while others are informal. Yes, there are opportunities to sponsor and support these communities, but companies and brands will never lead them. There is more value in letting go of control and letting your message spread organically through the community. This is building your brand through social media.

While I was speaking within the context of a larger presentation, these concepts work as a stand alone explanation of the benefits of social media in a B2B organization. What are some the keys points you use to sell social media either within your company or to your clients?