Tag Archives: communication

What to Do When Catastrophes Go Viral

The power of social media is undeniable. Whether it’s political movements, disasters, or breaking news, social media delivers unfiltered information instantaneously to people around the world. When a catastrophe occurs today, comments, pictures and video are likely to appear on the Internet as it happens. For instance, a deadly explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant was caught live on video and posted to social media, as was an enormous explosion that rocked the Chinese port of Tianjin. But when social media posts about a catastrophe go viral, the company involved can be in for a struggle.

To avoid getting left behind, companies need to prepare for how they will communicate using social media when a catastrophe strikes. A company that plans ahead and is able to mount a robust response may not only salvage its reputation, but may actually enhance its public image if it is seen as managing a difficult situation well. Because many companies lack this kind of communications expertise, they may want to work with consultants that can help them prepare for a disaster and respond appropriately. In addition, they should consider insurance that provides coverage for experienced public relations catastrophe management services to protect their corporate reputation.

Social Media Plays a Crucial Role in a Crisis

When it comes to disasters, mobile apps and social media are seen by the public as crucial ways to get information, according to a Red Cross survey. During Superstorm Sandy in 2012, social media played a significant role in providing official information and combating rumors. When Cyclone Tasha struck Australia in 2010, the Queensland Police Service made extensive use of Twitter to provide information to people spread over a vast area.

Social media, however, is widespread and public information, which means that if there is an explosion, fire, or other disaster, chances are someone may be streaming it live to the Internet, tweeting about it, posting it to Facebook or uploading pictures to Instagram even before the affected company is aware of it. In essence, that means public opinion about the incident, as well as the company involved, is already being shaped, possibly without any direction from corporate communications.

Because information travels so quickly through social media, the public no longer has to wait for the evening news to receive the most up-to-date information. Therefore, companies are not afforded the luxury of time to gather all available facts before addressing the public. Traditional media and news organizations are also feeling an increased amount of pressure. Since social media has enabled news to travel quicker, stories may not receive the same level of scrutiny as they once did. That leaves plenty of opportunity for the spread of misinformation, which can be very difficult to counteract. On the Internet, inaccurate information may persist long after it has been thoroughly discredited elsewhere.

Embrace Social Media in Crisis Communications

To handle the social media aspect of a crisis, companies need to be able to act immediately or risk allowing reporters and “citizen journalists” to tell the story they want to tell, which may not provide a complete and accurate picture. Being unprepared can lead to inconsistent messaging, or even misstatements that may create confusion and ultimately damage a corporation’s reputation. A company that is seen as clumsy in its media response to a crisis risks losing credibility.

See Also: Should Social Media Have a Place?

When a disaster is handled well – by providing the public with timely and accurate information as well as proper reassurances about its products and services – an organization can actually bolster its reputation. While social media accelerates the media cycle, it can also enable a company to take control of its image by acting as a primary and reliable source of information when a catastrophe occurs. This requires planning and preparation.

An initial step is to review the corporate crisis communication plan to understand its limits in social media. A traditional crisis plan provides for one-way, controlled communication through prepared statements, press conferences, marketing tools, and commercials.

Such an approach is likely to be viewed as unresponsive by the public seeking immediate information. Incorporating social media into the traditional plan provides for two-way communication that allows for debate, insight, and opposing viewpoints that can guide the company’s responses.

The social media plan, however, should remain consistent with the company’s traditional media efforts. The company should provide consistent messaging in both traditional and social media about its culture and philosophy, the actions it is taking and the expected results, and its concern for those who have been affected.

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Develop a Detailed Social Media Plan

The plan should delineate the policies and procedures to be followed in the event of a catastrophe, and – most importantly – assign roles and responsibilities to specific staff. This ensures that someone who understands the company’s message will maintain control, which can help lessen potential mistakes. Both external and internal policies should be covered so that the information communicated to and among employees and the public is timely, accurate and consistent.

The written policy should detail the information to be provided – for instance – pre-vetted information about the company and its corporate philosophy. It should establish guidelines pertaining to the types of social media posts that necessitate a response. Not every
post merits a reply. Anyone who uses a computer or smartphone can post information to the Internet. Identifying legitimate posts and inquiries and providing necessary information can help preserve a company’s reputation.

