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TOMORROW IS TOO LATE

Companies must jump on the social networking bandwagon, now

Tomorrow is too late when it comes to crisis management. A text book we used early on during the grad school program I am in suggested that 24 to 48 hours was a suitable time to respond to an issue or crisis. Most public relations professionals worth their salt today would laugh at that number. If you aren’t involved in a conversation about a crisis within 30 minutes of it happening, you’re playing catch-up through the whole ordeal and company branding and trust is likely to be damaged.

Think back to the Chick-fil-A blunder, BP’s big mistake and the Domino’s disaster.

socialmediaWe live in a 24-hour news cycle world. People log on to Facebook in the morning to talk about what they ate for breakfast, hipsters instagram photos of bricks and sidewalks or ironic signs like they’ve never seen them before and more than two million active Twitter users tweet and retweet as fast as they can type 140 characters. Companies simply don’t have the luxury of taking a step back to decide a method of response these days. Plans should be thought out in advance and must be carried out in a multi-front way.

“The savvy journalists are not waiting by their fax machine for an official press release, but are ready to quote live accounts of passengers and bystanders being shared online,” wrote Shashank Nigam on Simpliflying.com in response to the July 2013 Asiana Airlines 214 crash in California. Nigam noted that Asiana Airlines was the major voice not present in the world-watched aftermath of the crash. It’s important to the success of modern companies, such as those in the airline industry, to be present where conversations are being had. Anyone with a smartphone can upload information or photos of breaking news and company displeasure. And with LTE service and WiFi increasingly available, spreading news via social media can happen with ease. That means, industry professionals must monitor Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and any other social media outlet that takes off. Ideas of controlling information go out the window considering social media. Issues must be addressed on all fronts. Tales of angry customers taking to Twitter and Facebook to bash brands happens so often that companies must understand the time to shift the way they respond to both digital and traditional methods is now.

asianaNigam noted that while the voice of Asiana Airlines wasn’t heard, a clear and loud (but calm) voice echoed over social media. David Eun, former president of AOL Media and Studios, tweeted, “I just crash landed at SFO. Tail ripped off. Most everyone seems fine. I’m ok. Surreal…” Eun was a passenger on the July 6, 2013 Asiana airplane crash. His tweet, coupled with a photo, was retweeted 32,700 times and his 2,000 person Twitter following increased about 10 times just hours following the crash. Simpliflying reported that the first tweet about the crash happened just 30 seconds after the crash and that tweet was quoted more than 4,000 times by media outlets in a period of 24 hours. “The lesson learnt is that social media needs to be an integral part of any crisis management plan for an airline or an airport today. There is no longer the luxury to respond in two hours, or even 20 minutes,” Nigam posted on the website.

Need more proof digital is the way to go?

Morrison Foerster’s hosts a Socially Aware blog that discusses the Internet and social media boom and how that relates to consumers and businesses. The blog released findings in November 2012 regarding how many people use different social media outlets, and how much time they spend on which outlets. The blog reported that, in 2011, the average American spent 6.9 hours each month using social media. That’s nearly a full work day minus a lunch break. That number was up from social media users spending 2.7 hours each month tweeting and “liking” in 2006. Three hours each month was spent on YouTube in 2011, according to Socially Aware. Another interesting shift in interactive time reported by the blog is that email and instant messaging fell 22 percent and 42 percent, respectively, while social media use rose 24 percent between July 2010 and October 2011 when it comes to 15 to 24 year olds. Other age groups reflected that shift, too. The fastest growing social networking user segments are males and people older than 55, Socially Aware reported. Although numbers are likely to have increased in the year following the blog’s findings, in 2012, 56 percent of Americans had a social networking profile and 22 percent of people in the United States use social media several times each day. Social media accounted for 18 percent of all time spent on line in 2012, the numbers showed. My guess is that number has grown by now.

Still not convinced digital is the way to go? Here are some quick numbers that show the shift is valid.

A 2012 Neilsen survey found that 18- to 24-year-olds, of whom half make less than $15,000, said they own a smartphone. The device was a luxury the young adults said they weren’t willing to do without. The Pew Internet Project found that, in 2011, 35 percent of those the group called for a survey said they owned a smartphone. Nine out of 10 smartphone owners surveyed used their phones for Internet access with about 78 percent doing so every day. Cisco Visual Networking predicted that by the end of 2012 there would be more smartphones than people on the planet and that by 2016, there would be 1.4 smartphones per person on Earth. With the growth of smartphone ownership and the ever-developing world of social media applications for phones and tablets, future crisis and issues management researchers should keep an eye on any developments that could make it even easier for consumers to make their voices heard.

Social media, for better or worse, is a fast way for news to travel. Companies should be pro-actively looking for ways to get in on the conversation, both before and after a crisis.

