The 3 issues today’s crisis comms professional needs to tackle

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Make sure that you’re prepared for these three big issues which are shifting the crisis comms goalposts (image source: http://www.bairdscmc.com)

It doesn’t take a genius to tell you that the world is changing, and with it the way that crises develop. I was listening to a very engaging podcast by the Gulf News business team, with communications professional Omar Qirem (check out the post here).

While the conversation touched on a host of crisis issues and triggers, there were three big issues that are relatively new, and which are shifting the crisis communications landscape.

Hacking and Emails

Long gone are the days when whistleblowers would walk out of offices with a suitcase full of papers. Today, information is conveyed electronically, and all it took for Chelsea Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of US military documents to Wikileaks was a single USB drive. Hacking is becoming a real problem for both governments the world over, as well as corporates (just ask Sony).

Hacking is developing from the well-understood concept of the ethically-troubled whistleblower to groups-for-hire who are ready and willing to hack email servers, or public domain accounts in the search of damaging information. Hackers can also attack websites and social media accounts to fake news, or even create fake sites which are mirrored on the real thing.

We’re going to have to become more aware of these threats, and develop mitigation strategies, including better security (at the very least, please use two-factor authentication as much as you can and don’t use the same password for every single account), and also educate executives on the need to communicate differently. What you write can be leaked; are you willing to see that email on the front page of a newspaper, or a website?

The Rise of Values-Based Communication

Consumers aren’t just interested in what brands make and sell. They want to know what we stand for. This public interest has partly been driven by the political climate in the US and Western Europe and by the behavior of millennials and their increasing skepticism of established institutions. For brands, value-based communications is a key point of differentiation, particularly for industries which have been impacted by technology-driven commoditization. Think of Paul Unilever’s Polman and his passionate belief in sustainability.

Conversely, executive behavior which is looked down upon by the public can have serious business implications. Whilst the official reasons for Uber being stripped of its London license were due to questions around passenger safety and drivers’ rights, the behavior and words of former CEO Travis Kalanick haven’t done Uber any good. The apology proffered by the new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, seems to have gone a long way to defusing some of the tension between Uber and Transport for London which oversees the company’s license to operate.

Data and Online Regulation

We’ve been living in the internet age for over two decades now, and business has benefited from a relative lack of legislation and regulation about what can and can’t be done online, particularly with data. That has slowly changed as governments have sought to understand how the internet has changed our lives. Upcoming legislation in Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is going to change how corporations monitor and store data (it’s been covered in some detail by Rachel Miller for the CIPR). There’s no doubt in my mind that the online and social media networks will also have to deal with more governmental oversight. There’s been a string of scandals around issues such as extremist content on YouTube,  Facebook and the Trump election, and Twitter’s lack of action on far-right hate speech.

Whilst I’m certain that more regulation is coming, and soon, it’s far too early to say how this will change how we as communicators operate online. There will be more data-related crises, either due to how data is collected and used, or due to an inability to adhere to these new rules.

As always, I’d love to know your thoughts. What issues do we need to better understand when it comes to modern-day crises? Please do share with me your thoughts.

WhatsApp and why communicators should care about Dark Social (at least in a crisis)

When it comes to harmful materials, WhatsApp should be a key source of concern for communicators in the Gulf

When it comes to harmful materials, WhatsApp should be a key source of concern for communicators in the Gulf

Let me ask you a question. Name the most popular application on the phones of consumers in the Gulf. It’s not Instagram. It’s not Twitter, and it’s not Snapchat. As you clever ones may have guessed from the title of this post, it’s WhatsApp. At the last count, in a survey by TNS in 2015, the instant messenger app was used by 84% of smartphone users in the Gulf. And yet, it would seem that WhatsApp is hardly used, either by marketers or by communicators.

Part of the challenge is that WhatsApp is a closed network. It’s dark social, a term coined in 2012 that refers to online activity which cannot be monitored. WhatsApp and other applications such as WeChat and Facebook Messenger cannot be mined for data, and as they’re closed the only persons who know what is being written or shared are the sender and the recipient.

And that’s often the problem. For people who are responsible for looking after corporate reputations, ignorance definitely isn’t bliss. I wanted to understand more about WhatsApp and what it means to communicators during a crisis. And so I asked them. I asked communicators in the Gulf what WhatsApp means to them. And I want to share their responses with you.

