Uber crisis shows power of social media

If allegations by a former Uber engineer are true — and they ring that way — the ride-sharing company has a problem for tolerating sexual harassment.

The response by Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick was strong, and hiring former Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the allegations was a smart move.Image result for susan fowler uber

 

But the real attention getter here — again — is the power of one person on social media.

As The New York Times reported, “The engineer, Susan Fowler, [right] said that she was sexually harassed by her direct supervisor during her time at Uber and that after she reported those claims to the human resources department, they were ignored. She gave her account in a lengthy post on her personal blog on Sunday.”

What’s this actually saying?

That when she worked at Uber, Fowler went to her HR department and complained about her supervisor. She received no relief. But now, as an ex-Uber employee, she wrote a blog post about her experiences and the world sat up and noticed. Kalanick responded fast and furious.

And Fowler patched in to national angst and anger about sexual harassment in the workplace, especially in Silicon Valley, where male-dominated engineering companies abound.

The greater lesson here is that one employee, going public on social media, can bring a company to its knees — whether the social posts are true or not.

Companies and organizations that fail to grasp that reality play games with their future and stock price. What Fowler could not achieve as an employee — ridiculous as it is to contemplate in retrospect — she turned into a groundswell of action as a blogger.

Think about that.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Senior Vice President/Managing Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with eight offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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Turning from crisis to proactivity

Twelve days into the Trump presidency, it might be useful to turn from what many see as multiple crises to … proactivity.

Indeed, proactivity is often the inoculation for crisis.

Today we commend the Boy Scouts of America and USA Football for identifying their potential challenges in advance and getting out ahead of them — before they become debilitating crises.

The Boy Scouts, roundly criticized for many years for blocking gay scoutmasers and gay boy scouts, announced this week that transgender members of both groups would be welcome. Amid the cacophony generated by the president’s tweets and the White House edict machine — was any other U.S. Supreme Court nominee named on prime time television? — the Boy Scouts smartly moved to thwart a fight.

Agreeing with the decision or not is beside the point of this discussion. That the Boy Scouts identified a potential minefield, studied the issue, made the decision and announced it starkly contrasts with its earlier dustup over gay scouts.

In a similar move, USA Football, the governing body for football leagues with players 13 and under, changed its rules. The rules are designed to limit or even end injuries and hard hits, especially those that cause concussions.

Purists critical of both decisions nonetheless have to admire the willingness to change, to grow, to listen.

For youth football, the changes may also be a concession to sustainability. Fewer parents than in recent decades are permitting their children to play football, as it’s currently constituted. But seeing a decline in participation and doing something to stem it can often be parallel rail lines that never meet in stubborn organizations.

No doubt, critics of both will cite tradition and toughness and rue “political correctness.” But from a reputation-management point of view, these two organizations listened, acted smartly and should benefit.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Senior Vice President/Managing Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with eight offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

 

 

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A ‘loyal opposition’ can’t exist in perpetual crisis mode

A lot of people, especially a lot of women, remain furious that Donald J. Trump is president.

The arguments are well-known and understood. But barring something remarkable, he will be president for at least another four years.

An estimated 3.5 million people marched in all 50 states last weekend to protest his presidency, policies and personality.

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And many asked during and after, what’s next? ‘How do we perpetuate this movement?’

Many have suggestions, few have answers. But there is one certainty: Years of experience working with CEOs, companies and non-profits demonstrate that no one can survive in crisis mode for very long. It’s too emotional and burnout is real.

There are many, many people who just can’t assimilate Trump into their view of a president. It’s an alternate universe they can’t reach. And with sales of Orwell’s 1984 booming, there are a lot of worried people.

There are some lessons we can draw from crisis management.

First, you can’t drink Niagara Falls all at once. And that’s what many critics feel like. If you’re on social media many times a day venting your frustrations, you’re only going to stoke those. Take small sips. Be strategic and thoughtful. Don’t condemn everything.

Second, develop your messaging and stick to it. Are opponents looking back to the election or forward to White House policy? Are they tying up the phone lines of Trump properties and resorts out of spite because, as Trump administration officials say, they’re sore losers? What is the “loyal opposition’s” strategy for this year, and next? Is it, we’ll see you in court? Develop one.

Third, since last weekend’s demonstrations were probably the largest popular protests since the height of the Vietnam War, look to history. What worked? What didn’t? What can opponents learn from the ’60s?