Because the social media landscape is dynamic, companies shouldn’t limit themselves to just one outlet, but rather those that are most appropriate for the business, the audience and the geographic region. If an incident occurs abroad, companies should use the
social media outlet most appropriate for that region. With their massive user base, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are obvious choices for domestic and international audiences. Others such as Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr, should be considered. Companies active in Europe and Russia should consider the social networking site VK.

Prepare the Response

While it may not be possible to prepare material for every potential catastrophe, companies can still organize information ahead of time that can be released as soon as something happens. Information can be prepared for a “dark page” for the corporate website that can be published in the event of an emergency; however, companies should be careful not to publish a “dark page” until a crisis actually occurs.

The site can include background information about the company and its specific businesses as well as the corporate philosophy during times of crisis. Other information might be media contacts and toll-free phone numbers for claims intake. Preparing the information ahead of time makes it possible to have it reviewed by a company’s legal department, public relations, and senior management. Once the page is live, it should be monitored and updated so that it always provides the most current information.

Whether information is prepared ahead of time or developed in response to a particular incident, it should be presented in a way that is accessible for the audience. Written material should be understandable by a wide range of people. Companies should avoid industry jargon and acronyms, which may be unclear or even misunderstood by the general public.

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Monitor and Test

When not in crisis mode, it is helpful for companies to monitor social media. Viewing the social media environment in the normal course of business can help companies ascertain how their brand, products and services are viewed by the public. Companies can purchase monitoring services or build these capabilities in-house.

While monitoring social media is an important part of regular business, it becomes essential after a catastrophe to identify issues that need immediate attention. This helps to ensure that the traditional and social media messages the company is sending are having the desired impact. If the same questions continue to be asked on social media, it’s a clear sign that the message is not getting across.

As part of their overall catastrophe preparation, companies should test their communication response plan to assess their procedures as well as their staff. Testing can help ensure that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities and is able to react quickly. Drills assist in identifying blockages and help address uncertainties in the process. After the test or following an actual event, the company should conduct a thorough reevaluation and debriefing to identify the areas that worked well and those that need improvement.

Preserve the Corporate Reputation

Today, a story about a disaster can be trending on social media even before the company involved is aware of the loss. Organizations that wait too long to respond can cause lasting damage to their reputation. A company that is perceived as avoiding or failing to address a story may soon realize that its lack of response becomes the subject of that story. Undoing the damage caused by a tardy or ill-conceived response can be very difficult.

Many people realize that companies may make mistakes, but how these companies react and the decisions they make when faced with a disaster can potentially lessen confidence among customers and the wider public. Knowing how and when to respond helps project an image of competence and concern. Social media is the fastest way to reach people, project the company’s message and protect its reputation.

To become better prepared, companies have to identify their most likely risks and develop plans to mitigate those exposures, whether they are health, safety or environmental. Companies need to know how best to respond on social media if a disaster were to affect their business. To do so, companies may want to work with consultants that can provide risk analysis and mitigation services and help to prepare a crisis response. In addition, to help plan how they will respond to a crisis on social and traditional media, companies should also consider insurance that can defray the costs of hiring expert help when a disaster strikes. No one knows when a catastrophe may occur, but being prepared can help lessen the damage. Customers will look to these companies for information– companies that can provide that information are more likely to weather a crisis with their reputation unscathed.

Helping Data Scientists Through Storytelling

Good communication is always a two-way street. Insurers that employ data scientists or partner with data science consulting firms often look at those experts much like one-way suppliers. Data science supplies the analytics; the business consumes the analytics.

But as data science grows within the organization, most insurers find the relationship is less about one-sided data storytelling and more about the synergies that occur in data science and business conversations. We at Majesco don’t think it is overselling data science to say these conversations and relationships can have a monumental impact on the organization’s business direction. So, forward-thinking insurers will want to take some initiative in supporting both data scientists and business data users as they work to translate their efforts and needs for each other.

In my last two blog posts, we walked through why effective data science storytelling matters, and we looked at how data scientists can improve data science storytelling in ways that will have a meaningful impact.

