Tag Archives: crisis planning

Should Social Media Have a Place?

This is a question that seems to pop up a lot: Is there a place for social media in a “boring” business like insurance, plumbing or trucking?

While I do believe nearly any business can benefit from some social media presence, we do need to take a rational look as to whether it should really be a priority in the marketing mix for a “boring” business.

Are you a conversational business?

Let’s re-frame this word “boring” and put it this way: “Do people normally talk about you over the dinner table or at a party?” If the answer is “yes,” then social media should probably be a top priority for you. If it’s no … well, look at your budget options carefully to see where social media might fit in.

There have been a number of studies out there about the “conversationability” of a business and the connection to social media success. Not surprisingly, there is a hierarchy of conversationability – more remarkable products like sports teams and Hollywood movies are talked about twice as much as less remarkable brands like banks and over-the-counter medicine.

In a study of organic Facebook reach conducted by AgoraPulse, the company found that, across 8,000 companies, there was definitely a pecking order of conversationability. Organic reach is the content that is naturally connecting to customers without any promotion. Here is a list of the industry categories with the highest organic reach:

Amateur sports teams


Fashion designer

Professional athletes

Music industry

Building products

Professional sports teams


Zoos and animal-related businesses

Television programs

And here are the industries with the lowest Facebook organic reach:




Household supplies

Tools and equipment



Musical instruments


Transportation and freight

There is an implicit hierarchy of conversation popularity across industries. If you are in sports, entertainment or any of the other industries in the first list, there is an implied, fervent fascination with your content. There is something that people find naturally remarkable about you that gets rewarded with content transmission. If you’re in the second list or somewhere in between, you have less of an organic opportunity for social sharing … not necessarily because of the job you’re doing with your content, but because your products just aren’t naturally conversational.

Are you conversational … or could you be?

There is another option. If you’re in an industry with relatively low organic reach, can you become remarkable? It doesn’t come easily or cheaply, but it is possible, as evidenced by the series of “Will It Blend?” videos produced by BlendTec blenders. A blender isn’t the most remarkable product, but the brand made it so through its wacky challenge … ripping apart the most unusual things (golf balls, an Apple watch) in its powerful blender.

One of my favorite examples of a company overcoming a low place on the remarkability continuum is the Chipotle restaurant chain, which sells burritos and tacos—nearly commodity products in the food business.

Chipotle began producing two-minute animated mini-movies telling a story of the restaurant as an oasis of natural goodness in an otherwise bleak and dystopian world of processed food. The first episode, a clay animation video with a soundtrack of Willie Nelson singing a Coldplay song, was extraordinarily popular with Chipotle’s youthful audience and garnered nearly 9 million views in a year. The next year, the company went a step further by creating a free smartphone game to go with a new video. It had 4 million views in the first week.

Reality check: All this was created to sell burritos. It wasn’t easy to become a conversational brand. It wasn’t cheap, either. But it worked, and Chipotle’s stock and market share soared. That’s the nice thing about remarkability: You can apply it to almost anything.

The key to finding your remarkability is to think about what makes you surprising, interesting, or novel. In my book Social Media Explained, I suggest that marketing strategy needs to begin by finishing this sentence: “Only we …” That’s a tough task, but it’s the essential path to discovering your remarkability.

In the case of Chipotle, the “only we” was creating a story of health and sustainability, a story far bigger than mere burritos and tacos. They broke a pattern of what people expected from fast food.

But wait…there’s more

At this point, you might be thinking, “My business is boring and unremarkable and I’m not about to be a Blend-Tec or Chipotle. Why would I participate in social media?”

There are a lot of reasons, and here are a few:

Public relations – It’s likely that some aspect of social media has to be incorporated into any plan for media relations, crisis planning, event planning and community relations.

Word-of-mouth advocacy – Social media opens up an entirely new way of identifying and nurturing powerful online advocates for your brand.

Cost savings – Social media represents an extremely cost-effective communication channel. Most research shows that, in terms of many traditional measures, the results are as good, or better, than paid advertising. There are many opportunities to leverage existing content and marketing materials across vast new audiences.

Customer service – You may not have a choice about this really. Social media has become a very popular way to complain about poor products and services. It’s the new 800 number. Are you going to answer the call?

