12 Point Real-time PR Communications Checklist

There’s a firestorm brewing on the social media horizon and it’s heading for your company. Is your firm ready? Etsy, the online storefront for handmade crafts, wasn’t!

In fact, Etsy’s still on the firing line for a series of denigrating greetings cards that mocked diseases among other things. Instead of facing the crisis head on and dealing with it, Etsy has followed the What-Not-to-Do-During-a-PR-Crisis handbook and continues to take a stick-your-head-in-the-sand ostrich approach.

Etsy, which provides useful services for craftspeople, needs to show they care for their customers, prospects, shoppers and the public.  For a small company that’s grown through word-of-mouth, they forgot that people who support your growth can turn against you if they perceive you’re doing the wrong thing.

12 Point real-time PR and communications checklist

Here’s a checklist to ensure your firm’s ready for real-time communications.

  1. What principles does your company stand for? This goes deeper than a PowerPoint presentation. It’s at the heart of your organization and reaches across departments. Why do you sell your products? How do they help people? How do you treat your employees, customers and the public? Beyond pushing your products, what are you doing to make the world a better place?
  2. What’s your firm’s positioning? What image do you want your firm to project? Consider this from a variety of viewpoints since your positioning extends beyond marketing and communications. It’s how you represent your firm to the public.
  3. What’s your firm’s human resources policy? Do you have guidelines for how your employees treat each other regardless of title or rank? Does this also apply to your customers, prospects and the public? Does this include civility and the absence of discrimination across a wide range of factors? Even more important, does your company practice what it preaches?
  4. Is your legal department on board with regard to relevant regulatory and other governmental organizations? Depending on your business, the specific role of legal will vary but it’s a good idea to get them involved with a cross-section of functional areas early. For examples, JetBlue had to work with the FAA and the flight attendant’s union when Steve Slater decided to grab a beer and slide his way to fame; Cook’s Source had to consider the intellectual property rights of the blogger whose article they reprinted without permission.
  5. What are your company’s social media guidelines? A corporate social media policy applies to what employees say as firm representatives and what they say in their private life that may reflect on their firm. It also covers what customers and the public may say on your website and related entities. Etsy has edited their Facebook page and deleted messages about the incident.
  6. Is your PR team ready to engage? Do you have staff focused on PR, media relations and social media to ensure that you’re on top of evolving stories and issues in real-time? Do they have access to the appropriate staff and information to respond quickly? Etsy’s being deaf to the press and bloggers didn’t make the problem disappear, instead the lack of response becomes the news. Do you have an online press center? Can the media and bloggers get through to your team via email address, mobile phone number and/or social media contacts? Further, do your people respond quickly?
  7. Is your customer service department proactive and empowered to handle customer interactions and feedback before they grow into issues? Is your customer service team trained to diffuse potential problems? Can they escalate difficult problems for special handling? Are they available across various platforms including social media? Can they detect potential issues that need broader corporate response?
  8. Is your senior management plugged-in or tone deaf? Senior management plays a critical role in real-time communications. They need to be able to respond quickly and on message. Are they empathetic to what’s happening and the people to whom it’s happening? This includes external and internal audiences. You don’t want to sound like BP CEO Tony Hayward who was more focused on his personal life than the BP employees who died or the Gulf residents affected by the oil spill. Further this means having someone senior ready to respond 24/7 in today’s never-ending news cycle.
  9. Do you listen to and learn from your community? In today’s social media connected world, most companies have at least one social media presence where they connect with customers, fans and the public. Use this platform to find out what’s on participants’ minds. Are they looking to you to take specific actions? Remember that you can’t choose just to have positive comments appear. Etsy removed comments related to this greeting card incident further fueling speculation.
  10. Are you paying attention to your competitors? While you’re monitoring the social media environment for mentions and conversations about your firm, brand and products, track your competitors as well because a discussion about them could easily spread to include your organization.
  11. Are you socially responsible? If your firm is using social media platforms, it’s especially critical to think through how individuals and other organizations may interpret what’s appearing on your sites and in your name on various networks. At a minimum, treat everyone with respect and don’t taunt anyone. You don’t want to be an online bully. It detracts from your company and your brand.
  12. Do you have a crisis management policy? Develop a crisis management policy and keep it up-to-date to ensure that your firm is able to meet unexpected challenges. Ensure that your staff knows who to contact in case of emergency and has other important contact information readily available.

Etsy’s lesson for marketers, PR professionals and communications executives is that you must be ready to respond in real-time to issues that arise in the media and on social media platforms. It’s about being prepared across your organization to determine which conversations and comments require immediate responses and what those responses should be. Hopefully, Etsy will figure this out soon.

How do you think Etsy should’ve responded? Is your firm ready to react in real-time to PR, social media and communications issues? Please include your recommendations in the comments section below.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

UPDATE: Inadvertently referred to Shel Horowitz instead of Shel Holtz in the Hat Tip below. The link was to the correct article. Thank you to Shel Horowitz for the correction.

Tip of my hat to Shel Holtz for first bringing this issue to light from a PR perspective and to Justin Goldsborough for continuing the conversation on the #PR20Chat.

Another tip of my hat to David Meerman Scott for first teaching me about the need for real time marketing. His book Real-Time Marketing and PR is a must read for every marketer, PR professional and communications executive!

Related readings:

Photo credit: PinkSherbetPhotography via Flickr

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