One thing is certain, no matter how dedicated, how distraught, how angry opponents are, they’re only in the first mile of a marathon. Stay out of crisis mode. Get logical.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Senior Vice President/Managing Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with eight offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

 

 

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Beware of the unanticipated crisis, and prepare

As President-elect Donald Trump today becomes President Trump, it’s worth speculating about what he might face in terms of unforeseen crises.

The ones we can see, in the forefront or on the horizon, are relatively easy. It’s the ones we can only imagine that tie our hands. And they are the ones individuals and companies must prepare to face.

For instance, President Obama in 2008 didn’t expect the economy to tank into the worst recession of our generation. In 2001, President Bush didn’t expect 9/11. We can be certain that President Clinton didn’t expect his private affairs to become public, but they did.

Going back further, President Nixon thought Watergate would remain a second-rate burglary. President Truman didn’t expect to become president and have to unleash the atom bomb. And while President Roosevelt faced the Great Depression, he didn’t take office expecting to fight World War II.

For all the talk of President Trump’s agenda — repeal Obamacare, change immigration laws, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and Make America Great Again — history tells us those initiatives are easily derailed by urgent and unexpected crisis.

Which is why people ask whether a president, any president, is equipped and ready to deal with perilous times they may not have anticipated. This is why we as voters and citizens try to evaluate candidates on how they will react and lead in the worst of times.

This lesson is worth grasping for CEOs, non-profit leaders and organizational chieftains across the board. Since no one can accurately predict what the next crisis will be, you must be prepared, and prepare your team, to take on the next crisis, from wherever it emerges.

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Let’s briefly look at successful pro football teams. Since quarterback is the key position, teams back up that position with one or two other quarterbacks, because failure to do so would lead to losses. In fact, each NFL team has 53 players, because coaches and GMs know players will get hurt, play poorly and get in trouble, risking the team’s success. If you look closely at the Falcons, Steelers, Patriots and Packers, you’ll find teams whose depth and superiority in their second- and third-tier players probably contributed to their success as much as their top stars. They are prepared for unforeseen crisis.

A crisis will hit. All you can do is prepare.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Senior Vice President/Managing Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with eight offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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Trump and Twitter, get used to it

This is not about a specific crisis. It’s more about a potential crisis.

So understand this: President-elect Donald Trump is not going to stop using Twitter as his preferred method of policy outreach. Not only does it fit his much-analyzed psychological profile, it works for him. He won with it. He’s not switching gears now.

David Brooks of The New York Times yesterday outlined the case against parsing American foreign and domestic policy into 140-word bites. But unless something drastic happens to break Trump from Twitter love, the world better get ready for it.

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Brooks argues for tradition, logic and a system steeped in consultation, discussion and thought. As Trump showed his Republican challengers and Hillary Rodham Clinton, he doesn’t operate that way.

And, we should all realize, the old ways Brooks described are either gone or closeted for at least the next four years. Say what you want about Trump, but he grasped the power of social media and he’s not letting go. This may be scary, stupid, upsetting, dangerous and many other things. But it’s now the currency of the realm.

As Brooks writes:

Normal leaders come up with policy proposals in a certain conventional way. They gather their advisers around them and they debate alternatives — with briefing papers, intelligence briefings and implementation strategies.

People best accept that Trump is not “conventional” and he’s not “normal.”

Those methods and days are gone, at least in the Trump White House. And people like Brooks, for all their validity, are bashing their heads against a wall. Social media carried Trump to his constituency, and the voters rejected exactly what Brooks wrote, even if they all don’t realize it.

We’re at a tipping point, folks. The way it’s always been done, from Washington through Obama, ends Jan. 20. Call out any parallel you want. Land lines to smart phones. Newsprint to the web. Horse and buggy to the automobile. Bows and arrows to gun powder. Heck, formal presidential news conferences to Tweets. That’s where we are.

And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can scold Trump and his methods, saying as he did yesterday that “America cannot afford a Twitter presidency.” But the president-elect is not listening and he’s not shamed. He’s defiant, zealous and convinced of his own vision of success.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Senior Vice President/Managing Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with eight offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

 

 

 

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‘Gradualism’ usually the wrong course in crisis

Human nature inclines us to use minimal fixes to problems and hope they go away.