HR and recruiting – Social media, and particularly LinkedIn, has transformed the human resources function. One professional told me that a candidate’s “social media footprint” was more important today than a resume! Whether you are trying to find talent or be found, social media is a critical piece of the puzzle.

Internal process improvement – Tapping into the free tools and information on the web can help unleash employee productivity, collaboration and problem-solving.

Lead generation – Even setting up a simple Twitter search can help you find customers looking for your products and services…even if you’re boring.

Reputation management – The largest brands have social media “war rooms” set up so they can monitor conversations and sentiment about their products and brands in real time, at any spot in the world. Today, you need to be tuned in to the conversations and respond quickly or risk problems going viral.

Research and development – An active customer community can be a gold mine of new ideas and suggestions for products and innovations.

SearchGoogle is now showing tweets more prominently in search results. And you are just as likely to be discovered via your LinkedIn profile, blog post or video as on a website. An entire generation is finding businesses and services through Facebook search.

Social proof – In a world of overwhelming information density, we may look to clues from others to make a decision. How many positive reviews do you have? How many “likes” or followers do you have? It might sound weird, but people make decisions to connect to a company based on these badges of social proof (there is an entire chapter on the connection between social proof and content success in my book The Content Code).

The Trade Show Dilemma – Have you ever had to sit at a booth during a large industry trade show? Why did you do it? Because if we weren’t there, people would think something was wrong. We would be ostentatiously absent. In this day and age, not being on Facebook or Twitter sends the same message. It shows you “don’t get it.”

The Net Generation – Your next pool of employees, customers and competitors prefer to use the social web over any other form of communication. You might enjoy reading a paper copy of the Wall Street Journal each morning, or even looking at an online version of your favorite news site. But nearly half of Americans under the age of 21 cite Facebook as their primary source of news. The social web is where a generation is going to connect, learn and discover. Ignore this at your peril!

So the short answer is “yes.” There is a place for social media, even in a boring business, but your “conversationability” may influence how much effort you put into it. Comments?

This article was first posted on business2community.com

Managing The Victim Dimension Of Large-Scale Disasters, Part 3

This is the third article in a multi-part series on “victim management” in the wake of large-scale disasters and crises. Additional articles in the series can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 4.

Crises And Disasters Create Many Kinds Of Victims
Almost every postmortem on crisis communication failure and management decision-making deficiencies identifies the failure to promptly address victims as the emotionally negative energizing force that causes trust to break down. Bad news of any consequence is about victims and victimization, or the potential for both.

When the emotionality of victimization meets the rational decision-making regimentation of management, there will almost always be casualties in top management. In every recent high-profile disaster and crisis, one expected casualty among the responders is the person on whose watch the bungled disaster response occurred.

Some Cannot Be Victims
Unless they are directly attacked or obviously adversely affected, corporations and large organizations, like government agencies, are almost never, from a public perspective, considered victims. Yes, Tylenol was a victim of a product tampering murderer in 1982 in Chicago and in 1986 in Westchester County, New York. Yes, the airlines whose planes were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center in 2001 were victims. The syringe tampering incidents in 1993 made Pepsi, an icon American brand, a victim for 7 days. The government building bombed in Oklahoma City in 1996 was also a victim. Yes, there are circumstances — although very few in number — where one could genuinely consider a large organization and its leadership to be victims.

Generally speaking, however, it is more likely that large organizations that cause or fumble the response to a disaster will be immediately viewed as perpetrators, or at least as having culpability in the creation of victims. In these situations, it is equally true, but perhaps not as intuitively apparent, that some employees are victims in every scenario. If the response of the organization is to stumble, mumble, fumble, and bumble, any opportunity for the perpetrator to be perceived as a victim is lost.

While civil engineers may actually be on the periphery of the victim response, they are trusted advisers to those who do or direct the responding. Understanding the victim dimension helps advisers keep those at the center of the response focused on what needs to be done and on reducing the production of future victims. Management advisers, like attorneys and other professionals, need to recognize the crucial and important realities of the victim dimension and be prepared to coach management for victim response readiness and for the important humane behaviors required as disasters unfold.