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ACCURACY OVER SPEED

Pressure from social media causes news organizations to slip

Social media and blogging have opened the doors offering almost instantaneous access to world news and events in real time.

socialmediaThe average Joe on the street can now upload videos to YouTube directly from a phone, Tweet photos and post firsthand accounts on Facebook faster than most reputable news sources can make it to the scene of an event. All of that evidence and all of those accounts were once utilized by news agencies to tell a story, painting a picture provided by both witnesses and authorities. However, now, everyday people can send their own stories to the masses without the aid of media outlets.

The Osama bin Laden raid and his death broke on Twitter, along with Whitney Houston’s death, the announcement of the royal wedding and the Hudson River plane crash. Schools.com pulled information from news sources and research outlets to find that about 50 percent of people hear about breaking news from social media, not news outlets.

While people, including myself, were fiercely searching Twitter hashtags and YouTube videos for information about the bombings on April 15, news organizations were struggling to keep up with the amount of information that was free flowing with reckless abandon from the public.

That sometimes pushes news organizations to be sloppy in their efforts to be first and fastest.

Take for instance CNN, thought of as one of the more credible 24-hour news sources available in broadcast, online and social media avenues.

At 1:40 p.m. CT on April 15, in the aftermath of the bombing at the Boston Marathon, CNN exclusively (if there is such a thing anymore) reported that police had a suspect in mind. A mere six minutes later, CNN reported authorities had arrested a suspect in connection with the crime. Fox News and the Associated Press were shortly behind CNN in the announcement.

Wow! That’s great! I didn’t see THAT on a blog or tweet anywhere prior to the announcement.

The problem? As we all know now, the Boston Marathon bombing suspects were on the run until Thursday night and Friday night when one suspect died after a shootout and being run over by his brother, and the other being taken alive after a homeowner found bloody evidence the suspect was hiding in a boat in the backyard.

On April 15, even with the CNN announcement, CBS and NBC hung back, insisting that their sources said no arrest had been made.

An hour after CNN’s rush to let the world know the bad guy had been caught, they retracted the statement, noting that they believed the information to be true based on both state and federal sources. The FBI issued a statement that “contrary to widespread reporting, no arrest has been made,” noting that the past few days has seen “a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate.”

And this isn’t the first time in recent events that, in an effort to be first, the media outlets got it wrong. The New York Post reported 12 people were dead in Boston after the bombings, even though authorities were reporting two, at that time. Think back to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut when the shooter’s brother was first identified as the suspect police were looking for. And CNN and Fox both reported (CNN later offered apologies) that the Supreme Court had struck down President Barack Obama’s healthcare mandate, although the court had actual upheld it.

Is this just what we can expect from a world where consumers demand immediate information during a 24-hour news cycle?

Paul Levinson is a journalism professor at Fordham University and said he believes errors are a result of the demand for continuous news. “The public wants to be informed, and the price of being continually informed is that wrong information comes out,” Levinson said.

While that might not be a cause for concern for people craving the latest news, it is a cause for concern when it comes to credibility of trusted news sources. What makes news outlets different from blogs and social media is that the journalists who work there remember their ethical and legal obligations, as well as their training to check and double check facts and accounts.

downarrowPublic Policy Polling rates the credibility of news sources each year and it’s no surprise that 24-hour network ratings are declining. Fox News took the biggest hit at a nine percent drop. CBS, ABC, MSNBC and CNN saw percentage decreases. (Interestingly, but not necessarily relevant to this discussion, Fox News was also recognized as both the most trusted and least trusted news source by the 800 people who took part in the telephone survey.)

Why the drop? People have found other ways to get news. That means A) they are not as accepting or trusting of big outlets and B) outlets are struggling to keep up with information disseminated in non-traditional ways.

About 31 percent of adults now have a tablet and 45 percent of adults are smartphone owners. That’s a large percentage of the population who craves immediate open-source news. Accessing news is one of the most popular uses for those products, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. A little more than 60 percent of tablet owners say they get their news on devices on a weekly basis and close to 40 percent say they do so on a daily basis.

iphonecartoonAlso on smartphones and tablets are social media applications, used more by consumers than news apps. Seventy percent of a Facebook users newsfeed is dominated by friends and family. That number is 36 percent on Twitter. The odds are against news organizations when it comes to news consumption and the pressure is on to stay relevant.

“In the Twitter age, the pressure is worse than ever to be fast — it’s become more difficult,” said Greg Brock, senior editor for New York Times standards. “Some of the pressure is coming from readers. If they see a headline on a Web site, they start looking for a complete and fully reported story from us, and they protest if they don’t find it.”

It’s important for credentialed journalists to remember what sets them aside from citizen journalists – that’s reputation and credibility. While anyone can pass along information, it is up to media outlets to vet that information, supplement it with facts and make sure to present the news in a fair way. Perhaps in this new age of technology, journalists need to slow down and remember that while gossip and unconfirmed information can fly around swiftly, it is a media outlet’s job to take a step back and make sure journalists work with integrity. It is then that news outlets will stay relevant – not by beating social media users in a time game, but with facts and credibility, providing a service that other sources cannot. It’s time to embrace accuracy over speed.