In parts I and II of our series on crisis communications, we provided an overview of what crisis in business is – and is not – and explored how to plan for crisis and respond to the media and other outside parties.
In this third and final part, we look at internal crisis communications – the all-important, two-way flow of information between employers and employees.
Though we tend to prioritize outside messages (what will we tell the media?), internal crisis communication is every bit as important as what is said to external audiences. Company personnel are our most precious resources. Not only do they ensure effective business operations, they are also the rank-and-file staff in whom outside parties often have more faith than corporate officials (though designating spokespeople is paramount). Putting staff first is critical.
Have a Plan
The need for a strategy in advance of crisis to share with all levels of staff cannot be overstated. Not only does a plan equip your company with a road map of what to do if crisis occurs, it also imparts to your team how valued they are, building trust, morale and even work ethic.
How Will You Protect Your Team?
Assuming that you will brainstorm all manner of disastrous possibilities (and you should), the physical safety of your staff is top on the list of priorities. Envision scenarios that could pose bodily threat (a fire, flood, explosion, bomb, shooting, widespread food contamination), and devise a plan for how you will quickly and efficiently safeguard your team in each of them. Obtain advice ahead of time from police, emergency personnel, government agents, etc., as appropriate. Run drills of these procedures so your staff can practice and become familiar with them and you can assess their effectiveness before they’re actually needed.
How Will You Inform Your Team During Crisis?
Information is the first line of defense during crisis, and having push notification technology in place is a formidable shield against danger. Push notifications go out through various channels (text, email, phone alerts, P.A.) without requiring recipients to solicit – or pull – information themselves. These notices should be clear and explicit about what has happened, what to do and where to find further information, such as a dark website.
About Social Media
Social media is not ideal for the dissemination of information during crisis, to either external or internal audiences. Its potential to spawn viral false reporting is enormous, and the time and effort that goes into proper, up-to-the-minute monitoring is exhausting. However, because social media is an instantaneous and pervasive means by which anyone and everyone can say anything and everything, companies are wise to post an accurate, authorized, preferably pre-prepared statement about their crisis on social media. Boilerplate copy is okay, provided it can be tweaked and updated by vetted admins to individual circumstances. Heavens knows, you don’t want @ludesfordudes snapping a photo of your building’s fire and slapping it all over the Internet with no authorized response from you about the situation.
What Should Your Team Know?
Just as honesty is paramount in external crisis communications, total transparency must be the guiding rule inside the company as well. Provide staff with truthful, expedient, accurate information about not only the crisis itself (including damage to persons, property, reputation, stock holdings, etc.), but how it may impact their personal employment status, if at all. Let there be no time of silence, not only for the sake of trust and transparency, but to forestall the inevitable rumor mill that will grow the longer information is withheld. After push notifications have instructed employees about what to do during crisis, face-to-face conversations or audio/video conferences should ensue as well as point-by-point emails, internal memos and other company-wide communications about the situation and its impact.
Messages should be as consistent across all tiers of employment as possible and originate from the same source at the same time. This will mitigate misunderstanding of the situation and foster a sense of unity and ownership across the entire company. Convey to staff what you are doing to move forward in a positive direction – but be careful not to say more than you know. Don’t share anything you cannot verify.
Whom Should Your Team Tell – Or Not?
This question underscores the importance of keeping your staff in the loop, accurately and thoroughly informing them of the crisis as it unfolds and enters various stages. “Employees are increasingly important voices during crisis,” said Shel Holtz, principal at Holtz Communication + Technology in San Francisco. However, it is imperative that staff not speak to the media about the crisis. This is the territory of media-trained, designated spokespeople only.
Next, dissuade unauthorized personnel from posting information or engaging in commentary about your crisis on their social media, for the reasons stated above about the viral and erroneous nature of online discourse. That said, HR and communications experts differ on whether employees should be able to communicate externally about their company’s crisis.
