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Trump and Twitter and Trepidation – Oh My: Some Calming Crisis Management Advice

[By Thom Fladung, Hennes Communications]

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Your reputation is at risk on Twitter and the risk may be triggered by the President of the United States of America.

Of course you’ve heard that one.

You’ve probably seen the tweets and the stories that followed about New Balance  and Nordstrom and Toyota and even Twitter itself.

You may have seen the resulting blizzard of crisis and reputation management chatter as folks have feverishly scrambled to offer tips, advice and guidelines for how to monitor social media, assess threats, plan and react – or choose to not react.

We’ve done the same at Hennes Communications, including coming up with a system that we call the “Response Decision Tool” that we think anyone can use in preparing for crisis and reputation management on social media. (More on that later.) We’ve also been reading as much as we can.

Here are some of the most recent and we think most interesting points being made about Twitter and social media in the Trump era, with links to the original material should you want to learn more.

There’s Nothing Really New

Twitter has only been around since March of 2006 and the idea of a president using Twitter to make policy and arm-twist private business has only been around since…President Donald Trump.

But politicians have been using their bully pulpits to bully businesses and others for a long, long time. The law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton called it “jawboning” – the rhetorical attempts by politicians to influence the conduct of private enterprise – in a recent issue of American Law.

Teddy Roosevelt used the power of his office to go directly to the people, taking on antitrust-violating businesses, powerful coal mine owners and others. (See if this quote about Roosevelt sounds familiar: “Theodore is always the center of action. When he goes to a wedding, he wants to be the bride. When he goes to a funeral, he wants to be the dead man.”)

The earliest of Franklin Roosevelt’s 30 radio “fireside chats,” before America entered World War II, were focused on business and overcoming the Great Depression.

What’s new now, of course, is a president enabled by the power and speed of social media  – and apparently willing – to move markets 140 characters at a time.

Get Ready for a Copycat to be Elected Near You

Is Trump an outlier whose use of Twitter and social media will stand as an anomaly, or the first of a breed, to be followed by every politician from the U.S. Senate to your local council representative? A story in Campaigns & Elections suggests betting on the latter: “There’s little doubt that other candidates will try to follow the Trump model: focus on free media, shun the political professional class and not spend big dollars on traditional advertising. And while political strategists remain confident it’s a model that simply cannot work for the overwhelming majority of candidates, no one in the campaign industry is exactly in a position to proclaim anything with certainty at the moment.”

So, while preparing for an attack from the ultimate Twitter heavyweight might seem far out of your weight class, preparing for the same from your local politicians might be an absolute necessity.

Prepare Your Organization From the Very Top on Down

The same Cleary Gottlieb piece that brought up jawboning, mentioned above, also provides solid advice for how publicly traded companies should prepare at the board of directors level for a social media attack. Among the tips:

  • Make sure top management and the board share the same philosophy about responding to social media attacks.
  • Establish a threshold for when an attack merits board involvement.
  • Social media moves far too quickly for formal board actions. To maximize responsiveness, establish a standing committee of two or three board members available for immediate consultation on social media issues.

Understand That Communicating About Jobs is Job #1

Ford, Carrier, Toyota, General Motors and more all are joined in the brotherhood of U.S. businesses attacked on Twitter by Trump over job issues.

At Hennes Communications, we’ve told clients if you have any exposure to offshoring jobs and if there is any possibility you may move jobs out of the U.S. – including for legitimate business reasons – get ready now. Practice extreme transparency should that time come – with your employees, local officials, community members, etc. The sooner you can announce and keep some control of the initial messages, the better.

Move Fast Now to Move Even Faster Later

In a recent issue of Forbes, crisis management consultant Richard Levick suggests:  “A company needs to establish fast-turnaround systems that rely on cutting-edge media. Build your arsenal of information, army of activists, and quick reflexes now.”

A key factor for that, Levick says, may be to restructure so the digital team reports directly to the board, breaking down walls so the legal team works more closely with the digital, public relations and brand teams.

Find a Tool to Bring Some Order to the Process

At Hennes Communications, we created a step-by-step social media “Response Decision Tool” to help guide the decision-making process for reacting to social media posts – before the social media crisis. This tool helps us work with clients to develop broad response scenarios, such as responding proactively or reactively, and then apply response decision factors, such as whether the response is consistent with the communications strategy and whether customers expect a response, in determining which scenario should be used.

In studying proactive responses that seemed to be embraced by companies’ followers, we’ve found some commonalities, particularly the importance of tying an action to the social media words. For example, Starbucks opposed the original executive order on immigration. Concurrently, the coffee company announced plans to hire 10,000 refugees within five years – and announced it would speed up a previously announced goal of hiring 10,000 veterans and military spouses by 2018. Any company can feign derring-do on social media by tweeting an opinion on an executive order. But posting a proactive position and following through on an action supporting both your position and your mission is a powerful way to enhance reputation.

Don’t Worry. Twitter Will be Gone Soon

OK, maybe not. “The whole world is watching Twitter,” CEO Jack Dorsey said recently on a conference call with analysts.

On the other hand, Twitter’s latest earnings report and forecast were rather dismal. And one business school professor compared it to the symbol of digital obsolescence – Myspace – in an Associated Press story.

But let’s say that happens and Twitter steadily loses followers and influence. Anyone also want to bet that some other social media site won’t arise in its wake – representing a new threat to your reputation?

We’re glad to discuss how our exclusive social media Response Decision Tool can help protect and enhance your company’s reputation when a controversial issue or crisis arises. Call us at 216-321-7774.

Thom Fladung, a vice president at Hennes Communications and 33-year newspaper veteran, opened his Twitter account (@Fladung) in August, 2008 and started a Facebook page in December, 2008. 


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