Who Can Be a Victim?
There are three kinds of victims: people, animals, and living systems. Living systems are things like estuaries, deserts, jungles, rain forests, river valleys, and someone's own backyard. The fact is, you can blow something up, burn something down, or otherwise destroy something, but so long as no one is injured or killed, no animals are injured or killed, and no one's living system is harmed, the situation may be bad news, but it is not a crisis. Instead, it could be a disaster or simply a bad day or problem for someone's schedule, budget, reputation, or career. All crises are problems, but very few problems are crises.

Causes Of Victimization
In the list of causes of victimization in the table below, it's a little surprising to note that the vast majority of causes of victimization are communications related. Only three items on this list are physical in nature: abuse, assault, and bullying. And most bullying is verbal in nature. Keep in mind that all of the areas come into play as a disaster (or crisis) unfolds over a period of time. In order to effectively reduce the production of victims, all early response thinking and action must take into account what causes victimization in the first place and end the production of victims as early as possible. In 2011, the British Petroleum oil leak, which occurred more than 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, took more than 100 days to stop. That's more than 100 days of victim production.

Causes of Victimization
Abuse Commission Dismissiveness Negligence
Arrogance Confrontation Disparagement Omission
Assault Contention Embarrassment Sarcasm
Bullying Deception Fear Shame
Callousness Discrediting Lies Surprise

What Does It Mean To Be A Victim?
Victimhood is a self-designated state. Whether there are wounds, bullet holes, or any other visible or invisible damage, human beings have the capacity to choose to feel victimized. They can also choose to be victimized on behalf of other people, animals, or living systems.

I've worked with victims in many parts of the world, and all seem to have very similar behaviors. Most of those injured, whatever the cause, tend to get up off the ground, dust themselves off, and try to figure out how to get home, get the kids home from school, get dinner made, and get back to work or their regular lives the following day. In the context of this article, victims are those who act on their victimization. They locate an attorney, call a local news channel, or find or initiate a support group process to help them almost before they get up off the ground or once they get to a place of safety. Those who are truly victims, those acting on their victimization, are generally extremely small in number. It is a self-designated state.

One response I often hear is, “Wait a minute, Jim. Someone gets their leg crushed by some flying debris; they have a head injury and have difficulty remembering where they are and who they are. These are not victims?” The answer is, in this discussion, victims are those who act on their victimization, hire a lawyer, go to the media, begin or join an advocacy group, or take some action other than getting medical help in support of their injuries or other necessary help to correct their situation. Even in mass casualty situations, victimization is an individual circumstance. It's the trial lawyers who work to get these people into groups for the purpose of legal action, media response, or other kinds of attention. Even that's quite difficult to accomplish. Most victims desire simply to get on with it and get their life back on track.

Victimhood is self-sustaining. Being a victim is a self-perpetuating state. That is, it is up to the individual to choose how long he or she will remain in a situation or state of mind that makes him or her feel victimized. Insurance companies are usually the ones who drive trying to limit the length of time a person can be a victim. It's done by setting arbitrary standards; for example, a broken arm might be worth $500 and a day off work. The problem is that being a victim is much more complicated. For example, if the arm got broken by a coworker twisting it until it snapped, and the victim hid in her office for 4 1/2 hours out of fear before she sought help with her injury, this broken arm is likely to be much more than a $500 day off work. The circumstances of victimization are crucially important. Despite the pressure of insurance companies, corporate legal staffs, and outside counsel hired to contain and more promptly end the victim experience, victims get to be victims as long they feel victimized.

Victimhood is self-terminating. Victimhood ends or abates when the victims, largely by themselves, begin to come to terms with or let go of what is affecting them and get on with the rest of their lives. No matter how damaging an event, only a small number of individuals continue to act on their feelings and emotions of being victimized. Some may begin their recovery by blaming others for their feelings of helplessness, demoralization, frustration, or betrayal. Most injured or wounded just suck it up and deal with it.

