During a crisis, how much of the message can you control? This question comes up because of this quote:
“Toll free numbers are not enough–people don’t want to talk at you. They need a reliable way to get hold of you, and if you know how to effectively use blogs and websites, you’ll control 100 percent of the message.”
–Jonathan Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management of Los Angeles, quoted in Diversity Woman magazine, July/August 2008, page 25.
I agree with his first thought, greater interactivity. I choked on the last clause. Control 100 percent? In a firestorm?
So I put this on twitter, “‘If you know how to effectively use blogsand websites, you’ll control 100% of the message.’ Jonathan Bernstein,Bernstein Crisis Mgmt. Rly?” (Remember, there’s a 140 character limit on Twitter.)
Vicky H., @eeUS, a blogger on parenting and technology, replied, “100% is a lot of percent. Why not 99.99% I always say.” She went on to point out, “Obviously he does not have kids. There is no 100%.”
Chris Webb, @chriswebb, Associate Publisher at John Wiley and Sons EMEA (UK) and author of CKWebb.com, responded, “You only ever control one half of the conversation.”
Lani Anglin-Rosales, @LaniAR, New Media Director at AgentGenius.com, was more concise, “false.”
Grant Griffiths, @GrantGriffiths, Owner of G2 Web Media, made two excellent comments. “Not sure you want to control 100% of the message if you are using a blog for marketing. Comments should also control it some.” And, “If you are controlling 100% how does that encourage the interaction and conversation so valuable of a benefit of blogging?”
By saying you can control 100 percent of the message, Bernstein has at the very least mis-stated his case. Even in crisis communication, you want to permit interactivity. You can control what you put out. You can influence what others might say, especially in a crisis. What others are saying can be the crisis. But you cannot control 100% of the message by understanding blogs and websites.
In Bernstein’s defense, his website includes quite a bit about working effectively through such a crisis, and I didn’t find any more occurrences of the claim of 100% control. So he may have spoken before he thought, or misspoken, or even been misquoted. But that’s kind of bad for a crisis management consultant and trainer, isn’t it?
How can a small business, especially in a small town, best respond to a crisis of communication? What’s the best way to respond when you have a firestorm of gossip, or a disaster hits your business, or someone is injured in your business?
Share your thoughts, and we’ll do a follow up article with all the best ideas.
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Susan Cartier Liebel says
I’m not sure that is what the author of the quote meant. I understand where all the Tweeters are coming from but isn’t that being taken out of context?
In a crisis (public relations, fire, etc), by publishing the information that is needed to be dispensed to those who need the information, isn’t this the author’s contention? He is not talking about ‘marketing’ or the everyday use of blogging which is to engage in conversation and interactivity…he’s talking about ‘crisis'(however which way he defines it).
HOWEVER, When you control the comments in a ‘crisis’ you are shaping the conversation. And I think that is what most people are offended by. But don’t we all shape our conversations by not posting some comments based upon our own criteria, using captcha’s, profanity triggers, and more.
Don’t we shape the commentary and conversation on our blogs everyday? And in effect aren’t we controlling it 100%
So, I hope people who blog are not deluding themselves (even innocently) when they say they don’t have 100% control over their blogs or the information we share with our readers from this ‘interactivity’.
In the purist form of blogging, sure, we don’t moderate. But I think that is more utopia then our personal realities.
I think the original author is mistaken: almost as if it can be an “either / or”, “black or white”, “all or nothing” polarity.
No one controls anything 100% unless you literally control the processes going on in the minds of the participants and to do that you’d have to effectively (and completely) block all contrary data, information, perceptions, observations.
Control “the majority”? Possible. Control “100%”. No. (I’m suspicious of any statement including 100% … 100% of the time :-)
Jonathan Bernstein says
LOL! I appreciate the discussion, but you’ve just demonstrated how the Internet can take a misimpression and exacerbate it. When I said, “if you know how to effectively use blogs and websites, you’ll control 100 percent of the message” I was, in fact, simply saying that ON YOUR OWN BLOGS AND WEBSITES you control the message 100%. Of course you can’t control it anywhere else. There was further context to that quote given at the time of the interview, but as is often the case, there apparently wasn’t “space” to include the full context.
But I do appreciate the interest!
Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.
Martin Kelley says
Of course you can’t control 100% of the message. Even just on blogs, how much of the message you can spin depends on a lot of factors:
1) your reputation. If you’ve been open and transparent in the past and willing to acknowledge and correct yourself, then people will be more apt to believe you now. If you’ve spent the last ten years feeding them spin and hype they won’t.
2) your existing network. I’ve been part of many media campaigns and the successful ones tend to piggyback on top of existing social networks. For example, I run an Quaker blogging community. Most of the time we’re mostly talking to ourselves, but when one of our own was kidnapped in Iraq we were able to launch an overnight media feed that was picked up in a number of networks. We knew what to do and we were able to just do it.
3) Truthiness. By an improbable series of events I’ve become involved in a campaign looking into the suspicious business dealings of the local Catholic bishop. His PR hack is trying to explain but having problems. His job would be a lot easier if there were a good explanation.
4) Drama. The bishop sold his house to a papparatzi-loving Italian playboy with a famous actress girlfriend, using money swindled from a California billionaire met through mutual friend Bill Clinton, and the NYC mob and the Vatican are mixed up in it all. THE TABLOIDS ARE LOVING IT. If the bishop had sold instead to a Kansas accountant with thinning hair, shirts from Sears, and a wife named Mabel there’d be absolutely no news coverage.
Bernstein does seem to have some good things on his site though (looking at the SEO and crisis management now) so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d take back that 100% statement. Still I think a lot of companies only think of crisis management when it’s too late. The most important elements of crisis management happens before the fire. The smart company will encourage openness, honest and communicativeness as part of its corporate culture.
Becky McCray says
Great discussion here, folks. And bonus points to Bernstein for monitoring his Google Alerts and coming by to contribute.
My question is still open for further comments: what can small businesses, especially in small towns, do to prepare for or react to crises?
Unless you are a superb. communicator who is 100 % assured that their message will be ‘understood & perceived the same’ by every visitor to
your site exactly as it was created to convey you can never really control the message exactly as we all have probably experienced more than once when we have stuck foot in mouth.
I think that is the perception and what the point is for at least one if not More of the Twitter’s, I’m positive that was at least one of their takes :-)
Even if a company totally controls the initial verbage, people will start putting their opinions out there on their own sites, twitted, forums, ect
Ron Meledandri says
Good conversation about a controversial topic. I never worry about how much I control of what I say, I only worry about what people hear. A good book you may all enjoy reading is “Words That Work by Frank Luntz.