What #OscarsSoWhite and Chipotle Can Teach Us About Crisis Communication

In today’s age of instant social media amplification, there has been no shortage of examples of crises and crisis communication in popular culture.

To walk us through what organizations should do to prepare for a crisis and how to best react, eCornell’s Chris Wofford was joined by Amy Newman, a senior lecturer of management communication at Cornell University.

While Newman says that “crisis is inevitable,” she believes that when handled properly a crisis can actually give a boost to an organization. What follows is an abridged version of her eCornell WebSeries presentation.

Wofford: There are a lot of things that could constitute a “crisis” within an organization. What are we talking about when we talk about crisis communication?

Newman: Let’s start by looking at an academic definition. Timothy Coombs, one of the leading researchers in crisis communication, defines a crisis as “the perception of an unpredictable event that threatens important expectancies of stakeholders and can seriously impact an organization’s performance and generate negative outcomes.”

It’s important to note that while a crisis is unpredictable, it’s not necessarily something that you can’t anticipate. Some organizations should know what crisis is coming and even if they don’t, they should be prepared for some crisis because it will happen at some point. It’s just a matter of what it is and when it strikes.

A crisis does threaten the expectancies of stakeholders. There might be health or safety issues, environmental consequences or economic consequences, and all of these will have an impact on the organization. So by definition, a crisis affects the organization’s reputation or bottom line or something else.

Wofford: What’s a good example you could share? Are there any recent situations you can point to as a case of crisis communication?

Newman: There’s one that I’m sure you’re aware of and that the viewers are aware of. The Academy of Motion Pictures recently identified their slate of nominees for this year’s Oscar awards and they were all white for the major categories. There was a lot of backlash about this, with Spike Lee and some major actors threatening to boycott. There’s a hashtag trending on Twitter called #OscarsSoWhite. So this is something that has evolved to the level of a crisis.

Wofford: The consequences in this case are pretty obvious, right?

Newman: If there are people who are respected in the industry who don’t attend the awards because of this, the ceremony is going to suffer and advertising revenue might go down. I would also say also the general reputation of the organization is being harmed. The Los Angeles Times has been doing the most reporting about the situation and they took a look at the demographics of the academy itself and guess what the average age of the people voting for the Oscars is?

Wofford: I’d say it’s up there. 50-plus, 60, 70.

Newman: It’s about 62. So, you know, it’s people who have won awards, people who have been in the industry for a long time. They have a lifetime membership. You can see why there might be a lack of diversity.

In this case, I wouldn’t say that the crisis was entirely unanticipated. They should have known better. Last year, there were also all white nominees and criticism of the Academy. At the time, the Academy president,Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who happens to be an African American, was adamant that the Academy didn’t have a problem recognizing diversity. But now it’s escalated to the point that they really do need to do something about it.

We’ll talk later about their response, but first I’d like to talk about three phases of crisis management: preparing for a crisis before it happens, managing through the actual crisis, and then learning from a crisis.

Wofford: It’s the leader’s job to prepare an organization for decisions using these three steps, right?

Newman: It certainly is. The preparation is very important. We usually think about crisis management happening at the most senior level of an organization and certainly if it’s a large organization, there’s a corporate communication department that handles much of this.
But it becomes everyone’s responsibility during a crisis to represent the organization well and to try to turn things around.

So in preparing for a crisis at first, well, of course the best way is to prevent a crisis from happening at all. You can’t do that in every situation but you can in some. I’ll present Volkswagen as the case here. They installed diesel deception software in their cars so, in effect, created their own crisis. It was bound to come out at some point.

Wofford: Do you think Volkswagen was at all prepared for this? They got caught red-handed.

Newman: It really didn’t seem they were ready for it. What I understand about Volkswagen is that they have a very tightly controlled centralized management. That’s good in some situations but in a situation like crisis communication, it made them very slow to respond. I think it’s because they kept information so tightly closed—they really were not prepared for what happened at all.

One thing an organization should do is to document what would happen in case of a crisis. This means identifying contacts and putting together a team of crisis communication people. Usually that will be some HR people, maybe your local department, communications people, of course, some emergency management people, safety—All of those functions should be represented.

