Saturday, September 22, 2012

One Critical Factor Missing in Most Crisis Comms Plans

I've been thinking a lot about a company's responsibility to communicate in a crisis especially as it relates to images. Images are everything today. In fact, Bob Lisbonne wrote a guest post for TechCrunch about the Imagesphere and two stats jumped out at me.
"People post more than 300 million photos a day to Facebook alone, and 70% of all actions on social media involve images." -Bob Lisbonne
Just look at the rise of the social site Pinterest where the only thing on the site are visuals. Pinterest hit 10 million monthly unique visitors faster than any independent website in history. We love taking pictures and we love sharing pictures.

Most crisis plans don't provide for a process for gathering, clearing and disseminating "official" company images during adverse events. Your next crisis, like it or not, will be visual. This is the new reality.

I'm the naked King of the World!
Earlier this summer an incident in Scottsdale, AZ involved a naked carjacker. Plenty of photos surfaced from people who were in the area at the time. It's the classic "citizen-journalist" story. This story is made for people who carry smartphones. Right now in the US, there are more than 110 million smartphones. Seriously, if you've got a camera in your pocket how do you not snap and post a pic of the naked car jacker?

That's how images come out during a crisis. Regular people who witness the event, employees who work where the event happens and even emergency response personnel are the sources of the first images of a crisis. There is a bedrock tenet of crisis communications that other people will weigh in on your story so you have to get information out to the public quickly. If that logic applies to words, it has to apply to images, too.

Social media means everyone is a publisher today, including your company. You have a timeline for issuing your first statement about an incident, but do you have a timeline for releasing an official image?

Do you have a process for getting that image through approval and onto your website or company Facebook page? Do you have a photographer?

I think about the challenges working with lawyers to get a statement out and I shudder to think what that process will look like when it comes to putting out pictures of something that has gone wrong. This has to be worked out in advance.

What needs to be in your photo policy?

1) Clear standards to maintain the credibility of the imagery.
People are already skeptical of companies during a crisis and an altered image will be called out quickly. Just ask Nokia. The company used images and video to show how awesome it's new smartphone is for taking pictures and videos. Except the images and videos weren't taken by the new smartphone. The Associated Press has a pretty clear photo policy: "The content of a photograph will NEVER be changed or manipulated in any way."

2) If a photo or video is altered in anyway, post how it was altered.
Most of the policies I looked at allowed for alterations that were common when photos were developed in darkrooms. Cropping seems to be acceptable as does burning (darkening) and dodging (lightening). The goal is to preserve the authenticity of the image.

A client asked me about using Instagram given the popularity of the photo sharing app. I said no. A crisis requires trust and credibility and an app designed to change the look and feel of a photo isn't going to help in a crisis. I just don't see an upside for a company in making the big disaster look like vacation photos from the 1970s.

There's a lot to sort out here and communicators need to think this through. Unlike the guy on top of the car above, we don't want to be caught with our pants down.

Bill Salvin








26 comments:

  1. Great article, Bill. What are your recommendations for how you would release the image, ie. through the company newsroom, or..?

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    1. Joni-Thanks for reading and for commenting. I would recommend releasing the image on the company website, through whatever channel you release company news (PR NewsWire, etc). Also use Facebook and Twitter to direct stakeholders to where they can find the information. Also, I recommend ensuring you have complete captions on pictures that are released. People need context for what they are seeing or they will supply their own.

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  2. I really enjoyed this post. I too agree a clearer crisis plan needs to be put in place for photos as too often we see the first photos being released over and over again rather than the most accurate photos. This is because so often those photos have to be taken by citizen journalists because of the circumstance and the immediacy of the situation, but I also think that if a plan was clearly in place, we would at least strive to be better rather than settling for the first image and moving on. These standards will have to be set for video as well.

    I also agree that while instagram is a great place for your brand to reach out to its audience, filters are not very helpful in a crisis. I understand posting because the photo and information will reach more people at the time, but definitely without any sort of filter on it.

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    1. Olivia-I agree that a good plan would allow an organization to do more than settle for whatever photo happened to be snapped by someone in proximity to the event. Great observation. Thanks for reading!

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  3. Phillip Clark (via LinkedIn)September 27, 2012 at 4:36 AM

    Some law enforcement teams and companies shoot their own video and pictures to release to the media and public. Being first with images helps provide that first mental picture that stays with the public. Often the media love it since it gets them "on air" first. One important caution!!! Make sure the images are not slanted but documentary. Anything else can come back to haunt you and can be thought as misleading.

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  4. Phillip, great comment. The images have to be documentary or they will be labeled "spin." Thanks for reading and for taking the time to weigh in.

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  5. Adam Roscoe (via LinkedIn)September 27, 2012 at 4:56 AM

    Interesting links in the blog, Bill - thanks. Not sure how I will plan for providing images (how to choose/against what possible selection of scenarios etc), but forewarned is forearmed...

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  6. Thanks for reading, Adam. It is a tough issue to get your hands around. Let me know if you come up with anything. I'm still thinking about this.

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  7. Starr McCaffery (Via LinkedIn)September 27, 2012 at 7:47 AM

    Always on spot Bill! Thanks for this much needed thought. And for using words like burn and dodge that I haven't heard for years. Has me thinking again about converting that windowless powder room into a dark room - as soon as the kids start moving out....

