Archive for December, 2008
Although I can’t say that I spend enough time on twitter, I do get alerts when “reputation” shows up. And I often find some good leads to information about reputation, online and offline. The other day I found this interesting reference from
www.webinknow.com on how the Air Force uses social media to manage their reputation. The web site owner David Scott had spoken to the head of emerging technology at the Air Force Public Affairs Agency – Captain David Faggard — in the Pentagon. Thanks to Scott for alerting me to this most interesting social media entrepreneur. Here is what he learned:
“Capt. Faggard and his Air Force Emerging Technology team is responsible for developing strategy, policy and plans for an ever-changing communication landscape for communicators worldwide. What was most interesting is that with Capt. Faggard leading the way, the Air Force employs 330,000 communicators! Their mission is to use current and developing Web 2.0 applications as a way to actively engage conversations between Airmen and the general public. Yes, that’s right, the goal of the program is that every single Airman is an on-line communicator.”
Scott learned of the term, “counter-blogging” which is when “Airmen counter the people out there in the blogosphere who have negative opinions about the US government and the air force.” Reputation enforcers would be another useful term for the Air Force to consider.
Capt. Faggard also mentioned that he is concerned “…concerned with how insurgents or potential enemies can use Social Media to their advantage. It’s our role to provide a clear and accurate, completely truthful and transparent picture for any audience.”
Faggard has a blog, Facebook entry, several YouTubes and makes use of twitter as mentioned at the beginning of the post. Definitely different issues than the ones most companies face but definitely more advanced than many companies I know. Scott said the same thing.
Best of all was the Air Force’s flow chart for dealing with the blogosphere. Just goes to show that a process can be built into everything. Highly recommended for managing reputation online.
It seems like everyone is coming out with their lists for “best and worst of” for 2008. There sure are plenty “worst of” cases. Reputations have taken major hits this year. I was contemplating who took the biggest beating and why. I would have to say that the financial sector wins the award for worst reputation damage of the year. There is no end to the thoughtlessness that has caused irreparable harm and anguish to people the world over. The economic meltdown caused by subprime losses, greed, fraud, lack of oversight and sheer idiocy makes one speechless. Although I cannot predict when our financial institutions will recover, I can say that it will take years to rebuild the massive amounts of trust that they have squandered. The Bernie Madoff scandal ends the year on a very dour note. My family knows people who have had their life savings wiped out overnight. One woman we know was getting 18% on her accounts every year. Many people are now putting their homes on the market and praying for the best although the worst has arrived at their doorstep.
I have been quoted a fair amount the past few months on CEO apologies. In fact, tomorrow I was intereviewed on NPR on CEO apologies in 2008. The absence of these regrets has caused the media to question why and what it takes to simply say I am sorry. Most people believe that CEOs are to blame when companies go awry or entire sectors detonate. As I have said before, apologizing can be seen as a sign of strength, not weaknesses. If CEOs carefully adhere to the values they ask everyone to follow, they can easily see that apologies are often the “right thing” to do. Here are some guidelines for all those reputation-busters thinking that an apology might be in order:
1. Move quickly
2. Accept accountability
3. Refer to what was wronged so it is clear you know what was done
4. Apologize for outcome/express regret
5. Share the pain
6. Be transparent
7. Be sincere
8. State plan for making sure the event never happens again and what that is
9. Spare the finger pointing
10. Issue regular progress reports
Eating humble pie never hurt anyone.
Fast Company talks about the “reputation economy” in its December issue. We have heard that term before because it applies to the exercise of lifting your own reviewer ratings when you write something on Wikipedia or post a video online. Companies such as amazon and ebay have always been about the reputation economy as people review books and sell or buy products online. The reputation economy has become more complicated as newcomers arrive such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List and Urbanspoon. I have gone to all these sites looking for reviews although I must say that I am never sure how to discern which reviewers I can trust. I mostly get overwhelmed and move on. The article in Fast Company, however, is about a dispute at Yelp where they banned some members and they in turn started a class-action lawsuit along with the customary Yelp-sucks.com site. The argument is about who has the power to censor and harm another’s reputation. Sounds like a whole new class of lawyer will have to emerge to settle these types of disputes on the reputation trade.
I thought I would also mention another interesting dispute covered in Advertising Age. A message on Twitter complained about a management consulting company’s trade booth at Adobe Max and called them complete clowns. A digital strategy director at the company, Sapient, debated about sending back an angry response – will it draw more attention? Should I wait and see how much impact the original twitter made? As the Sapient exec Freddie Laker said, “Social media presents tremendous opportunities to connect with potential customers but it also requires a thick skin, some self-restraint and most importantly, the wisdom to know when and how to communicate.” Among the advice he offers, one is uppermost in my mind…think twice before you respond. In fact, I would say think thrice (three times).
Reputations are increasingly vulnerable online and no one will be spared. That is obvious at this point.