Included in that kind of plan is an approach for the media. What should we say if we get a phone call? What will the communication challenges be? Which channels should we use? How do we notify different audiences?

Part of the preparation process is being honest about the vulnerabilities in an organization, and this really depends on the industry. If I own a restaurant, I am likely to have a problem with food poisoning at some point or some other food safety issue that has to be handled. If I work for a hospital, we will probably have a malpractice situation, so we might as well think about how we’ll address that when it happens.

The other way to think about this is situational. If we’re doing layoffs, well, we might have a situation of workplace violence. If we’re in the process of labor negotiations, we might face a strike so we should prepare our messages ahead of time.

When a crisis hits an organization, emotions are running high and you have to act quickly. You don’t want to be trying to craft messages and figuring out the best way to respond. That should be done ahead of time.

Another thing we can do is to try to catch a situation before it becomes a full-blown crisis. An example I can give is McDonald’s.

Wofford: Okay, I see your slide shows a poster saying ‘You’re not alone. Millions of people love the Big Mac”. But yikes, the woman looks very depressed or even suffering from mental illness. I can’t imagine this campaign worked out very well.

Newman: Well, a lot of people suffer from mental illness, depression in particular, and this was not appreciated. So someone took an image of the ad and posted it to social media and there we go: a crisis is born.

But I have to compliment McDonald’s for handling it quickly. They immediately put an apology out. They also blamed their ad agency, which could be a dangerous strategy. But the ad agency in Boston took responsibility and confirmed what McDonald’s had said, which is that they had not approved the ads. So the agency apologized as well.

The ads were taken down and it quickly resolved, which is the best way to handle a crisis.

Wofford: McDonald’s probably offended some people but by responding quickly, there wasn’t a major effect on the company’s bottom line.

Newman: Exactly, McDonald’s handled it correctly.

But sometimes, despite our best efforts, there is still a crisis. I’m going to review three principles and I’ll show some examples of each. The first is to communicate quickly. That is essential, especially within the social media environment. The second is communicating consistently. And the third principle we’ll talk about is communicating openly.

Let’s start with the first. A study found that 53 percent of Twitter users who expect a response from a company on Twitter expect that response within just one hour. The thing is, within an hour all sort of things can happen on Twitter. One tweet could go to millions of people, so if companies aren’t in that conversation they’re really going to miss out.

Let’s give an example. People may know of the movie ‘Blackfish’, which came out in 2013. It’s about SeaWorld and how they treat their animals. It showed how SeaWorld was treating their orcas, putting them in restricted spaces. According to the film, there were some trainer injuries and a couple of trainer deaths because of how the orcas were being treated. It is a pretty damning film.

SeaWorld had no response to the movie at all and the conversation just kept elevating and elevating and social media celebrities were all over it. Some acts canceled planned events at SeaWorld. PETA, of course, had its own campaign. People were making this analogy of living in a bathtub for 40 years, referencing the confinement that the orcas had suffered.

SeaWorld showed exactly what not to do in a crisis situation. They refused to do any interviews. Months later, they finally did start to use social media and their website to share some videos meant to portray that they’re actually an organization that helps animals. But it was too late, and now what we’re seeing is that SeaWorld has really suffered in terms of ticket sales and lost partnerships. This was just a classic example of a tone-deaf organization that wouldn’t admit to wrongdoing.

Wofford: You mentioned you would get into how the Academy responded to the #OscarsSoWhite crisis.

Newman: Well, after that hashtag started trending, Cheryl Boone Isaacs did respond pretty quickly. The Academy tweeted out a statement from her, which you can see on my slide.

In her first statement, she says “I’d like to acknowledge the wonderful work of this year’s nominees.” And I think it’s really important to remember that when a leader is working on a crisis situation, there are many, many audiences involved, and many people to try to appease. One thing she can’t do is take anything away from the current nominees, so she’s doing the right thing here in acknowledging them.

She goes on to use really strong words: “I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation and it’s time for big changes.” This sounds sincere.

Wofford: And she’s owning it by using “I”, right?

Newman: Yes. She’s doing the right thing. She’s the president of the organization but she’s also saying this as an African American. I’m sure she probably has her own feelings about this as well.

