Times’ FB article sums up ‘death strategy’

The headline on The New York Times opus published yesterday on Facebook’s problems with fake news, racist posts, Russian trolls and the 2016 election posed the following headline:

Delay, Deny, Deflect: How Facebook Leaders Leaned Out in Crisis

Catchy, above the fold, playing on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s well-known “Lean-In” book and subsequent movement. After reading some 130 inches of copy, I’d say the headline exaggerates or miss-characterizes the story’s content and conclusion. But that’s Facebook’s fight.

What jumped out at me, as a crisis and reputation manager, is how close the headline meshed with what we call “the death strategy,” or, what you absolutely must not do in a crisis. We define it as Deny, Delay, Deceive. Pretty close.

Image result for mark zuckerberg

Whether the Times proved that’s what Facebook did the last two years is for others to decide, though the paper’s reporters followed up hard on the story today, CEO Mark Zuckerberg reacted to it, and a Times columnist weighed in.

Again, I’m not trying to define or evaluate Facebook’s response to the many charges against it. But there on the front page of yesterday’s Times was the embodiment of the death strategy and at least one example of what happens when you employ it. No doubt, members of Congress who already saw Facebook as a powerful enemy in need of stronger regulation will pile on.

And, Facebook executives, already frantic about this possibility, will in the end lose this fight and see its business squeezed as well.

Whether it was Delay, Deny, Deflect, or Deny, Delay, Deceive, Facebook paid multiple crisis managers, lobbying and law firms to avoid the verdict it just received. No knock on those firms, since in my experience consultants give a range of alternatives with attached potential costs of taking one route or another.

My guess is that the Facebook executives wanted to delay, deny and deflect and they did.

 

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Kavanaugh’s crisis is good for America

Brett Kavanaugh, U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

Brett Kavanaugh, high school sex attacker.

How do we rationalize these two dichotomies and come to terms with the crisis he’s in?

Let’s state up front, as Michelle Goldberg did in today’s Times, that when Christine Blasey Ford, or any woman, comes forward and puts her already traumatized self, her family, her career and her life on the line, she’s telling the truth. Kavanaugh’s full-on denials notwithstanding, this attack 30-odd years ago happened. And, it’s caused a political and constitutional crisis, as well as personal crises for the principals.

Image result for margaret sullivan washington post kavanaugh

Clearly, this is not last-minute Democratic desperation — as Margaret Sullivan wrote in The Washington Post yesterday. Anyone who’s worked on a story of this magnitude knows the ups and downs of getting it told publicly. The ramifications are all there to see; as are the vilification the whistle-blower will suffer. Ask Anita Hill.

And that, truly, is where this crisis lies. What have we, as a nation, as a people, learned since Hill put her life on the line and the U.S. Senate — led by such liberal stalwarts as Joe Biden and Ted Kennedy — rejected her claims? How far have we come as a society of equality and compassion since Clarence Thomas became a Supreme Court justice despite his smarmy attacks on Hill?

Crisis is usually bad — and in this case could [and should] cost Kavanaugh a seat on the Court. But they can be useful in what we learn, about ourselves, our institutions, our ability to change and learn and grow.

On Monday, barring Kavanaugh withdrawing his nomination prior, he and his accuser will testify under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee. One will speak the truth, the other will speak the truth as he has rationalized and re-worked it in his psyche all these years.

Are there men [and possibly women] who served as Supreme Court justices who had evil deeds, even potentially criminal ones, in their pasts? Most assuredly. But today one cannot hide his or her mistakes. Have clashes like Kavanaugh’s and Blasey’s occurred millions of times, a year, for eons? Of course.

Is it now time to say, enough? Is it time to say unacceptable, possibly criminal, behavior as a teen-ager has consequences decades later. Yes.

This is one crisis that should play out for the best. Because this isn’t about Brett Kavanaugh and his career. It’s about Christine Blasey Ford, and all the women like her who suffered and endured and righted their lives despite their trauma.