First of all, let’s start with what communicators are using. The most popular social media channels for communicators are Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. These are followed by LinkedIn and YouTube. Snapchat and WhatsApp are the least used, which is surprising considering their popularity in the region. This may suggest communicators are still struggling on how to use such channels.

Open platforms are the most popular among communicators. Dark social platforms are less popular.

Open platforms are the most popular among communicators. Dark social platforms are less popular.

What’s interesting is the channels that are used during a crisis. While Twitter again comes out tops, followed by Facebook, other channels don’t figure as much.

Twitter and Facebook are the two most popular social media channels during a crisis

Twitter and Facebook are the two most popular social media channels during a crisis

The majority of communicators I spoke to do see WhatsApp as a factor in the spread of harmful materials. However, relatively few have experienced crises over the past year.

The majority of comms practitioners have not seen a crisis spread over WhatsApp in the past 12 months

The majority of comms practitioners have not seen a crisis spread over WhatsApp in the past 12 months

What’s also illuminating is confidence in dealing with a crisis online. When asked about a generic crisis on social media, communicators were fairly confident in dealing with the issue. When you throw WhatsApp into the mix, that confidence level drops.

On the left, the question asked was, "I believe my organization is prepared for a social media crisis." On the right, the question asked was, "I prepared my organization is prepared for a crisis spread on WhatsApp."

On the left, the question asked was, “I believe my organization is prepared for a social media crisis.” On the right, the question asked was, “I prepared my organization is prepared for a crisis spread on WhatsApp.”

The issue that many of us face online is decreasing levels of trust in brands, particularly when it comes to social media pages. Whereas a couple of years back consumers believed that reaching out to branded Facebook pages or Twitter accounts would solve their issues, few hold such beliefs today. Add in issues such as defamation for online comments, and it’s no surprise that consumers are turning to WhatsApp to share their views with their friends and family and to ask them to take action against the brand.

Based on this research, there are a number of recommendations communicators (and marketing folks) need to take into account when it comes to dark social:

  • Communicators need to be familiar with dark social – it’s apparent that consumers are online and are using dark social tools to communicate. Communicators need to be conversant in these tools if they’re going to be effective in getting across organizational messaging, particularly during a crisis.
  • Dark social tools need to be part of crisis planning – one question which wasn’t asked was to do with which social media tools formed part of crisis planning. However, it’d seem that dark social doesn’t come into consideration when planning crisis scenarios or a response. This needs to change.
  • Communicators need to utilize dark social – certain industries, such as the media sector, have begun to make use of dark social in their public outreach. Communicators in this region may be advised to look at adding dark social to their social media planning, to increase the level of engagement and also to understand how much such channels are used vis-à-vis open channels when sharing from websites and other public sharing channels.

If you’re interested in the full research, drop me a note. Sharing is caring, especially when it comes to crisis communications and social media

Out with the old Social Media, in with the new? Twitter & Facebook supposedly declining, Snapchat and WhatsApp on the rise across MENA

Some more stats for you, this time from Northwestern University in Qatar and the Doha Film Institute. And the outcomes are an eye opener.

The survey, which polled 6,058 adults (4,529 nationals) in Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, looked to explore the relationship between cultural attitudes, censorship, regulation and online surveillance, online and social media, film, TV, music, games, sports, news, and children’s media. When it comes to the social media side, the results surprised me. To quote the press release.

Use of Instagram across the region increased by 24 percentage points between 2013 and 2016, and Facebook’s popularity has declined in the last three years by 6 percentage points. Twitter, however, shows the biggest decline over the past three years—17 percentage points—with a 12 percentage point drop from just one year ago. Three-quarters of Egyptian internet users say that concerns about privacy have changed the way they use social media, second only to the 89 percent of Saudis who say the same.

Or, to put it another way.

The survey by Northwestern University in Qatar shows a general decline in usage of Facebook and Twitter, along with an uptake for Instagram

The survey by Northwestern University in Qatar shows a general decline in usage of Facebook and Twitter, along with an uptake for Instagram

Another interesting point that the survey brought to light was usage of instant messaging services. The research found that, “though more young nationals use social media in general, WhatsApp is more popular among the oldest group (45+) than the youngest group (18-24) (83% vs. 74%).” One note on the below – as a VoIP service Viber is banned in the UAE, which may have skewed the results.

WhatsApp is by far the most popular social messaging service, particularly among older users

WhatsApp is by far the most popular social messaging service, particularly among older users

The research asked users what they were doing online, and what they were using each social media platform for. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming answer was to communicate with friends and family.