Victims suffer alone. Even though there may be mass casualty circumstances in which many are injured or wounded at the same time, each person suffers alone. Even the phrase “mass casualties” is a serious, sometimes devastating mischaracterization. Every person suffers differently, experiences pain differently, and needs to be treated individually. Bob VandePol, president of Crisis Care Network of Grandville, Michigan, and a global expert on critical incident response, said recently that current trauma research strongly emphasizes that “how people make sense of what happened to them and their experience of posttrauma symptoms is a strong predictor of their outcomes” (personal communication, March 14, 2012; see also “Crisis management: The critical human element” by Robert VandePol and Calvin E. Beyer in the September-October 2009 edition of CFMA Building Profits Magazine.

Too often, the victimization, the sense of frustration, and the sense of helplessness and being misunderstood persist because the perpetrators, the media, the bloviators and commentators, and sometimes society lump individual circumstances together into joint suffering too quickly. This is very frustrating to victims. Each victim suffers by himself or herself.

This series first appeared as an article in Leadership and Management in Engineering, a publication of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Hurricane Sandy – Do Not Underestimate Impact

Over the next few days, you’re going to read a number of comparisons between the current Hurricane Sandy and August 2011’s Hurricane Irene. Firestorm urges you to read and take these comparisons seriously, as Irene killed 56 people with US costs upwards of $15.6 billion in damages. The total damages are still being felt.

Sandy, sadly, has the potential to be “the Perfect Storm.” Some meteorologists say a rare combination of events — Hurricane Sandy combined with an outbreak of unseasonably cold air, and a strong land-based storm system — could deliver flooding rains, damaging winds of near-hurricane force, large waves, and even heavy snow inland.

This Public Discussion details meteorological observations as of 5PM Thursday evening, 10/25:

“…Later in the period … some re-intensification is shown as Sandy deepens again off the U.S. East Coast while it interacts with another shortwave trough. Regardless … Sandy is expected to be a large cyclone at or near hurricane intensity through most of the forecast period.

“… Sandy will be pulled northwestward and slow down on Friday while it interacts with the upper-level low. Then a north-northeastward acceleration is expected by Saturday as a long-wave trough move into the eastern United States. Most of the track models now show a turn back toward the northwest by the end of the period due to Sandy interacting with an amplifying shortwave trough over the Carolinas and mid Atlantic states. However … there remain some significant differences in the timing of this interaction … as the ECMWF has Sandy farther west and interacting with the shortwave sooner relative to most of the rest of the guidance … which shows a wider turn and a track farther north. The new NHC forecast is close to the previous one … and lies roughly between the ECMWF and the GFS ensemble mean. Regardless of the exact track of Sandy … it is likely that significant impacts will be felt over portions of the U.S. East Coast through the weekend and into early next week.”

Firestorm’s Jim Satterfield states:

“While Sandy’s pattern is similar to last year’s hurricane, the water temperature is lower and wind impact may be less. Even given lower winds, flooding is extremely likely and combined with down trees and the possibility of ice, loss of power is expected as the hurricane moves inland. For businesses, now is the time to reconfirm call in numbers and messaging. The European model shows that Sandy has the potential to become a massive storm. If this model is correct, outages could be in days and even weeks.”

Rainfall Potential

Hurricane Sandy Potential Rainfall

Hurricane Sandy Potential Rainfall

As reported by the Associated Press, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said he expected to receive by Friday from the state's major utility companies, emergency plans for how they will deal with the storm.

The utilities came under intense criticism last year following widespread and long-lasting power outages caused by the remnants of Hurricane Irene in August and a surprise October snowstorm.

Asked during his monthly “Ask the Governor” show on WTKK-FM if he expected utilities to be more prepared for this storm, Patrick responded: “They'd better be.”

Patrick signed a law earlier this year that requires utilities to dramatically improve communications with their customers during emergencies. Many residents and municipal officials in areas hard-hit by last year's storm complained that they were unable to get accurate information from companies about when power might be restored.

The law requires the utilities to establish call centers that would be staffed around the clock after major storms to handle inquiries from customers about power restoration. Failure of any investor-owned utility to carry out an order by the chairman (authorized under section 4B of the General Laws of the Commonwealth CHAPTER 25 DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC UTILITIES) shall be subject to investigation and a penalty of up to $1,000,000 per violation.