In this last blog post of the series, we want to look more closely at the organization’s role in providing the personnel, tools and environment that will foster those conversations.

Hiring, supporting and partnering

Organizations should begin by attempting to hire and retain talented data scientists who are also strong communicators. They should be able to talk to their audience at different levels—very elementary levels for “newbies” and highly theoretical levels if their customers are other data scientists. Hiring a data scientist who only has a head for math or coding will not fulfill the business need for meaningful translation.

Even data scientists who are proven communicators could benefit from access to in-house designers and copywriters for presentation material. Depending on the size of the insurer, a small data communication support staff could be built to include a member of in-house marketing, a developer who understands reports and dashboards and the data scientist(s). Just creating this production support team, however, may not be enough. The team members must work together to gain their own understanding. Designers, for example, will need to work closely with the analyst to get the story right for presentation materials. This kind of scenario works well if an organization is mass-producing models of a similar type. Smooth development and effective data translation will happen with experience. The goal is to keep data scientists doing what they do best—using less time on tasks that are outside of their domain—and giving data’s story its best possibility to make an impact.

Many insurers aren’t yet large enough to employ or attract data scientists. A data science partner provides more than just added support. It supplies experience in marketing and risk modeling, experience in the details of analytic communications and a broad understanding of how many areas of the organization can be improved.

Investing in data visualization tools

Organizations will need to support their data scientists, not only with advanced statistical tools but with visualization tools. There are already many data mining tools on the market, but many of these are designed with outputs that serve a theoretical perspective, not necessarily a business perspective. For these, you’ll want to employ tools such as Tableau, Qlikview and YellowFin, which are all excellent data visualization tools that are key to business intelligence but are not central to advanced analytics. These tools are especially effective at showing how models can be used to improve the business using overlaid KPIs and statistical metrics. They can slice and dice the analytical populations of interest almost instantaneously.

When it comes to data science storytelling, one tool normally will not tell the whole story. Story telling will require a variety of tools, depending on the various ideas the data scientist is trying to convey. To implement the data and model algorithms into a system the insurer already uses, a number of additional tools may be required. (These normally aren’t major investments.)

In the near future, I think data mining/advanced analytics tools will morph into something able to contain more superior data visualization tools than are currently available. Insurers shouldn’t wait, however, to test and use the tools that are available today. Experience today will improve tomorrow’s business outcomes.

Constructing the best environment

Telling data’s story effectively may work best if the organization can foster a team management approach to data science. This kind of strategic team (different than the production team) would manage the traffic of coming and current data projects. It could include a data liaison from each department, a project manager assigned by IT to handle project flow and a business executive whose role is to make sure priority focus remains on areas of high business impact. Some of these ideas, and others, are dealt with in John Johansen’s recent blog series, Where’s the Real Home for Analytics?

To quickly reap the rewards of the data team’s knowledge, a feedback vehicle should be in place. A communication loop will allow the business to comment on what is helpful in communication; what is not helpful; which areas are ripe for current focus; and which products, services and processes could use (or provide) data streams in the future. With the digital realm in a consistent state of fresh ideas and upheaval, an energetic data science team will have the opportunity to grow together, get more creative and brainstorm more effectively on how to connect analytics to business strategies.

Equally important in these relationships is building adequate levels of trust. When the business not only understands the stories data scientists have translated for them but also trusts the sources and the scientists themselves, a vital shift has occurred. The value loop is complete, and the organization should become highly competitive.

Above all, in discussing the needs and hurdles, do not lose the excitement of what is transpiring. An insurer’s thirst for data science and data’s increased availability is a positive thing. It means complex decisions are being made with greater clarity and better opportunities for success. As business users see results that are tied to the stories supplied by data science, its value will continue to grow. It will become a fixed pillar of organizational support.

This article was written by Jane Turnbull, vice president – analytics for Majesco.

Gallup

A Wake-Up Call for B2B Brands

Gallup has just released the Guide to Customer Centricity: Analytics and Advice for B2B Leaders. The study reports that 71% of B2B clients are ready and willing to take their business elsewhere – not even one-third are fully engaged in their relationships with suppliers.

If you are operating in the B2B world – and you likely are, as either a supplier or client – do you find this statistic surprising?