The overwhelming reason for using social media on most channels is to communicate with friend and family

The overwhelming reason for using social media on most channels is to communicate with friend and family

For you marketers and communicators out there, if you’re looking for more information on social media usage across the region, including a breakdown by the countries surveyed, do go and check out the research here. While I’d take certain findings with a pinch of salt, especially the drop in Twitter usage, do bear in mind that the social media networks rarely share their own internal numbers in the region publicly. So, if you’re looking for statistics direct from the social media networks themselves to create/develop your social media outreach, you may be best off approaching contacts at Facebook, Google and Twitter to try your luck.

Ramadan and the Impact of Social Media

We’re only a week or so away from the holiest month of the Islamic year, when Muslims fast to remember the first revelation of the holy Koran to the Prophet Muhammed. Just as the Middle East has embraced social media, so have Muslims. Ramadan is one of the most active times of the year for social media in the Middle East, on all social media channels, as Muslims reach out to friends and family, as they prepare for the Holy Month, and as they celebrate in the run up to Eid.

First of all, let’s look at Twitter. The short messaging service recorded over 51 million mentions of Ramadan last year, with 8.4 billion impressions.

The number of Tweets during Ramadan in 2015 based on Twitter's own internal statistics

The number of Tweets during Ramadan in 2015 based on Twitter’s own internal statistics

Google’s focus is on YouTube, in particular channels which have a specific relationship with this period of the year. Cooking is initially popular (Ramadan meals are cooked and served at home), followed by religious channels and general entertainment.

YouTube viewership during Ramadan changes dramatically as you can see from this internal Google data

YouTube viewership during Ramadan changes dramatically as you can see from this internal Google data

And last but not least, there’s Facebook. During 2014, 14.6 million Muslims in the MENA region posted 47.6m updates on Ramadan and Eid. The attached presentation from Facebook provides fascinating insights into when Muslims are online and how much more time they’re spending online, as well as the shift towards mobile and a breakdown of chatter by age and sex. Facebook believes that millenials are shifting away from television and towards the internet, which may be disconcerting for advertisers and television networks.

Facebook MENA Ramadan Insights

While it’d be fascinating to understand how Muslims are using Whatsapp and other messaging services to spread religious messages and other related content, I don’t have any data on this (and other) channels.

Whatever you’re planning for Ramadan, do remember the importance of social media channels to Muslims across the region. Make your content engaging (either entertaining or informative), relevant, and shareable. And Ramadan Mubarak!

How do you make a whole country hate a child-focused health intervention programme? Ask Nido…

It’s not often that the first (and most popular) comment on a YouTube video is a request for ISIS to blow up a company’s headquarters. However, as I have learned time and time again, anything is possible when you combine the Gulf’s nationals with social media and an issue they’re passionate about.

To cut a long story short, a video for Nestle’s Nido brand been trending in Saudi. The video tells the story of an initiative by Nestle and the company’s consumers on the occasion of the powdered milk brand’s 70th anniversary, to provide 14 million cups of milk to 40,000 children for six months. The activation is a cause-related marketing exercise which involves the region’s shoppers. And you’d think everyone would love it; who doesn’t like seeing kids being fed and a corporation giving away its products to a good cause?

Well, here’s the issue. Someone behind the video/brand thought it’d be a good idea to boost the number of videos through paid media. For the space of how many days beginning from the 3rd of March, this video was everywhere. To the extent that it’s been watched over ten million times. Which is great, if you like big viewer numbers. However, people don’t like to be forced to do anything online, especially being forced to watch the same video over and over and over again.

The statistics sum it all up – 419 likes versus 9,663 dislikes. But it’s the venom in the comments, the hatred of how someone (please stand up) who has decided to spend a load of cash to promote the video has ruined the viewing experience of tens of thousands of Saudis who have had to sit through this content. Saudis complained en mass, even going so far as to tweet @nidoarabia and @nestle to ask them to stop promoting the video as well as reporting the video as spam. Peeved that their own content is being pushed to one side and having to deal with disgruntled YouTubers, Saudi content creators have apologizing endlessly. And there’s even been calls for a boycott. Now, that’s how you change beliefs and habits whilst also inspiring action Nestle!

The comments, many of which are hilarious, range from pure hatred of the brand’s blanket to many admitting they’re now beginning to hate drinking milk (and children…).

We've had enough of Nido!

We’ve had enough of Nido!