This is not just a #metoo moment. It’s an #allofus moment.

 

 

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Let’s talk about the crisis in pro tennis

Most of the dust settled after Serena Williams took on the tennis establishment in the U.S. Open final last Saturday, but the deep crisis in professional tennis will linger for months.

What’s left is the mess the mandarins of tennis face. Everyone feels bad for winner Naomi Osaka, whose dream shattered on the wrinkled brows of the rigid tennis establishment.

tennis.jpg

Here’s the bottom line: Whether you think Williams was correct or whether you side with the decisions of match umpire Carlos Ramos, [above] tennis faces a crisis.

Personally, I found Ramos’ decisions arbitrary, excessive and over-reactive. He inserted himself into the final in a way that steered its outcome. Was he technically correct? Perhaps. But he brought the mentality used in a forgettable first-round match to what should have been a triumphant final, whichever way it went.

Let the players play has been a big-game mantra in all sports for decades. Ramos’ actions reeked of pique, pettiness, over-reaction and, dare I say it, male ego.

Could Williams have handled the situation differently? Maybe. But the world can’t have Serena Williams two ways. Tennis cannot benefit from her success — and the millions in ad revenue she generates for tennis — and then condemn her for her zeal, emotions and competitive fire when she’s clearly treated differently than men, and in a U.S. Open final, no less.

White America, white tennis, still loves Chrissy Evert and Bjorn Borg. Silent assassins, unruffled, stoic. Add the great Arthur Ashe and these are model players. And, it appears, Osaka follows in their mode. That’s all laudable. But Williams — like John McEnroe — is different, and until tennis really puts itself in the Open Era and accepts those differences, this crisis will persist.

If you heard Williams, her complaints went beyond that match on that day. She’s felt unfairly treated for years. Is that because she and her sister Venus rose from Compton, not Greenwich or Newport or Grosse Pointe or West Palm? How often have we seen, in sports and in life, the establishment treating people of color, and women of color, differently. Oh we love your music, your batting average, your touchdown passes, but you can’t stay in our hotel, or drink from our water fountains.

Why was a man even umpiring that match? I’ve umpired some minor tennis matches. It’s a tough job. But it’s much less of a responsibility — it’s become almost symbolic — now that the line calls are affirmed or reversed by computer simulation. Maybe this veteran, “Gold Star” umpire felt the need to reassert the authority umpires lost 10 years ago.

Image result for williams osaka tennis ramos

Can anyone imagine an NFL referee throwing Tom Brady out of a Super Bowl for swearing? Or sending LeBron James to the lockeroom in an NBA final with two technicals for arguing a foul call? Never. Would. Happen.

And that’s why tennis has a crisis. It wants what Serena brings — fire, success, color, personality, leadership, championships, revenue — to tennis. But it can’t get over its rules born in the era of country club gentility and all-white power. Tennis still treats women as lesser achievers, despite being one of the few sports where women and men play close to par.

Two fantastically talented women of color met in an epic tennis match last Saturday and the tennis establishment was totally unprepared and so unaware of its own rigidity and failed traditions that it struggled to even understand the outrage when Williams unmasked those failures.

Like too many police departments, too many hiring authorities, too many power centers, the tennis tour needs to look deeply into its organization, into its heart and change. Or, die.

Tennis needs to respond affirmatively. Recruit more people of color to decision-making roles. Change the rules officials follow to keep up with the times. In most matches the umpire is just a glorified score keeper. If I were advising the Women’s Tennis Association, I’d create a task force of key women leaders in the sport and reform it.

Billie Jean King demanded change 50 years ago. Time to change again.

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Let’s talk about the crisis in pro tennis

Most of the dust settled after Serena Williams took on the tennis establishment in the U.S. Open final last Saturday, but the deep crisis in professional tennis will linger for months.