This finding should be a wake-up call for B2B brands to figure out what is going on with their clients.

Do you know anyone in the business world who will say they are opposed to client-centricity? Putting clients at the center of a business remains an aspiration for many companies. Why is a strategy of such potential value so difficult to execute? What must happen to create mutually beneficial relationships between businesses and clients?

Companies have to get out of their own way and provide the value that clients expect. B2B or B2C, people handing over their money to you because they believe you are meeting their needs demand personalized engagement. They will choose the right moment to go elsewhere if you fail to deliver. Here are some areas that can make a difference:

  • Sales force compensation systems rewarding new client deals, with little incentive past contract signing and getting the client set up, can be updated to reward surfacing and delivering on continuing needs.
  • A linear approach to winning, welcoming and engaging clients can be reinvented to treat clients like people and break old habits of putting them through a gauntlet of internal systems and silos.
  • An outside/in understanding of client needs and wants can replace product pushing. Even traditional client needs assessments may not capture evolving needs – these methods tend to play back answers biased by the products driving today’s P&L.

There is no magic to this. Client-centricity requires change and a new mindset. It’s hard work. Where can you begin? Follow these four action steps to identify the priorities for your business:

  • Go out and talk to clients. The value of conversations where clients do most of the talking and you do most of the listening can be far higher than quantitative research.
  • Segment your client base. This is not just about bucketing clients by size, sector, potential value to you or historical purchase relationship. It’s about the clients’ journeys, including their attitudes and behavior, how they go about achieving their vision of success, and where you fit in.
  • Reimagine your clients’ experience of doing business with you. How does your brand enhance the clients’ journey — it’s not about making them fit in to your mechanisms for running your business. It’s about reflecting their preferences back to them in every interaction they have with you.
  • Figure out what this means for your employee experience and expectations. Everything from sales incentives, to marketing communications, to servicing policies to channel capabilities – should contribute to the experience your brand will create so your clients see you as enabling their vision for their business. Hire people who are not only business-focused but people-focused.

The very term “B2B” fails to acknowledge the reality that every brand, irrespective of whether its audience includes individuals or enterprises, must prove itself to the people who will be its users, buyers or payers. Behind every B2B relationship are P2Ps – People-to-People.

This post also appears in Amy’s regular column on Huffington Post.

social

The Keys to Forming Effective Teams

America loves teams and team players, even outside of sports. What’s not to love? Team players are selfless—they set aside their personal goals and focus their talents on coordinating efforts with their fellow team members to achieve a common goal. Teams personify cooperation and collaboration and synergistic effort. And, of course, we’ve all been taught that teams inevitably generate better outcomes than individuals do.

So it’s good to be on a team, and teams do good work, which means teams and teamwork are iconic realities of life in America—socially, educationally and professionally. It really doesn’t matter whether you are a toddler, a college student, a retail clerk or a corporate executive, today you regularly find yourself slotted onto teams (or onto committees or into small groups) where you are expected to behave like a good team player.

And how does a good team player behave? According to leadership coach Joel Garfinkle, “You just need to be an active participant and do more than your job title states. Put the team’s objectives above yours and take the initiative to get things done without waiting to be asked.” He identifies five characteristics that make a team player great:

  1. Always reliable
  2. Communicates with confidence
  3. Does more than asked
  4. Adapts quickly and easily
  5. Displays genuine commitment

Seems obvious, but think of your most recent team experiences. Were your team members behaving that way? Were you? Not likely, and J. Richard Hackman, a former professor of social and organizational psychology at Harvard University and a leading expert on teams, knows why. When interviewed by Diane Coutou for a 2009 Harvard Business Review article (Why Teams Don’t Work), he said:

Research consistently shows that teams underperform, despite all the extra resources they have. That’s because problems with coordination and motivation typically chip away at the benefits of collaboration.