In crisis management, this is called gradualism and it’s often a really bad idea.

Let’s say your roof leaks during a rain storm. You just bought a new dryer, the kids need clothes for school and the car’s coming up on 100,000 miles. You’d like to get a whole new roof, but that costs $25,000 you don’t have. So you and your best friend not afraid of heights get up on the roof, tear off a few tiles, swab a lot of tar around and hope for the best.

This is gradualism. And as Louis Capozzi writes in PRWeek, it was a poor choice of strategy for Wells Fargo in recent weeks.

When the Wells Fargo board clawed back $41 million from former CEO John Stumpf’s compensation, they took an approach some observers call “gradualism” – taking as little action as possible until there’s pressure for more.

But the response proved ineffective, and after a couple of painful weeks, he “stepped down.”

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Stumpf and Wells Fargo went up against Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the Senate Banking Committee and came away bloodied and bruised. Little Stumpf said that day, and subsequently to a House subcommittee, “patched the roof.” The dining room still got soaked and the pressure remained, until Stumpf finally quit in humiliation.

This is why it’s often a good strategy in a crisis to take all your hits at once, sincerely apologize for bad behavior and, if necessary, resign, or fire the people who screwed up. In Wells Fargo’s case, it tried to do the least possible, by firing 5,000 mid- to low-level employees. That wasn’t going to satisfy those hunted for heads at the top.

As Capozzi writes:

When responding to a crisis, companies need to satisfy a wide range of audiences – regulators, legislators, shareholders, customers, employees, even the general public. It’s a tough job, but research shows that companies that do it well minimize the impact of the crisis on the organization’s reputation, its stock price, and the bottom line.

The basic rules of crisis response are simple: say you’re sorry, fix it, and don’t do it again. To fix it, and ensure no recurrence, corporate boards often face the ultimate question: should they fire the CEO? Many have faced the axe. United’s Jeff Smisek and Priceline’s Darren Huston are recent examples.

If you try to fake it, come across as doing the minimum, scapegoating people who didn’t have a hand in the decisions that caused the crisis, you’re going to pay. Stumpf paid with his job. Wells Fargo paid with its reputation.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with eight offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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Self-inflicted crisis usually avoidable, though toxic

The worst sort of crisis is one that you or one of your employees generates through bad judgment, ignorance or laziness.

We have a classic one today, one that could destroy a company. It’s all over social media in the form of a Texas mattress store’s Facebook ad. It’s almost too painful to watch. It ties itself to 9/11 and the falling twin towers. Watch if you must, but you get the gist.

The ad only runs for 22 seconds, mercifully, and is amateurish at best. But it’s fatal.

To its credit, the company reacted fast and forthrightly in disavowing the ad and apologizing for its creation.

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Miracle Mattress owner Mike Bonanno issued the following from Houston:

Today, I was made aware of a social media video produced by our San Antonio team highlighting a promotional sale using the upcoming 9/11 anniversary as the incentive. The video was posted on Facebook without my knowledge or approval from our corporate office in Houston.

I say this unequivocally, with sincere regret: the video is tasteless and an affront to the men and women who lost their lives on 9/11. Furthermore, it disrespects the families who lost their loved ones and continue to struggle with the pain of this tragedy every day of their lives.

As bad and damaging as this idea was, the owner at least took responsibility, apologized and — it didn’t need to be spelled out — promised that it would never happen again.

This example of a crisis is laden and layered with social media significance. First, the makers posted the ad live to Facebook. If this were a TV ad, that wouldn’t be possible. Someone, several someones, would have had to review and approve it. Presumably, smarter decisions would have been made.

Also, of course, without social media — in this case FB and YouTube — this would have been a local scandal in San Antonio, TX, and maybe Houston, not a national/international one. The BBC covered it, as did CNN.

Finally, and most upsetting, is that social media lulls us into thinking that the stupid back flip we did into the lake last week and posted on all our feeds is the same thing as an ad for a mattress company. too many people have lost that filter and the ability to discern that what can be at least OK — or simply dumb, juvenile or foolish — in private, is very different in public.

Surely, this is a one- or tw0-day story. And more than likely, Miracle Mattress is looking for three new employees in its San Antonio store — which closed due to death threats, another unsavory offshoot of social.

Just as surely, this unnecessary, self-inflicted crisis will cut deeply into sales.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with eight offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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