Some say it’s simply not feasible to stem the tide of online comments and inquiries. Instead, employees should be armed with accurate and timely information to offer, if evoked, on their personal platforms. According to the Public Relations Society of America, “The natural inclination for many companies in crisis is to send messaging to employees and ask them to spread the word. But it only works if employees have been prepared, and if a discipline exists that allows them to do so effectively.”
Regardless of the differences of opinion on this matter, social posting should be done very cautiously and judiciously. It’s just too easy to get carried away in the exponential chitter chatter, and less is more.
What Should Your Team Tell You?
Encourage questions and conversations among your employees. Let them know there will be no reprisals for sharing and that your door is open to talk and, more importantly, listen. If possible, install a hotline or other line(s) of communication for staff to confidentially let management know of a potentially dangerous or damaging situation before it occurs. Examples of this might be witnessing abusive or neglectful behavior of residents by another staff member, in the case of a senior living community, or a malfunctioning gas line. Freedom to communicate in both directions is essential to the prevention of, reaction to, and recovery from crisis.
Thank you for your engagement in this three-part series on crisis communications. We hope this has been a helpful guide. If you have further questions or would like the assistance of our team of experts in planning for and managing crisis in your business, please feel free to contact us. We’re here for you!
IVY MARKETING GROUP. COME GROW WITH US.
By guest blogger Sally Falkow, Social Media Strategist
Content has always been a major part of PR, but now it’s become an integral part of all marketing. According to research from the Content Marketing Institute, 91 percent of B2B brands and 86 percent of B2C brands use it.
But it’s still an emerging tactic and far too many companies are “flying blind” – just pumping out content without any strategy. (Only 37 percent of B2B marketers and 38 percent of B2C marketers have a content marketing strategy.)
Your audience finds your content in many ways, but one of the main ones is through search. And since Google dominates the search market, it pays to develop content that meets Google’s quality guidelines and ranking rules.
When Larry Page and Sergey Brin started Google, their purpose was to organize the information on the web and make it possible for people using the web to find relevant content. As early as December 1998 “PC Magazine” reported that Google “has an uncanny knack for returning extremely relevant results.”
Every Google update to their algorithm, and all their rules about how to write content, have one aim in mind: to improve the results they give their users.
The Google Algorithm
“Algorithm is a technical term for what you can think of as a recipe that Google uses to sort through the billions of web pages and other information it has, in order to return what it believes are the best answers.” Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Land founder, and editor.
There have been several major updates to the Google algorithm, but in fact, they make constant updates and tweaks every day. Luckily there are certain basic guidelines that always apply, and these are the rules you need to work with when creating content.
- Unique, original content. (The Panda update introduced ranking penalties for sites that use mass content producers and those that steal or duplicate content.)
- Trustworthy content from an authoritative source. Trust is often evaluated by the quality of the links pointing to your content.
The Google blog gave these questions as a guideline for creating trustworthy content:
- Would you trust the information presented in this article?
- Is this article written by an expert/enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it shallow in nature?
- Is the site a recognized authority on the topic?
- Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
- Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
These rules apply to all your content – web pages, newsroom, articles, press releases, and blogs.
The Penguin update focused on the difference between owned and earned links. That’s something PR practitioners should be able to grasp quite easily. It’s about the value of third-party endorsement and why editorial overage of your brand carries more weight than an ad.
When you produce and publish content about your company, you obviously present the brand in the best possible light. It’s called ‘owned media.’ It could be your website, your blog, articles you write or your social content, such as posts on your Facebook page. Even when that content is syndicated to other sites, or distributed on the wire and picked up by other sites, it is still owned media. You produced it.
When someone else with no vested interest publishes good things about a brand, it has much more credibility than what we say ourselves. That’s earned media. Media relations is all about earned media. We know how that works; it’s one of the core functions of PR.
Using that same logic, Google regards any link that you put into a piece of content about the brand (press release, article, blog post, infographic) as an owned link. You created the content and you placed that link there. No getting away from it – that is owned, not earned. Any link that you created is owned.
Google is all about earned links. Inbound links, those links from other sites pointing to your content, have always been a large part of Google’s ranking algorithm. Google looks for third-party endorsement. They check to see who links to your website, blog, Facebook page. A link is regarded as a vote of confidence in your content. It’s like getting the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval”.