The reputation for “online media” got a big boost when the Pulitzer Prizes announced that they are now accepting submissions from online-only pubs. As it says on their web site, “The Pulitzer Prizes in journalism have been expanded to include many text-based newspapers and news organizations that publish only on the Internet. The Pulitzer Board also has decided to allow entries made up entirely of online content to be submitted in all 14 Pulitzer journalism categories.” These awards are the most respected awards in American journalism.
I decided to change the look of my blog since 2009 is around the corner and like most everyone I know, I needed a change. My reputation is at stake and the previous layout was getting outdated. Also, now my visitors can search for terms which I think matters a whole lot. In honor of my borough in New York, the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge tops my blog. So thanks to Jonny Rosemont in London for the miraculous makeover. More to come.
As I posted a few weeks ago, I followed how hotels and government organizations dealt with the Mumbai terrorist crisis in late November. When I saw a full page ad from the Taj in this week’s WSJ, I returned to the Taj Hotel website to see if I could get a screen shot of the compelling advertisement. The ad was a picture of the beautiful wedding cake turret at the top of the Taj with a quote “I have held my ground as human history has unfolded in its timeless procession of laughter and tears, courage and cowardice, good and evil. I will prevail.” I am now very glad that I revisited the web site as it was well worth the return. The Taj Mumbai hotel site (owned by Tata) is a best practice of how Web sites should communicate after tragic events befall them. Unfortunately there is now a growing genre of these types of online sites. The Taj site has many different headers underneath a picture of the beautiful Taj before the attacks – Home, Previous Updates, Media Reports, Messages, Condolences, Reservations, Our People, The Hotel, Guest Baggage Retrieval, Ideas & Help, Contact Us.
- Under “Our People,” you find the pictures of those Taj men and women who lost their lives. They display the picture, their age and a profile about each one. Reminds me of the 9-11 profiles that filled the pages of the NYTimes for weeks and were nearly impossible to ignore.
- Under “Ideas & Help,” you can let the Taj know if you have any suggestions for restoring the hotel.
- The “Media Reports” catalogues all the news on how the Taj is rebuilding and commemorating the lives of those who died.
- The “Condolences” section is exactly what you would expect. Expressions of sympathy from people from around the world who once stayed at the hotel, dreamed of staying at the hotel or who just want to extend their sympathy. They are amazing to read and the heartfelt loss and warmth jumps off the page.
- If you were a guest during these tragic moments, there is information under “Guest Baggage Retrieval” on getting your personal belongings back as swiftly as possible. The tone is just right.
You can feel the care taken in the words chosen, the simple, elegant and muted colors and the determination to reopen the Tower on December 21. From reading the messages to the Taj, you can tell that the Taj’s reputation was glorious. One after another comment talked about the fine times travelers had there. Their reputation restoration will most definitely succeed.
I now have screen shots of the site in case I get asked for a best practice of communications during these most challenging of times. I only wish I will never be asked for them.
The Financial Times recently had two great articles that were totally meant for me. They are related to reputation and I was very encouraged. Amazing what I find exciting. First, I learned that 17 companies are working with the Ethisphere Institute to commit to key principles to rebuild trust in corporate behavior. The principles that these well-known companies (GE, Wal-Mart, PepsiCo, Dell, Accenture) are signing on for include legal compliance, transparency, avoiding conflict of interests and accountability. The voluntary initiative is called the Business Ethics Leadership Alliance and their mission is to reinforce the standards of ethics and fortify confidence in business worldwide. part of the agreement, the companies have to submit to regular independent audits. Ethisphere’s own reputation has grown rapidly in recent years and getting on their list of the most ethical companies is quite a feat. Their standards are quite rigorous. I think this is a step in the right direction for building corporate credibility in corporate America and good to see that there is agreement that reputations are repairable. Second, I learned that Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch top executives are rejecting bonuses this year. That too is a wise move. What fascinated me, however, was the following edit from Morgan Stanley which was reported in the FT: “Morgan Stanley also became the first large US bank to announce that employees would be forced to pay back some of their bonuses if they caused significant losses, or reputational harm, to the company.” Reputational harm deserves more than returning a bonus…in some cases it should mean cause for losing a job. Bonuses are easily redeemable, reputation is not.