Problems with coordination and motivation interfering with team collaboration and performance—doesn’t that sound like a rather modest challenge that could be resolved with more effective team management? Sure, to a certain extent. Teams are often too large; they are thoughtlessly staffed (proximity and position rather than proven talents and ability to produce results); and they are routinely launched with murky objectives, vague group member accountabilities and no formal support network for team process management. In other words, most teams don’t meet the five basic conditions Hackman, in his book Leading Teams, said teams require to perform effectively:

  1. Teams must be real. People have to know who is on the team and who is not. It’s the leader’s job to make that clear.
  2. Teams need a compelling direction. Members need to know, and agree on, what they’re supposed to be doing together. Unless a leader articulates a clear direction, there is a real risk that different members will pursue different agendas.
  3. Teams need enabling structures. Teams that have poorly designed tasks, the wrong number or mix of members or fuzzy and unenforced norms of conduct invariably get into trouble.
  4. Teams need a supportive organization. The organizational context—including the reward system, the human resource system and the information system—must facilitate teamwork.
  5. Teams need expert coaching. Most executive coaches focus on individual performance, which does not significantly improve teamwork. Teams need coaching as a group in team processes, especially at the beginning, midpoint and end of a team project.

But there’s another challenge, and it is presented by the people who don’t want to be team players. People who, when added to a team, immediately focus their attention and effort not on being a good team player but instead on dodging work, avoiding exposure and manipulating the conscientious team players into doing more than their share of the work. This is known as social loafing (or slacking), and it describes the tendency of some members of a work group to exert less effort than they would when working alone. Kent Faught, associate professor of management at the Frank D. Hickingbotham School of Business, argues in his paper about student work groups in the Journal of Business Administration Online that social loafers can’t be successful, however, unless the other team members permit the loafing and complete the project successfully: 

…the social loafer must find at least one group member that CAN and WILL achieve the group’s goals and ALLOW themselves to be social loafed on. “Social Loafer Bait” is the term used here to describe the profile of the ideal target for social loafers.

This problem isn’t new. Max Ringelmann, a French agricultural engineer, conducted one of the earliest social loafing experiments in 1913, asking participants to pull on a “tug of war” rope both individually and in groups. When people were part of a group, they exerted much less effort pulling the rope than they did when pulling alone. According to Joshua Kennon, Ringelmann’s social loafing results were replicated over the years in many other experiments (involving typing, shouting, clapping, pumping water, etc.), leading psychologists to believe that humans tend toward social loafing in virtually all group activities. Kennon shared two other conclusions:

  • The more people you put into a group, the less individual effort each person will contribute;
  • When confronted with proof they are contributing less, the individuals in the group deny it because they believe they are contributing just as much as they would have if they were working alone.

I recently asked a group of friends and colleagues who have been involved in group work at school or in their jobs to respond to a brief, unscientific survey on how they deal with social loafing. Their response pattern is shown in parentheses, and, although respondents varied in age from 20 to 50-plus, answer patterns didn’t seem to vary by age group:

You are working on an important, time-sensitive project with a group of people. One of the group members is slacking off, not contributing to project work. What do you do about it? (choose one)

  • Ask/Tell the slacker to commit to the project and start contributing (40%)
  • Report the slacker to the project sponsor (3%)
  • Complain about the slacker to other team members (10%)
  • Work harder to pick up the slack and ensure the project is successful (30%)
  • Follow the slacker’s lead and reduce your commitment and effort (0%)
  • Other (17%—Most respondents who chose this reported they would employ more than one of the listed strategies)

How effective is the response you identified above?

  • Solves the problem (27%)
  • Partially solves the problem (53%)
  • Fails to solve the problem (17%)
  • Causes other problems (3%)

Respondents who took some action (talking to the slacker, or reporting the slacker to the project sponsor) were much more likely to report that their actions solved all or part of the problem. Complaining to other team members failed to solve the problem—no surprise there. And even though 30% of respondents elected to address the slacking problem by working harder to pick up the slack (earning themselves a “social loafer bait” ID badge), the effect of doing so was mixed, spread fairly evenly among solving, partially solving, failing to solve and causing other problems.

What’s not clear is why we are so willing to tolerate social loafing in group projects and why we are so reluctant to call slackers out and hold them accountable. According to Kerry Patterson, co-author of the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High:

93% of employees report they have co-workers who don’t pull their weight, but only one in 10 confronts lackluster colleagues.