She goes on to say: “In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity.” So she’s promising action and, of course, you say that you had better do it, right?

She continues by saying that the Academy has done quite a bit to encourage diversity in recent years but she acknowledges it hasn’t been enough. So I think that’s good too.

But then I think she really falls a bit short in the end when she says “This isn’t unprecedented for the Academy. In the ’60’s and ’70s, it was about recruiting young members.” Now, as my students would remind me, that was a long time ago.

Wofford: Right, and probably a lot of her detractors haven’t been around that long so I’m not I’m not sure that line did her any favors.

Newman: Exactly, it makes you think of old white guys. But she ends on a positive note: “I recognize the very real concerns of our community.” That’s a good line.

So the Academy’s response, issued just four days after the crisis, is not a perfect response, but it is a good example of a quick response.

Now let’s look at another principle for communicating, which is communicating consistently. You’ve got three tools that are going to help you communicate consistently within the organization. One is the crisis communication plan that we looked at before. The second tool I would suggest is social media guidelines. The third tool I want to recommend is to have a communication plan.

Organizations need to identify all of their audiences, internal and external, and think about how those audiences might feel or respond to a crisis situation. That helps us really empathize and then identify what we are trying to accomplish with our communication. What do we want them to feel after they read our message or watch our video? What do we want them to think differently about the company?

It’s always good to use a variety of communication channels because we know that people have different learning styles and different ways of receiving information. So you have to use multiple forms: social media, emails, press releases, statements on websites and, of course, video can be very powerful in a crisis situation.

Too often companies forget about internal employees so I would recommend prioritizing those before anything goes to the press to make sure that internal employees are aware of what’s happening and any response that the company is planning to make.

Wofford: Your third principle is communicating openly, right? What does that mean?

Newman: Being available to the media, being honest about the communication and, ideally, being transparent. Now, there can be a lot of questions about how transparent an organization really should be. There’s always this healthy tension. Lawyers tend to be more conservative and don’t want the companies to disclose much. They might prefer an organization to say “No comment.” But corporate communicators know that kind of stance is not going to help the company in the long run. People really want to know what’s going on.

My view is that information will come out anyway, so you might as well control the message as the organization.

Another area of great debate within some companies is whether organizations should apologize. Lawyers sometimes argue that apologizing demonstrates guilt. But we don’t have to apologize in a way that says we’re responsible. We can apologize in a way that shows sympathy and regret. There’s a ton of research that says showing sympathy will actually mitigate the reputational damage for an organization in the long run and could actually reduce financial loss.

Wofford: Once you’ve made it through a crisis, what should you have learned?

Newman: What most people want to do is just get back to work because it’s incredibly emotionally draining and time consuming, but one of the most important things a crisis leader can do is to reflect on what happened. How did we do in terms of the media coverage and community relations? How did the crisis management team itself do?

Taking stock in that way is really important to build leaderships skills and to prepare for another crisis if it does happen again.

I want to end on a positive note here and that’s to say that there’s definitely a life after crisis. I’ll give an example with the Tylenol case. In 1982, cyanide-laced Extra Strength Tylenol appeared on the shelves. At first, the company said it didn’t come from their plant; they denied responsibility and the predictions were that the company was pretty much done.

But then they acted very proactively, pulled all of the product from the shelves, and they actually came up with those tamper-proof bottles that we know today. They took real positive action and became an industry leader.

For a more current example, we can look at Chipotle’s response to its E. coli breakout. They are being very transparent about changes. Just this past week, the company had a meeting at all its locations. They closed down for four hours and they live-Tweeted the meeting. Chipotle founder Steve Ells says that he wants to become a leader in the industry in terms of food safety. We’ll see whether he achieves that goal, but most analysts say they have no doubt that the company will recover.

People have short memories and as soon as another crisis comes along, we will forget about this one.

Wofford: Amy has a Twitter account, @bizcominthenews, that is very current and keeps up with all of these sorts of issues—we invite you to check it out.
Amy, thank you so much for joining us today.

Newman: Thanks for having me. It’s been fun.