What’s left is the mess the mandarins of tennis face. Everyone feels bad for winner Naomi Osaka, whose dream shattered on the wrinkled brows of the rigid tennis establishment.

tennis.jpg

Here’s the bottom line: Whether you think Williams was correct or whether you side with the decisions of match umpire Carlos Ramos, [above] tennis faces a crisis.

Personally, I found Ramos’ decisions arbitrary, excessive and over-reactive. He inserted himself into the final in a way that steered its outcome. Was he technically correct? Perhaps. But he brought the mentality used in a forgettable first-round match to what should have been a triumphant final, whichever way it went.

Let the players play has been a big-game mantra in all sports for decades. Ramos’ actions reeked of pique, pettiness, over-reaction and, dare I say it, male ego.

Could Williams have handled the situation differently? Maybe. But the world can’t have Serena Williams two ways. Tennis cannot benefit from her success — and the millions in ad revenue she generates for tennis — and then condemn her for her zeal, emotions and competitive fire when she’s clearly treated differently than men, and in a U.S. Open final, no less.

White America, white tennis, still loves Chrissy Evert and Bjorn Borg. Silent assassins, unruffled, stoic. Add the great Arthur Ashe and these are model players. And, it appears, Osaka follows in their mode. That’s all laudable. But Williams — like John McEnroe — is different, and until tennis really puts itself in the Open Era and accepts those differences, this crisis will persist.

If you heard Williams, her complaints went beyond that match on that day. She’s felt unfairly treated for years. Is that because she and her sister Venus rose from Compton, not Greenwich or Newport or Grosse Pointe or West Palm? How often have we seen, in sports and in life, the establishment treating people of color, and women of color, differently. Oh we love your music, your batting average, your touchdown passes, but you can’t stay in our hotel, or drink from our water fountains.

Why was a man even umpiring that match? I’ve umpired some minor tennis matches. It’s a tough job. But it’s much less of a responsibility — it’s become almost symbolic — now that the line calls are affirmed or reversed by computer simulation. Maybe this veteran, “Gold Star” umpire felt the need to reassert the authority umpires lost 10 years ago.

Image result for williams osaka tennis ramos

Can anyone imagine an NFL referee throwing Tom Brady out of a Super Bowl for swearing? Or sending LeBron James to the lockeroom in an NBA final with two technicals for arguing a foul call? Never. Would. Happen.

And that’s why tennis has a crisis. It wants what Serena brings — fire, success, color, personality, leadership, championships, revenue — to tennis. But it can’t get over its rules born in the era of country club gentility and all-white power. Tennis still treats women as lesser achievers, despite being one of the few sports where women and men play close to par.

Two fantastically talented women of color met in an epic tennis match last Saturday and the tennis establishment was totally unprepared and so unaware of its own rigidity and failed traditions that it struggled to even understand the outrage when Williams unmasked those failures.

Like too many police departments, too many hiring authorities, too many power centers, the tennis tour needs to look deeply into its organization, into its heart and change. Or, die.

Tennis needs to respond affirmatively. Recruit more people of color to decision-making roles. Change the rules officials follow to keep up with the times. In most matches the umpire is just a glorified score keeper. If I were advising the Women’s Tennis Association, I’d create a task force of key women leaders in the sport and reform it.

Billie Jean King demanded change 50 years ago. Time to change again.

 

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Why ‘no comment’ is always the worst option

Some time passed since my last post, but I plan to make them more regular.

After 12 fantastic years at Mower, the best independent advertising and PR agency in the East, I decided to go out on my own. Solo. No partners. I’m in my second week. Time to re-kindle the blog.

There are so many crises these days, I could have chosen one to comment on: What Bob Woodward’s book Fear created in the White House; what the Times’ anonymous op-ed writer caused on top of that; the ongoing — and horribly handled — crisis in the Roman Catholic Church; or, the continuing saga of men in power who abused women, with CBS’s Les Moonves the latest titan to fall.

Instead, I want to go back to a basic tenet of crisis and reputation management that still gets trampled in the crush of a pressured mess. That is: No comment is not an option.