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  8. Thank you so much, Starr. Great to have you weigh in here. Not sure I can offer advice on the home dark room, but if you'd like to turn the space into some form of man cave for your husband, I'd be happy to weigh in. Thanks for reading.

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  9. Susan Stoga (Via LinkedIn)September 27, 2012 at 7:52 AM

    Passing onto our entire team today. You are so right about the speed factor. . .having our clients ready and having a policy will further tighten their plans.

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  10. Susan, thank you for reading and for passing this on. All good crisis plans have to continually evolve or they become nothing more than a binder on a bookshelf. I appreciate your comment.

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  11. Terri Watkins (Via LinkedIn)September 27, 2012 at 7:52 AM

    A great minder of the details we overlook.

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  12. Terri, thank you. Great crisis comms always comes down to the detail work. This is a substantial detail that is really important to get right. Great comment.

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  13. Martin Riecken (Via LinkedIn)October 1, 2012 at 7:22 AM

    I like the idea, Bill! Visuals are indeed often neglected.

    What comes to my mind immediately is BP who published a picture of their crisis response war room after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill evolved, intended to illustrate how hard the BP crisis team works on solving the situation. Sure enough a blogger found out (and published) that the visuals on the "Houston-control-center-style" TV screens in the war room were all fake and composed in Photoshop:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jul/21/bp-oil-spill-oil-spills

    Lesson learned: If you try to gain control over the imagesphere, it call comes down to the ground rules of crisis communication: honesty, credibility, accuracy.

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  14. Martin, thanks so much for reading and commenting. BP is a client and I worked the spill for much of the first 100 days. The incident to which you refer did offer some clear lessons. Transparency is first among them. To its credit, BP still displays both the altered images and the original, unaltered images on on its Flickr page. Also, the graphics and pictures the company published during the crisis went a long way to give people pics that couldn't be obtained elsewhere.

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  15. Susan Hawkins (via LinkedIn)October 1, 2012 at 7:28 AM

    Great insight, Bill. I think you would have to delegate the role of photographer to someone in the team right from the get-go. Otherwise, I think the task of snapping will get lost in the flurry of the crisis. Would love to hear if anyone has released any images as part of their crisis response and, if so, what sort of images?

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  16. Susan you are quite right. Assignments should be made ahead of time so that when a crisis strikes, people know what to do and can execute their assignment immediately. Thanks for reading!

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  17. Bob Wade (via LinkedIn)October 2, 2012 at 8:13 AM

    All good stuff Bill. Certainly the media are aware that a lot of the public are out there doing it for them - the BBC call it 'User Generated Content' (citizen journalist in plain English) and now have a whole USG unit staffed by 40 personnel, and they sift through thousands of images sent in by the public. And it's instant - the Univesity of East London did some research on social media dynamics during disasters, and tracked an air crash in Cork. The first entry on Facebook was just one minute after the crash. That's how quick it is these days. But strongly with you on getting pictures out there - through social media, society is becoming increasingly image-focussed rather than the written word, precisely because technology now allows us instant access through i-phones etc. We don't have to wait for a journalist's interpretation and description of the event - we can see it for ourselves as the social networks begin to thunder after an incident and make our own judgements. And certainly go for getting pictures out there for your organisation if things are going well - the Chilean Government had FOURTEEN of their own cameras in place for the final ascent of the trapped miners, just to make sure the media did not miss one piece of their triumph!

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  18. Thanks for the great comment, Bob. The question that jumps to mind is what do you do when it's not going well? The Chilean government rightly wanted to celebrate the triumph, but how much of that was opportunism vs. obligation? Even if the image is not a great the organization can still provide context about actions taken to solve the problem. Credibility comes from being open. This is going to take some time to sink in to companies.

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  19. I couldn't agree with you more, Bill. Excellent article.

    DL
    http://www.vigilanceandsecurity.com

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  20. B-L Pellicore (via LinkedIn)October 3, 2012 at 7:15 PM

    Great post @Bill - thank you for sharing with this group. After reading it, I nearly slapped my forehead in a "Shoulda had a V-8" moment. Of course! While most crisis communications plans include a process for gathering, clearing and disseminating timely and appropriate messaging, we often don't consider the image control. In healthcare crisis communications, we have the additional factor of patient confidentiality. So planning ahead is all the more important.

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  21. Thanks, B-L. I really appreciate it. Planning ahead is the most important think any organization can do to prepare to respond in a crisis. Image control is a key part of any plan. Good luck!

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  22. Joanna Piros (via Google+)October 3, 2012 at 7:54 PM

    Video is the new universal language; you are absolutely right to remind clients to include images in any plan, be it reactive criris communications or proactive strategic direction presentations.

    We are finding that no one wants to read anymore; they prefer to multi task by watching/listening to a video address while doing at least one other activity. That also means the audio has to cut through the clutter of other noise and be compelling enough to draw the eyes to the images!

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  23. Great advice. Journalists and the social media universe will fill the void if an organization doesn't provide images in some form. And once an image is planted in people's minds, it's difficult to change that image. I think crisis communications response teams should have a library of stock images for common scenarios, which they can swiftly disseminate even before they have in-the-moment photos or video. It might be challenging to think of images for a crisis that hasn't yet occurred, but it's possible. News media are prepared with pre-written obits of celebrities, so they can immediately react to a death. What are some ways that an organization can take similar steps to curate images before the crisis?

    BTW, I plan to comment on this post on our Crisis Insights blog this Thursday. http://blog.missionmode.com

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