 

Want to hear more? This interview is based on Amy Newman’s live eCornell WebSeries event, Crisis Communication: Expect the Best, Prepare for the Worst. Subscribe now to gain access to a recording of this event and other Women in Leadership topics. 

Moving Beyond the Gig Economy: The Case for the Independent Worker

Workers in our growing gig economy are stuck in a regulatory grey area where they fit neither the standard legal definition of employee nor that of independent contractor. They don’t work for any specific employer; instead, they perform on-demand tasks for consumers of short duration (i.e., “a gig”), either hired directly or through a third party intermediary. In effect, gig workers work for themselves. The most well-known intermediaries today are online: ride-sharing apps Uber and Lyft, the taxi app Curb, or food delivery service GrubHub. Sign up to be an Uber driver and you can make money on-demand and on your schedule—without the ties that normally bind employees. In between rides, Uber drivers aren’t on call and don’t have to give up other jobs in order to work gigs.

The Trade-Off

Intermediaries’ (Uber, Lyft, GrubHub et al) success rests on workers accepting more gigs more often, since most collect a percentage on each fare or fee. Yet gig workers face a trade-off as they engage more heavily with intermediaries. Since they don’t fit the category of employee, they aren’t protected by anti-discrimination laws and don’t qualify for benefits accorded to that status. They also can’t enter into customer agreements or negotiate their own rates. The result is a quiet violation of the social contract that’s been in place in the U.S. since the early 20th century. Namely, workers are willing to give up their time and some of their freedom in exchange for fair wages, treatment, and equal opportunities.

Enter the Independent Worker

This lack of clarity for workers also hurts the growth of intermediaries like Uber, who is facing federal class action lawsuits from drivers who allege the company is acting like an employer when it penalizes them for turning off the app or not picking up enough rides in a specified time period. Unfortunately, companies have only two options for classifying gig workers and neither fits. The most common sense solution? Differentiate a new, third category of employment: the independent worker. The idea, according to a 2015 discussion paper by The Hamilton Project, is to create an independent worker status that’s neutral compared to employee status—offering gig workers many of the same protections and benefits, while allowing intermediaries to pool workers to lower the costs of purchasing or providing insurance or other benefits without risking the relationship turning into that of employer/employee.

Fast forward into the future of the independent worker by joining eCornell for a live online roundtable discussion on September 18, 2017 with Seth Harris, former Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor and co-author of The Hamilton Project paper “A Proposal for Modernizing Labor Laws for Twenty-First-Century Work: The “Independent Worker,” alongside his Cornell University colleagues and experts in employment law. This webcast is included in a subscription to eCornell’s Human Resources WebSeries Channel, bringing Cornell’s expertise live and on-demand to HR professionals.

Finally! How To Close the Sales-Marketing Gap With Social Media

User-generated and brand-generated content on social media are great for bringing value to the customer relationship, but ultimately you’ll want to encourage a transaction. If your audience is engaged but you’ve failed to produce a desired result or a transaction, then it’s time to revisit your social media marketing strategy.

According to Forrester Research, US marketers are projected to spend $16.2 billion in social media advertising by 2019, which can inadvertently drive customers away from the point of transaction if done incorrectly.

You don’t own your customer on social media. You are only renting your space on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and Pinterest. It’s time to reclaim ownership of your content and see true ROI from your marketing efforts.

In this informative session, Hashtagio’s Alicia Whalen explores how the marketing mix has shifted in the age of social media, and we’ll look at how a poorly executed social media plan can inadvertently direct a customer away from the path to purchase. You’ll learn how to close the gap between social media and sales and enjoy true ROI from social media marketing.

UPDATE: It was a great session > Watch it here.

 

 

Pinterest Best Practices for Hotels

Recently, Pinterest launched an analytics dashboard for businesses, which gives brands the ability to more closely monitor their presence on the platform. If you haven’t started using Pinterest, it is a pinboard-style photo-sharing website that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, hobbies and interests. Users can browse other pinboards for images, ‘repin’ images to their own pinboards, or ‘like’ photos. Hotels and restaurants can have their own boards where they can ‘pin’ images, track which users have repinned their images, and identify followers.