Image result for no comment

This simple rule contains significant logic. If you don’t stick up for yourself, if you don’t say something, reporters are going to fill that time and space with more from your critics. If you don’t offer a plausible, or even space-holding, comment, the public at large will presume you are guilty. Commenting is an opportunity. If you skip it, you’ve dug a deeper hole for yourself.

Why do people avoid commenting? Mainly because their attorneys are justifiably worried about liability. And that’s fair. But there is always room to comment and not compromise your lawyer’s restrictions.

To wit: “This case is headed to litigation, but I want to say that I intend to defend myself against these unfair and trumped-up allegations and I’m confident I will be vindicated.”

Right? Something like that doesn’t make you more vulnerable, and it stops the barbarian hordes in their tracks from trampling you, your reputation and your future. This makes people think, “OK, let’s not rush to judgment. He/she sounds pretty sure.’

This is even more the case these days, when you can email a comment to a reporter, or even do a phone interview and stop short of something in-person, or on-camera.

Even if you are up against it, flat-out guilty as charged, there are comments you can make beyond zip. “That’s all I can say at this point.” Or, “that’s all I have for you at this time.” Those are neutral, weight-bearing supports that are better than nothing.

Don’t be afraid to comment. Be afraid of the damage a “no comment,” causes.

 

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What’s a Facebook user to do? Acknowledge the reality of a flawed platform that we’re still going to use

By Steve Bell and Allie Friedman

Google [itself a provider of opportunities for intrusion] the phrase “What should people do about Facebook now?” and the first page of responses is all about getting off Facebook.

None are from this month, or recent days, however, when the revelations about Cambridge Analytical stealing your data emerged.

So, don’t say you weren’t warned. It’s called Facebook. Its DNA doesn’t have a privacy gene. And since it first appeared, critics of all persuasions warned it was a deal with the devil.

But, indeed, what do businesses and individuals do now?

Facebook rushed out new options to provide “more” control over privacy, and make it easier to find them. An NPR story from March 28 also notes that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg solemnly promised improved privacy options – in 2010. How’d that work out for you?

Face reality here. No one’s putting the Facebook genie back in the bottle. We may worry about air pollution and global warming, but most of us still drive a car. We know running will lead to injuries, but we still run. We may not love our jobs, but we need the money.

Point is, even if you’re not on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and LinkedIn, even if you don’t have a smartphone and stay off the internet, your information is still out there for the plundering.

If you are a company or a non-profit, a school or college, your information is available in public. What can you do? Be smart, careful and thoughtful about what you share.

The lawyer and PR person’s admonition goes like this: “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.” And former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer added “never put it in email” – advice he apparently could not follow.

NPR reported that Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan and Deputy General Counsel Ashlie Beringer said: “We’ve heard loud and clear that privacy settings and other important tools are too hard to find and that we must do more to keep people informed.”

The changes make it easier for users to see what information they’ve shared, delete certain personal information and control ads that they see, according to NPR.

In the end, will businesses leave Facebook in any meaningful numbers? Not likely. Nor will individuals. The very currency Facebook prints its billions on is your information. It’s not going to stop mining that data. To expect otherwise is like telling a tobacco company to sell a healthy cigarette. A business or a person can limit access, but it’s counter-intuitive to think for a moment that you could stay private and stay on Facebook.

Or, that if you were to leave Facebook that your information would somehow migrate to a vault only you can open.

Facebook started and spread like the flu with the idea of sharing. We share where and what we eat; what we buy; where we vacation; what our children do; what we think today; what we love and what angers us.

Expecting Facebook not to share this information is like waiting for a subway train with no other passengers. Not going to happen.

In 2015, the Pew Research Center found that 83 percent of mothers and 74 percent of fathers say they agree or strongly agree that they get parenting information from social media. Where is Amazon, Kimberly-Clark, Earth’s Best, Baby Bjorn and Beech-Nut going to seek and find these parents?