In a statement from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on the NY-Alert website, the Governor directed the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to closely monitor the progress of Hurricane Sandy and prepare for potential storm impacts. Although the storm track is still uncertain, Hurricane Sandy has the potential to affect many parts of New York State with a variety of threats, including heavy rain, high winds, flooding, tornadoes, coastal surges, and widespread power outages.

“I have directed state agencies and New York's emergency operations personnel to begin preparations now for the potential impact of Hurricane Sandy,” Governor Cuomo said. “I urge all New Yorkers to closely track the storm's path, using local radio and television or online reports. We will actively monitor the storm's progress and take any steps necessary to protect our state's residents.”

Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) is hiring 2,000 contractors from the Midwest and United Illuminating is hiring hundreds of workers to help respond to Sandy if the storm hits the state. CL&P provides power to more than a million residences and businesses, and is warning its residential customers to prepare a home emergency kit and has begun reaching out to local officials to update them on how the company will respond if there are widespread power outages.

In Maryland, Baltimore County government is holding an emergency preparedness press conference at 1:30 p.m. Friday, in which county emergency personnel will update residents on response plans and Baltimore Gas and Electric Vice President for Corporate Communications Rob Gould will detail the utility company's preparedness plans.

Businesses Should Prepare Now
Firestorm Solutions, a nationally recognized leader in Continuity Planning, Critical Decision Support, Crisis Response, Crisis Management, Crisis Communications, Crisis Public Relations, and Consequence Management, urges businesses to review business continuity plans, and to communicate with employees and vendors to prepare for labor shortages, supply chain interruptions, power and technology systems back-ups, and other critical system and process interruptions:

  • Recovery prioritization structure for critical business functions
  • Response and recovery actions by functional department
  • Identification of critical suppliers
  • Identification of key employees and contacts

The crisis management team should include the CEO, senior officers, and key personnel representing operations, security, marketing, human resources and public information. The senior business continuity officer and his staff facilitate the crisis management discussion and decision making.

Depending on the severity of the crisis, a command center is set up including PC's, white boards, and phone lines. As status information flows into the command center, it is useful to record it on the white board for the crisis team to see at a glance.


Roles and Responsibilities in a Crisis

  • Human Resources is charged with updating employee information phone recordings and web site with status and instructions.
  • The security officer should communicate with fire and law enforcement, if necessary.
  • Marketing should develop customer communications, and public information should craft carefully worded statements for the media/social media outlets.
  • It is imperative that media inquiries be referred to an experienced, designated spokesperson.
  • The secretary to the board or CEO should inform directors, when appropriate.
  • The command center is staffed around the clock, and team members are rotated until the crisis passes and full recovery is completed.

Time is of the essence in crisis management, and it deserves its own plan specifying participant responsibilities. A measure of success is that the dimensions of the crisis are known and recovery activities are begun within the first few hours. In the absence of a tested crisis management plan, the crisis management process can be a turbulent and reactive instead of a calm and productive experience.

Incident/Emergency Response Plan
Implementing an emergency response plan enables a timely response to a disruptive event, with the objective of protecting people and property, while enabling an efficient recovery effort that satisfies stakeholder expectations. Firestorm's Emergency Response Team, which can be reached at 800.321.2219, is available to assist with:

  • Establishing emergency response objectives and assumptions.
  • Developing emergency response team roles and responsibilities.
  • Identifying primary / alternate assignments.
  • Collecting emergency response team contact information and documenting call tree procedures.
  • Designing a triggering process, escalation criteria and declaration criteria; establishing and documenting authority levels.
  • Documenting actions by phases, disruption or crisis for incident response at the impacted site.
  • Documenting or attaching evacuation and shelter-in-place procedures.
  • Developing and documenting response procedures that align to the emergency response objectives and assumptions; developing processes to enable recovery procedures.
  • Establishing and documenting communications strategies to internal and external resources/ stakeholders; summarizing media handling procedures; documenting crisis communications holding statements.
  • Creating a damage assessment process and assigning personnel.

For Business Preparedness
The Firestorm Hurricane Sandy Business Crisis Management Response Team is available now at 800.321.2219.

For Individual Preparedness
Firestorm offers its eBook at no charge: Disaster Ready People for a Disaster Ready America.