I suppose the reality is that unless work groups are tightly managed, they offer excellent cover for slackers—relative anonymity, little or no pressure from team members, great individual performance camouflage—with only a slight threat of exposure or penalty for not being a good team player. So the solution to the social loafer problem probably involves not only changes in how groups are formed, resourced and supported but also changes in the group work dynamic to eliminate the cover and camouflage and to illuminate how each individual contributes to the group work effort. (This is sometimes accomplished in university student work groups by using a formal peer review process to help group members hold each other accountable.)

As you might expect, Google is serious about teamwork (all Google employees work on at least one team), and Google wants teams to be successful. A recent study of team effectiveness at Google determined that five team dynamics (psychological safety; dependability; structure and clarity; meaning of work; and impact of work) are more important to successful teams than the talents of the individuals on the teams. To help teams manage these dynamics, Google developed a tool called the gTeams exercise, described by Julia Rozovsky of Google People Operations as:

…a 10-minute pulse-check on the five dynamics, a report that summarizes how the team is doing, a live in-person conversation to discuss the results and tailored developmental resources to help teams improve.

According to Rozovsky, Google teams reported that having a framework around team effectiveness and a forcing function (the gTeams exercise) to talk about these dynamics was the part of the experience that had the most impact. That’s not surprising, because any “forcing function” that puts a public spotlight on ineffective or unacceptable behavior makes it easier to identify and eliminate that behavior.

Given the concentration of talent at Google, I imagine the social loafers there probably boast a more refined slacker “craftiness” pedigree than most of us normally encounter. Still, I am betting the Google slackers aren’t very pleased with the light and heat generated by the gTeams exercise spotlight.

Communicate, Communicate

In an increasingly digital world, the modern day update to the old real estate refrain of “location, location, location” may be “communication, communication, communication.”

It may also be true that companies are only as good in the customers’ mind as the quality of their last transaction. That is particularly true when there are infrequent transaction, thus limited opportunities to make up for mistakes. In financial services, banks may have daily transactions with their customers, but insurance companies have far fewer transactions, many of which are associated with unfortunate events. Finding a way to make the most of these interactions can be important in retaining customers for the long term, in a world of low switching costs and lots of transparency.

I was reminded of this when I got an email alert from my personal lines property and casualty carrier. Like much of the East Coast, we found ourselves dealing with a winter wonderland over the weekend, which included icy roads, snowy hillsides and falling trees. Many people lost power.

In any event, the email alert reminded me that our carrier was aware of the potential implications coming from the storm and was ready to help. The message included various forms of contact info and was an opportunity to remind me of the benefits I can gain from the relationship. As my thumb moved to delete the message, I was reminded of the value of the coverage, and I realized this was one of the few messages I’ve gotten that didn’t convey a billing increase or some other “bad” information.

I had been thinking that the renewal would be coming in four months and that I probably needed to begin shopping for coverage to see what the market looks like, in anticipation of another premium increase. Getting the email reminded me that insurance is not just about rate but also about what happens when the world goes sideways.

This realization leads back to a challenge – which is to say an opportunity – for carriers to start thinking differently about the form and frequency of interaction with customers. Different demographic cohorts may have preferences for different communication channels, but one likely universal truth is that individuals want to know that they have the opportunity to do the same thing that other “smart people” like them are doing.

Amazon, of course, does a remarkable job with this. The retail brokerage investment company I deal with is nearly as good, and, as a consequence, there is little chance I will ever look to move assets. Conversely, the life insurance company I have had a relationship with for three decades only has a dialogue with me when sending documents required by regulation. In fact, when I have chosen to initiate dialogue with the carrier, it has proven to be both painful and incredibly time-intensive to get things done.

The recent example with my homeowners insurance was a pleasant surprise. It might even cause me to slow the shopping process or be more accommodating of the rate increase, which is no doubt coming.

All of this has potentially significant implications for the marketing and technology organizations for insurance carriers. Increasingly, the competition is not against other, similar companies. The issue really becomes how well carriers operate against a customer service standard that is being framed by retailers and financial institutions that are more transactionally intensive. As the lines between traditional industries and products families become blurred through the use of better technology, carriers will need to up their games considerably to maintain relevance.  Checking in on customers after an unfortunate event is a step in the right direction.