It is not every day that someone gets kudos for resuscitating a company reputation so I thought it is worth noting. The Economist praised CEO Lee Scott for “reviving” Wal-Mart’s reputation. Lee Scott just announced that he is retiring at the end of January 2009. And in these bleak times, not everyone can say that they are leaving on a “high.” According to the article, Wal-Mart’s sales are expected to increase by 8% in a year that no one will soon forget. Scott has had to deal with more publicly humiliating challenges than most CEOs – law suits by female employees, discrimination charges, low wages and treatment of employees, bad benefit packages, etc. Then lo and behold, Lee Scott took it all on, listened to his critics, changed direction and succeeded. I could not agree more with The Economist’spoint of view. And I have to say that I also feel somewhat vindicated because over the past 18 months I have told skeptical reporters that Scott was on the right trail and making the right moves. Everytime he stumbled, he picked himself up and kept his eye on the prize for Wal-Mart. One CEO once said that reputation recovery is the “strategy of small gestures” and this is the path taken by Scott for Wal-Mart. All his actions have added up incrementally to getting the giant retailer back onto the road of restoring the company’s reputation. His sustainability platform for the company have been commendable and if executed properly will make a tremedous difference to the environment. As the Economist said, “Wal-Mart’s performance and reputation have never been better, and there is little for him to gain by staying on. The culture is transformed; the strategy is in place; his reputation glows.”
The best part was the title for the article – From Bad to Great – a takeoff on Jim Collin’s Good to Great blockbuster book. Good for them and good for us in the reputation space to see that reputations can be regenerated.
I have written before about the Maple Leaf food crisis in Canada last August. In short, Maple Leaf is the largest meat company in Canada and its packaged meat in its Toronto plant was tied to 20 deaths from listeriosis. The CEO of this 100+ year old company, Michael McCain, closed the plant, recalled its products (estimated at $30 million) and communicated communicated communicated. His message to customers was that the buck stopped with him and he was fully accountable. He was on the evening news, YouTube and accessible to journalists. McCain took action and he said all the right things. The CEO let the company values of doing the right thing guide him through the crisis. One of his statements should be noted: “Going through the crisis, there are two advisers I’ve paid no attention to. The first are the lawyers and the second are the accountants. It’s not about money or legal liability—this is about our being accountable for providing consumers with safe food.” Talk about straight talk. He said he felt bad saying that about legal and accounting but it was the truth. Often times CEOs have to work out their comments with their legal teams and it conflicts with PR who reminds CEOs to think first about their employees and customers. Maple Leaf has instituted new sanitizing regulations, employee training, a food safety advisory council and the hiring of a chief food safety officer. Maple Leaf is working closely with the government and peer companies to make food safety the top priority for the industry. All in all, a textbook crisis management case study for those of us interested in them. The well-respected The Globe and Mail had a great roundup of the event and rehabilitation recently.
This week my colleague Daniela in Toronto sent me an interesting addendum to the crisis I thought it worth sharing. Now that it is several months later, CEO McCain offered to answer questions from readers to The Globe and Mail . A few Q&As for my blog are posted below:
- Heidi Croot from Canada writes: Your response to this crisis has been lauded as textbook perfect. You’ve certainly won my admiration and support for the way you’ve navigated things. What two or three pieces of advice would you share with executive teams of other companies facing a crisis, to persuade them to take your approach vs. the more popular closed kimono approach.
- Michael McCain writes: Thanks for your kind words, Heidi, although we have made it quite clear that we aren’t allowing ourselves any luxury or opportunity for “back patting” in such a terrible situation. We have just tried to handle it in the most responsible way we knew how, by putting consumers’ interest and public health first. As for advice, that’s hard to give, as every situation is different. In our case, we only knew what came natural to our culture and DNA…. First, be open and transparent. Second, accept accountability and don’t waiver on that. And third, take action to fix a tragic wrong. In our culture, we try to behave that way every day. It serves us best, in times of challenge.
- Shannon Hill from Guelph Canada writes: In light of the recent listeriosis outbreak, what changes are being made to the testing procedures, and what new plans have been or are going to be implemented in order to assure that this will not happen again?
- Michael McCain writes: Hey Shannon, this may be the most important question of all. What’s changed? Well, a lot, is the summary answer…..here are the major things, but remember Shannon, food safety means reducing the risk to its absolute lowest possible level, while it is impossible to eradicate listeria from our food supply. First, we have more than doubled our testing events in our plants, and we have substantially enhanced the nature of the testing to dramatically improve the probability of finding a problem. Second, we review those results and findings with substantially more rigour. Each and every day, our teams of experts – including microbiologists – review the reports from that day to analyse the results of the testing. Third, we have increased the amount of sanitization, including the dissassembly procedures for equipment like the slicers that were at the root of this situation. We sanitize this equipment for 6-8 hours per day! And, we have changed the approach to how this sanitization occurs in the plant. Fourth, we recognize that this is a long term commitment. Food safety gets better and better each and every year. There is new technology, and new approaches every year. To make sure we stay on top of this – in the front all the time – we have hired a new Chief Food Safety Officer (A Phd/Microbiologist). The person we have hired is possibly one of the best in the world in this field. His job is to lead this effort for Maple Leaf, to keep us at the front of this and amongst the best in the world – and he will report directly to me. Lastly, we are developing a future looking food safety covenant for all 23,000 people on our team to endorse and commit to, recognizing the responsibility we all share – regardless of the very low risk – for providing safe, nutritious food. We have food safety first at this company! Thanks for asking your question. Michael