Google only counts what they call natural or editorial links – that’s earned links. In the very same way that you earn media coverage, you now have to earn links. Every time a reporter uses your press release content and includes a link to your site, that’s an earned link. Your media relations activity just expanded – it has to include getting those earned links.
Blogger Relations and Influencer Marketing are also good ways to earn these inbound links. Reach out to a list of bloggers or influencers in your field with an offer or a useful, interesting piece of content, and resulting mentions with a link are earned links.
The best way to earn links is to create outstanding content that people will want to mention, share, and link to. Google’s first rule for ranking content is high-quality, original content that has depth and substance.
News Content and Search
“In the U.S., roughly nine-in-ten adults (93%) get at least some news online (either via mobile or desktop), and the online space has become a host for the digital homes of both legacy news outlets and new, ‘born on the web’ news outlets.” Pew State of the Media 2018
Every business owner, marketing manager, and PR practitioner should know how to write and distribute news releases so they rank well in web search engines and news search engines.
There are some distinct advantages to having your news releases found via search engines:
- You know the people reading the release are interested in that subject because they asked for it by keyword.
- Online releases can be tracked – for the first time, you can get statistics of how many times your press release was viewed, read or downloaded. With Google Analytics you can see what visitors do once they get to your site and how long they stay.
Top 10 News Sites
You might be surprised to know that Yahoo! News tops the list for news. They’ve been number one for many years. Google News is nipping at their heels, but they have not managed to grab the top position. So your first goal should be Yahoo! News.
NEWS SITE MONTHLY VISITORS
- Yahoo! News 175,000,000
- Google News 150,000,000
- Huffington Post 110,000,000
- CNN 95,000,000
- New York Times 70,000,000
- Fox News 65,000,000
- NBC 63,000,000
- Mail Online 53,000,000
- Washington Post 47,000,000
- The Guardian 42,000,000
As you can see, some of the mainstream media websites are high on the list and you should be building relationships with journalists and bloggers from these publications.
Yahoo! News still has human editors and they pay attention to rising searches and trending topics. So be sure to include this as part of the research for your release.
Google News is growing their audience too. They’ve risen from number 10 to the second position in just a few years.
According to Google executives, Google News “algorithmically harvests” articles from more than 50,000 news sources across 72 editions and 30 languages. Their news content is seen by millions of people every week, providing hundreds of thousands of business opportunities every day.
Those opportunities are not only available to media publishers. Google News indexes press releases, so these opportunities are available to businesses and organizations too. Just make sure your releases comply with these Google News guidelines:
- Timely reporting on matters that are important or interesting to our audience. Google News generally doesn’t include how-to articles, advice columns, job postings, or strictly informational content such as weather forecasts and stock data. Google News is not a marketing service, so they won’t publish content promoting a product or organization.
- Unique articles: Original reporting and honest attribution are longstanding journalistic values.
- Authority: Write what you know. The best news exhibits clear authority and expertise.
- Accountability: Users tell us they value news with author biographies and clearly accessible contact information, such as physical and email addresses, and phone numbers.
- User-friendly: Clearly written articles with correct spelling and grammar also make for a much better user experience.
- Links: When our crawler scans your site, it looks for HTML links with anchor text that includes at least a few words.
Since almost every business in the U.S. is using content as part of their marketing strategy,you’re competing with a flood of content every day. Make sure that you start with an intelligent content strategy and that every item of content you produce is tied to a goal, has depth and substance, is original and interesting, and has eye-catching visuals with it.
Sally Falkow has been in public relations for more than 30 years and is accredited in PR (APR) by the Public Relations Society of America. Over the past 15 years, she has immersed herself in new technology and digital PR – most of her work today is as a social media strategist and trainer.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably aware that the Baby Boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) is coming into retirement. The oldest Boomers are expected to move into a retirement community within the next 10 years, with the youngest about 30 years away. Ten years ago, there were nearly 40,000 senior living communities in the U.S. (including all levels of care). Given the coming “boom,” that number is sure to rise dramatically. According to the New York Times, there will be 71 million Americans over the age of 65 by the year 2030.