What’s the key to the success of Amazon and Google? Data. How did Spotify turn the music business upside down? Data. All of these global companies that attract millions of users leverage the information they get from them, whether it’s the products they buy, the songs they listen to or the places for which they search.

That’s not a secret. And it’s most certainly not stopping people from online shopping. It’s part of what you sign up for when you download an app, create an email account or type “where to eat dinner downtown.” Whether you like or it not, it’s the world we live in today and we can’t place all of the blame on the company.

Even the supposed solution to, or inoculation against, Facebook’s sharing too much information is #deleteFacebook. It’s a hashtag, people. You’re sharing a decision on social media about leaving social media?

We know soft drinks are unhealthy; we know too much beer or wine is dangerous; we know cars crash and household cleaners are fatal if swallowed.

Reforms are needed in Facebook’s operations. Social – there’s that word again – pressure will drive change. The Federal Trade Commission may institute new rules and protections. And, Facebook itself, having lost almost $50 billion in market capitalization on paper in two days last week, will adjust.

Be wary, however, not of Facebook today, but what’s next. You can start your car with a phone app; you have a Google Home or Amazon Alexa at your house or Apple’s Siri on your phone and in your car; you may even have a camera in your refrigerator so you can see from the supermarket aisle if you need milk.

What’s next should be the bigger concern.

For more information:

https://digiday.com/media/facebook-has-a-real-problem-nbcuniversal-ceo-steve-burke/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=digidaydis&utm_source=publishing&utm_content=180328

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/28/technology/personaltech/social-media-timeline.html

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Wells Fargo fake accounts crisis still hurting because no one owned up early

Wells Fargo Bank, the nation’s second-largest by deposits, continues to absorb massive hits six months after admitting it opened two million fake bank and credit card accounts to artificially drive sales revenue.

The bank fired 5,100 people. Belatedly, the board let CEO John Stumpf “retire,” and then, but only after pressure from Congress, clawed back much of his $41 million golden parachute. Regulators fined the bank $185 million. In March, it agreed to pay $110 million in a settlement with defrauded customers.

But the bleeding won’t stop and now its choking existing business. [Thanks to my colleague John Leibrick for flagging this.] The City of Philadelphia took its $2 billion payroll account away from Wells Fargo this week and gave it to a local bank. And, as CNN reported in March, more than 12 investigations are ongoing into the fraud.

As I wrote last October, “gradualism” is a normal human reaction to dealing with bad news, but when there’s a crisis, it’s a deadly strategy. And that’s how Wells Fargo chose to play this mess. It…never…works.

Clearly a consumer fraud on this scale inevitably would result in corporate fines and costly legal settlements. Quick response to a crisis will not “fix” the original crisis event or make it go away. It will determine how you are regarded going forward. To wit:

Image result for Cindy Bass Philadelphia

“Time and time again their [Wells Fargo’s] actions have revealed them to be the antithesis of corporate social responsibility,” [Philadelphia] Councilwoman Cindy Bass said in a statement. “I want to thank my colleagues on the committee for doing the right thing and sending a message that we will not do business with companies that engage in unethical business practices.”

Smack.

“In a statement to CNNMoney, a Wells Fargo spokesman said the bank is ‘committed to restoring trust with customers and all of its key stakeholders.’ He pointed to major changes, including scrapping the sales goals, hiring Tim Sloan as its new CEO and stripping top execs of their 2016 bonuses.”

Not enough. Not enough because the bank faltered when its future hinged on decisive, swift, dramatic action — at the beginning. The bank chose gradualism. United Airlines tried the same thing last month and quickly saw its error. Wells Fargo only revealed as much as officials thought they could get away with. As a result, the hits just keep coming.

What should Wells have done? Taken responsibility immediately. Fired Stumpf the first day. Started a third-party investigation and transparently reported the results, within a month. Apologized, also the first day. Expressed outrage at the betrayal of the bank’s customers and mission. Chart a public path forward toward redemption.

You can’t nibble at a crisis or it will eat you.

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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