July 7, 2009
Copyright © 2009 PRSA. All rights reserved
By Douglas Simon
The following article appears in the July 2009 issue of PR Tactics.
In February 2007, an organization simply posting video online often generated positive publicity through traditional channels and created goodwill. During this time, JetBlue proved that it could help resolve a crisis with online video.
The airline was in the midst of a public breakdown in operations. A winter storm crippled commercial air travel in the Northeast, with JetBlue’s service at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York taking the brunt of the operational meltdown. Hundreds of passengers were stranded on the runways for hours, while even more waited inside the terminal for flights.
JetBlue’s founder and then-CEO David Neeleman (who relinquished his CEO title in May 2007) served as the airline’s spokesperson throughout the crisis. Neeleman appeared in a video titled “Our promise to you,” which was posted on YouTube on Feb. 19. The video included an apology and assurances of policy changes — most notably a new customer bill of rights detailing a compensation package for passengers. “We messed up. But JetBlue will be a better, stronger company going forward,” he told viewers.
At the time, this rapid response to the crisis helped the airline repair its reputation with consumers.
The communications landscape has since changed. For instance, Twitter — a valuable crisis management tool — had yet to make an impression in the mainstream population.
New demands for crisis communications
The unprecedented shift in media consumption habits and the growth of social media, combined with the economic crisis, have put pressure on communicators to reach their audiences in new yet cost-effective ways. The media has become much more complicated to navigate in the last two years with multiple influencers, niche communicators and less-centralized journalistic authority to provide a definitively accurate account of news events.
Video dominates as online communications tool
According to market research company comScore, online video viewership increased 40 percent in 2008. And this year, consumers viewed an incredible 16.8 billion videos online in the United States during April alone.
Today, video communications are so common that they can’t be introduced in the event of a crisis and expected to have the same impact. Organizations need to already have an established video channel that informs — or entertains — your key publics so that you have built an audience and goodwill before a crisis hits. Having an online Web presence will increase the speed of distribution and reach of your crisis response.
The basics of an online video response
There are three components to an online video response plan: content creation, promotion plan and measurement.
1. Content creation
The video needs to be recorded professionally with quality sound and lighting so that you don’t undermine the message by producing something that looks unpolished and homemade.
Having a spokesperson who is comfortable enough to look directly into the camera also adds to the authenticity of his or her words. It might cost more, but if you use a teleprompter, then pick one that allows your spokesperson to look directly at the camera.
Another important part of the content creation is where to place the video on your Web site. If the crisis is large enough, then it will need to be on the front page. You’ll also want to place it on a crisis-specific page with a unique URL so that you can drive media, employees and other key publics directly to this content. Also, you need to provide additional information such as a short description which includes your keywords — and add metadata to the video player that will help with search engine optimization. This site can also serve as a communications channel when the situation is no longer front page news.
2. Promotion plan
Here are important promotional elements to consider when distributing crisis response videos:
• Pitch Web influencers to earn placement on media Web sites and blogs
• Use viral placement to gain coverage on social media news sites such as Digg and StumbleUpon
• Syndicate the video content to YouTube, Yahoo, MSN and other leading sites
•Distribute content through a multimedia release
In addition, business-to-friend (B2F) marketing — where you distribute the content to those people within your networks, including employees, family and friends — is crucial.
Whether conducting an Internet media tour for a client or as part of a crisis response, organizations often overlook their most loyal supporters — customers, employees, vendors and partners — who can share the social media-ready content and quickly spread their response, giving it further credibility because it comes from a trusted source.
Make sure that viewers can easily post content to sites such as Twitter and Facebook by using a video player that is social media ready with shortcuts or buttons to post content to the social networks.
You can measure the number of hits that you receive for the video or conduct a Google search to see how many Web sites linked to your piece.
However, such measurements only tell a small part of the story. If a crisis is significant enough to jeopardize an organization’s standing and market share, then you need a much more in-depth analysis that measures consumer attitude toward your brand. You need to determine difference in attitude (you may already be measuring public attitudes) among those who saw the video’s content on both traditional and social media outlets compared to those who didn’t see your organization’s message.
An integral component
Don’t consider video as an instant panacea to solve any crisis. Some circumstances require admitting mistakes or significant policy change — and no video can help you before you take these two steps.
Regardless, in this age of instant crisis, you need to have a credible video response and an established promotion channel as part of your response plan.