Undoubtedly, the competition among new senior housing communities stands to be fierce as supply meets growing demand. These developments will have to announce themselves early and often to be heard above the jackhammers and power saws building more and more senior housing. While new construction projects create a literal “buzz” on their own, there is much more to successful marketing than hulking cranes and a few signs heralding a fabulous new community on the rise.
Indeed, the time to think about marketing for new senior housing is well before the foundation is laid, beginning with a market study and plan after building is approved by the city. Then creative should enter the picture for logo, look, website and message, followed by community mailings and awareness at least three months in advance of your grand opening.
The elements of a successful marketing strategy in modern times are varied and many, and several experts agree that attempting to achieve success without an agency is costly and ultimately inefficient. That may seem counter-intuitive, but the average annual expense of hiring a marketing manager is roughly $80,000 more than contracting with an agency, not to mention that an agency can offer all the necessary talent and services that a single person simply cannot handle.
Marketing for new construction senior housing is considerably more granular, requiring niche expertise and “ground up” tactics unique to the industry. It’s interesting to note too that because senior housing is associated with health care, retirement communities are freer to build than, say, hotels or residential high-rises, as lending and government entities are less wary of financial failure if the economy turns.
Robust marketing strategies for new senior housing (as well as commercial property, health care and non-profit organizations) can be encapsulated in IVY Marketing’s M.A.P.S. approach. M.A.P.S. is a comprehensive, turn-key marketing solution based on solid market research identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).
Market Study discovers opportunities based on field and statistical examination of existing market needs, cultures and competitors.
Advertising encompasses the development of your marketing plan, name, logo and brand identity, providing the cornerstone of your outdoor and trailer signage, digital and print collateral, website, direct mail, and all consumer awareness strategies, including publicity and media pitches.
Online content marketing will not only create consumer awareness with messages that are strategic, seductive and strong, it will also build SEO that drives traffic to your website long before residents move in.
Few industries benefit from special events like senior housing. Seeing is believing, and you can show prospects the unique features of your community even before building is complete by hosting pre- or mid-construction events, on or offsite, that pave the way for future residents. Panoramic photos, architectural renderings and wallboards are just some of the materials you can use to help prospects envision life at your community. (Food and beverages are a must, too!) And just imagine the event possibilities when your doors officially open!
As your marketing partners from the ground up, IVY provides you with the market analysis, advertising, public relations and special events (M.A.P.S.) you need to occupy your fabulous new community with equally fabulous new friends.
Did you know? IVY’s comprehensive M.A.P.S. approach can also help launch your commercial property, health care or not-for-profit organization.
IVY MARKETING GROUP. COME GROW WITH US.
The holidays is a natural time to take stock of our relationships. While horror stories and jokes abound regarding tension and awkwardness around the extended family table, by and large this is a time for counting our blessings—people first among them.
Consider, for example, the release of the movie “Wonder,” starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson, on November 17, a week before Thanksgiving. The film highlights human compassion and acceptance and is already proving to be a great cinematic choice for the entire family.
Good relationships are popular themes this time of year, when good will is at the forefront of our minds and hearts. Good relationships are also a lot like good public relations.
While the practice of public relations has significantly evolved since its emergence in the early 1900s, its basic principles remain the same. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) holds its members to these core values:
- Advocacy: acting as responsible advocates for the people and organizations PR professionals represent
- Honesty: adhering to the highest standards of accuracy and truth
- Expertise: continuing professional development, research and education
- Independence: providing objective counsel to those represented, while being accountable for one’s actions
- Loyalty: being faithful to those represented
- Fairness: respecting all opinions and supporting the right of free expression
We don’t have to look too hard to see that each of these values closely parallels the attributes of healthy personal relationships.
Good friends and family will always go to bat for loved ones, and true friends will tell us the truth, whether we like it or not (family seems to be especially good at it!).
