Interesting

There was a time, not so long ago, when almost everyone shook their heads and looked away when we brought up online or social media. Now, it is everywhere and people are engaged in discovering what it can do for their organization.

Locally, here in British Columbia, the Saanich Police Department has done something innovative and a little different. They have set up an ongoing series of podcasts (online audio) and vodcasts (online video) — and are the first police department in Canada to do this.

The City of Calgary is also using social media, and has been for over a year.

I was at a social media conference earlier this year in Las Vegas (it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to go to these things!) and I sat beside a communicator who worked with the U.S. Army, specializing in social media. His role is to work with the troops to make sure that information being uploaded by the men and women in uniform on Facebook, MySpace and YouTube doesn’t inadvertently share key points that might put campaigns or people in jeopardy. He worked on policy and procedure, but also was insightful enough to understand the human element of connection for the troops. He was at the conference looking for ways to better understand how social media could be used and, in his case, effectively managed.

Interestingly enough, one of the speakers at the conference was the head of communications for the U.S. government. The Pentagon is using social media, the White House is in the pool and even Homeland Security sees the value in it. There is an interesting blog post on what some of the government is using by Daya Baran that is worth a read.

These are all organizations that you wouldn’t expect to be using social media and giving up control of the message. However, they see the value in it. None of them took a leap off a cliff, they did their research, developed a strategy and they built out – and are still building out the social media component of their communications plan to support their overall strategy. They were smart about it. Taking that first step online doesn’t have to be a flying leap into the middle of the ocean, get your feet wet first. Develop a plan and then take small steps as you get used to the water.

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The airlines are in trouble – we all know that. Well, maybe not Southwest – who have a great blog and seem to keep their passengers if not insanely happy, at least not screaming in the aisles like most other airlines. Now, United Airlines pilots are using social media tools to air their issues and demand the removal of UAL Chairman, President and CEO Glen Tilton.

They got the right url glentilton.com  and on this site, there is media coverage, reports and the opinions of the pilots themselves. They want Glen Tilton out and they are telling the public why.

From what I can see, no one from United Airlines is responding to this website or acknowledging the issues that the pilots are putting forward, at least not publicly. This is one of the challenges of social media, when something like this happens – what do you do?

I have to be clear that I do not know the entire story from both sides. I only know what I have read and seen in the media and what this website tells me. Which, I think is a perspective that United Airlines might be missing. They may have done a great deal to work things out with the pilots, but I don’t know that, as they aren’t telling us anything.

They may be in talks with the pilots right now. For all I know, the board of directors may be asking for Glen Tilton’s resignation as I write this. That’s the problem — no one from inside the organization is letting us know what is going on.

What if they did? What if they publicly announced that they were going to hold town hall meetings and that they were going to tape them and put them up on their intranet for employees who could not be there in person? What if they reached out to some of the pilots and and set up live panel discussions that were webcast so anyone in the company could watch the senior executive and the pilots have open, respectful and authentic discussions on what can be done to bring the two sides together? None of this would be available to anyone but employees, but what if they told the public that they were doing this … I know I would have a better perception of the people running the company.

From my perspective, United Airlines needs to wake up and smell the coffee (which is one of the few items you are not yet charged for on an airplane). The pilots have gone social media on them, they have opened their problems to the whole world. Shutting their C-Suite doors and pretending it isn’t happening, won’t do them any good.

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The New Rules of Marketing & PR is a book worth reading. It’s by David Meerman Scott…you can check out his blog here.

I was reminded of David’s work in a blog post by my friends at Beaupre. As communicators, we have this great opportunity to speak with people … news releases aren’t read just by the media anymore. On a global level, people are using search engines like Google to find the information they want and need. And – when they are searching online, it’s our job to give them what they need. Visuals – images, video, links to other information and — no more industry jargon. It’s a great time to be in this job — we get to have open, real, authentic conversations with real people. It’s exciting. And I can see how it can be scary, too. Change usually is. Do yourself a favour, buy the New Rules of Marketing & PR and read it … it will open your mind to a whole new way of doing business.

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There was an interesting article in the New York Times recently about doctor’s acknowledging and apologizing for their medical mistakes. It is interesting to note that at the University of Michigan Health System, one of the first to experiment with a full disclosure approach (which includes apologizing face-to-face to patients), lawsuits dropped from 262 in August 2001 to 83 in August 2007. 

As communicators, approaching an issue has always been about acknowledging the impact an action, situation, incident or tragedy has had on people – one person at a time. Sometimes what a communicator would like to do conflicts with what legal would like to have happen. That’s understandable, but now with immediate attention focused on what a company does or should have done in an issue or crisis, decisions have to be made quickly and they need to be authentic and transparent. It seems that in the medical field, the full disclosure approach is telling us that people want mistakes to be acknowledged and to be dealt with person to person. I know it’s what I would want.

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