There were some Saudis even reminiscing for Marwan Taloudi, the man who spammed Saudis with his YouTube get-rich-quick ads.

YouTube is still a business after all, but if you’re going to get people to like what you do, then don’t shove it down their throats for days on end.

And just cause I love you all, and I love Nido even more, I’d like to share the video with you. I hope you enjoy watching the most hated video in Saudi right now.

A big thanks to Osama Natto for the story and the content.

Who’d be a social media manager? @theregos, @soukonwheels and a teeny Twitter meltdown…

social-media-meltdown-1-638

Disclaimer – There is foul language below (though not from me).

Social media isn’t all it is cracked up to be. True, you do get paid for being online and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube… But, you’re the voice of the organization. As such, you have to be on best behaviour at all times, to ensure that the company is represented in the right fashion. One wrong Tweet and you’re going to get called out for it.

Well, this is a call out for @soukonwheels and @soukonwheels1 (this account is now closed). The person who was handling the account did something which was pretty rude yesterday. And unfortunately for them, they did it to a journalist. Nick Rego isn’t your typical hack either, he’s the ‘dahlink of Twitter’. An open question from Nick about shopping for clothes was followed by the person handling the account jumping in (the brand sells fruit and veg), which Nick didn’t appreciate.

However, the response really wasn’t called for:

How not to win friends and influence people online...

How not to win friends and influence people online…

Kudos to the brand which apologized for the tweet (I do hope they apologized directly to Nick). But really, do you want to be a social media manager? Think carefully, very carefully before you say yes.

And before I forget, there’s a couple more pointers:

1) Once you’ve posted something online, it’s online. If you don’t want it copied, shared or saved, then don’t post it online. And if it offends your mom, then definitely don’t post it online.
2) The community will always do a good job of policing itself, by rallying around and calling out those who offend. This will damage your brand.
3) We all make mistakes. Learn from them, change how your accounts are managed and come back stronger.

Snapchat, Messi, and jail – the story of how a Dubai cop breached the cybercrime law

Will this official be behind bars for a video he took of Messi's passport? (picture courtesy of Hilary Clinton's  Twitter feed)

Will this official be behind bars for a video he took of Messi’s passport? (picture courtesy of Hilary Clinton’s Twitter feed)

It’s happened. That social media channel which everyone under the age of 30 is using (that’s why I’m not on it), has got someone into trouble. The ephemeral network Snapchat has gotten one Dubai police officer into trouble, for taking a picture of the passport of Barcelona footballer Lionel Messi when the footballing superstar came to Dubai. The picture, which I am assuming disappeared after being viewed, found its way to the authorities, and the gentleman in question has been charged with falling foul of the country’s 2012 Cybercrime law. The full story, courtesy of the Washington Post, is below:

A police officer in Dubai is facing a six-month prison sentence and a $130,000 fine for posting a video of Lionel Messi’s passport to Snapchat last month. Prosecutors say the act violated the United Arab Emirates’ Cybercrime Law of 2012.

The officer, identified only as a 26-year-old named J.J., appeared in court this week to plead guilty to the accusations, but maintained his intentions weren’t nefarious. Instead, he said he posted the Messi’s passport to Snapchat out of frustration from being denied the chance to meet the star who had traveled to the country on Dec. 27 to attend the Dubai International Sports Conference.

“I waited for Messi’s arrival [at Dubai International Airport] to take a photo with him … but his private escorts informed me that the player was tired and would not be able to take a photo,” J.J. explained in the Dubai Misdemeanors Court (via Gulf News). “Thereafter I walked to the passport control’s office where I saw Messi’s passport on a desk. I grabbed the passport and opened it to the page that contained Messi’s personal details and took video images with my iPhone via Snapchat.”

The video, which can still be found on YouTube, shows Messi’s photograph and data, and a man (presumably J.J.) can be heard narrating over the image.

“This is Messi here in Dubai… what shall I do now? Burn his passport or let it go?” the man says in Arabic in the Snapchat (via the Independent). “Alas… I will let it go.”

Prosecutors seem less alarmed about the man’s narration than the video itself, however.

“What the suspect did is an act punishable by the Cybercrime Law,” prosecutor Al Shamsi told Gulf News. “His behavior is deemed a breach of Messi’s privacy because the passport is considered a private possession just like the details mentioned on it.”

A verdict is expected this week. But, for those on Snapchat, beware! You may think your images disappear, but remember, nothing ever truly disappears once it goes digital.