On the surface, expertise is not immediately relateable to human relationships, but consider how parents are continually studying up on how best to raise their children; spouses sometimes go to marriage counseling or on couples’ retreats, and if someone we care for has a problem or concern, we often find ourselves on the Internet looking for information and answers to help them out.
Providing objective counsel to friends and, particularly, family can be difficult, as so much of ourselves is invested in these relationships. But there is tremendous value in stepping back and taking one’s self out of the equation. When this isn’t possible, the best approach can be to encourage a loved one to seek neutral counsel from an outside party or offer to search reputable resources or advice on their behalf.
Loyalty is a no-brainer in maintaining healthy personal relationships, as are fairness and support of our friends’ and family’s feelings and opinions.
Let’s also consider this statement from the website of the Museum of Public Relations in New York City: “Words cannot be unsaid.” No truer words were ever written. The site’s blurb is referring to William Henry Vanderbilt, who infamously said “The public be damned” to a reporter who confronted Vanderbilt with the people’s resentment of his railroad monopoly. Oops.
Few of us haven’t said something we wish we could shove back into our mouths, never to have been uttered. How many relationships have been damaged by such words? And what amount of effort and energy has been expended in repairing the damage? Sometimes, the effort isn’t made, or not properly made, and the relationship crumbles for good.
This, too, can happen in public relations, if not carefully and ethically implemented.
Not long after Vanderbilt’s verbal offense, public relations expert and “The Father of Modern Public Relations” Ivy Lee declared to city newspaper editors that “The public shall be informed.” Lee also helped John D. Rockefeller’s public image change from a “vilified oil baron” to a beloved philanthropist. Ah, the power of good PR.
Today, PR is primarily about engaging audiences, rather than simply informing them. Again, the parallels to human relationships are unmistakable. No real relationship can be sustained without engagement from all involved. It’s interesting to note here that the word “engagement” is most commonly used to convey a couple’s intention to spend the rest of their lives together.
The more public relations professionals look at relationships with their audiences or clients like treasured friends and family, the more all parties will gain from the interpersonal connections.
Let our team of experts show you how combining the values of ethical PR with the hallmarks of good personal relationships amounts to meaningful communications worth knowing about and engaging in.
A very Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
IVY MARKETING GROUP. COME GROW WITH US.
Content Tips and Tricks
Debra Sheridan, president of IVY Marketing Group was invited to present a workshop at last month’s Life Services Network Conference in Chicago. The prestigious event drew hundreds of professionals in all areas of the senior housing industry. “Being invited to be a presenter was really an honor as this conference draws the very best in the field,” said Debra.
Debra spoke about the importance of keeping good ideas flowing in order to advance the sales process with more interesting content used within blog posts, social media updates, videos, eBooks, newsletters and webinars. “This content serves you in many ways as it improves search engine rankings, drives traffic to websites, helps to nurture leads and assists in establishing you as an expert in your field,” she said. “But it can’t be just any content. It has to be relevant and remarkable.”
Generating a constant stream of interesting topics is challenging. Debra offered some tricks for indentifying intriguing topics.
- Follow the news—if the media is already interested, if people are talking about a certain topic, join that conversation by writing a white paper, comment blogs, start discussions in social media, etc. Follow industry news as well.
- Subscribe to email newsletters from niche publications that cover senior housing and services.
- Set up Google Alerts for non-branded keywords relating to your industry, products and/or audience.
- Monitor social media conversations.
- Recruit content creators such as bloggers.
- Create “annual” and “best-of” features.
- Bring a video camera with you to tradeshows, events, programs, etc. Turn videos into blog posts and eBooks.
One of the best tips of all is to keep a backlog of stories and/or topics handy. This should include, but not be limited to, evergreen content. Not everything needs to be hot or trending or the latest buzz. Evergreen content includes topics that are always interesting to your audience regardless of seasonal trends, economic conditions or other external factors.
Debra concluded that, as is the case with beautiful women, “all content is more attractive if it is well accessorized. Use photos, videos, links to other sites, research, case studies, quotes ad anything else that will enhance the content of your publication.”
Dare to be Fascinating Presentation 2012