Archive for March, 2010

Twitter and Facebook need senior attention

So, according to this morning’s PR Week news bulletin, Nestlé has been facing a barrage of criticism on Twitter and Facebook. At issue is its use in Kit Kats of palm oil from Sinar Mas, an Indonesian company accused of illegal deforestation of rainforests. Greenpeace has highlighted the case.

Nestlé’s response to the criticisms has been inadequate, Facebook users say, and it seems that it’s because, yet again, an important task has been delegated to the wrong person – someone junior who wasn’t using an appropriate tone.

This is a classic. In any crisis, responsibility needs to be taken at the highest level; responses should come from the top. Even if the most senior person can’t physically hit the keyboard, the content and tone should be agreed at that level. And, yes, that applies to comments on Twitter and Facebook. Just because these social media are often used by the young (though recent research found younger people were deserting them), they are also frequently used by people of any age and any seniority. Sarah Brown, the prime minister’s wife, is not a one-off. And words travel fast, around the world, in this 24-hour publishing medium.

The potential impact of social media in a crisis is massive – and it could be good or bad. Of that there should never have been any doubt – as Nestlé has, through its errors, found out.

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What, take a tip from a politician?

I know politicians are criticised for not answering the question and that, by suggesting you take a tip from one, I might have lost your attention already. But, in a crisis, not answering can be your best tactic. That doesn’t mean staying silent (that’s the worst plan of inaction). You need to put your points across and the trick is to find a way of making it happen, seamlessly.

Ignore the subject, and disregard the person speaking; take this for what it is: a nifty way of turning round the conversation. It’s David Cameron being pressed by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme on his relationship with the non-domiciled Lord Ashcroft, as reported in The Independent this morning:

“I can’t remember when I first met Michael Ashcroft, but let’s put it in perspective a little bit. I’ve totally changed the way the Conservative Party raises money. We have broadened the supply … It’s not reliant on just a few millionaires any more.”

Just nine words (10 if you count let’s as two) and he’s changed the angle of the story. It’s worth taking a tip from this pro, whatever your political colour.

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