Best Practice Tips for Hotels

If you are just starting out with Pinterest, we recommend the following best practices tips for hotels and restaurants:

1. Start off strong with a visually striking profile. 

Choose your brand logo as your profile photo on the website (160×165 pixels in size) to maintain brand consistency across all social media platforms. If you haven’t done so already, take a few minutes and make sure that you are using the same high-quality image on all of the different social media sites your hotel is on. This will increase your brand recognition and will clue your followers in that the profile is the official one.

2. Organize boards that make sense for you.

The biggest power of Pinterest is that it gives your brand the ability to tell a highly visual story that drives real website traffic. Pinterest users have the ability to choose which pinboard that they want to follow, so not every one of your boards has to appeal to the broadest of audiences. That said, each of your boards should consist of at least 10 photos so that it’s substantial enough for a user to follow. Also, when naming your board, make sure that your title reflects the content accurately and is 20 characters or less.

3. Get creative with your pinning.

Similar to photos you share on Facebook or Instagram, the photos you share on Pinterest should reflect the fun and personal side of your brand and ought to tell a story that you couldn’t otherwise tell on your traditional website or OTA presence. Accordingly, some best practice pinboards that we’ve come across in the hospitality industry focus on seasonal events, specific hotel offerings and amenities, vacation themes and quirky destination tips from the hotel or restaurant. Here are a few examples:

Waikiki Scenes Inspiring Hotel Interiors Aqua's Hawaii Hotels Quintessential Austin

4. Spread the wealth and stay active.

In addition to pinning your own images, your hotel or restaurant should also repin photos from others to add to your boards. This will allow you to tell a richer brand or destination story. Also, you will want to keep your pin descriptions as concise as your board descriptions. Pinterest suggests that, for the travel industry, you simply identify the location in the image and the kinds of things you can do there. Keep it to no more than a few sentences in length.

5. Activity is rewarded.

Pinterest is similar to many other social platforms in that its home feed feature is how users discover and share new content. Accordingly, if you hotel is serious about managing a Pinterest account, you should commit to pinning new imagery at least a few times a week if not once a day. By doing so, you will give your brand a better chance to be discovered and engaged with. Once you have an active presence established, make it easy for people to pin your content by adding Pinterest’s follow and pin it buttons to your website and add a Pinterest link in your emails.

Measure Your Pinterest Activity

Pinterest’s new dashboard now gives business owners the ability to see all of their Pinterest traffic activity in an intuitive, cleanly laid out display. Your Pinterest data will show your pins/week, repins/week and followers. In close, it’s never been more apparent that Pinterest has become a major social media platform that can effectively augment your overall social media strategy.

Maximize Your Web Presence with LinkedIn

A thoughtfully managed, carefully crafted Web presence is no longer optional for professional people. It is not merely helpful to have a positive Web reputation; today, most professions and industries expect you to have one. Remember that your Web reputation reflects not only on you, but on the organization you work for.

LinkedIn is the largest online professional network worldwide. Hundreds of millions of professionals around the world maintain a profile on the service. Here’s a few tips on how to make your LinkedIn profile work for you, especially if you’re looking for career advancement or change:

  • Change the vanity URL on your LinkedIn profile to include your name. For example, my vanity URL is: www.linkedin.com/in/heathertjackson/
  • Use keywords from your target job descriptions and your résumé that are applicable to your skill set. This increases the chance that hiring managers who search for talent on LinkedIn will find you within their target searches.
  • Use the power of your contacts to help build a target list of companies where you want to work, and to locate appropriate contacts at those firms.
  • Join groups on LinkedIn to help expand the reach of your connections. LinkedIn advises that you must have a minimum of 50 connections for this search function to produce favorable results, but a minimum of 100 connections is most beneficial.

The certificate you earned from eCornell looks great listed under the education section of your LinkedIn profile. Here are the instructions from LinkedIn on how to add a certificate to your profile:

  1. Move your cursor over Profile at the top of your homepage and select Edit Profile.
  2. If you’ve never added a certification before, click Certifications on the right side of the page. If you’ve previously added a certificate, scroll down to the Certifications section and click +Add.
  3. Type in your certification information.
    • A menu displaying companies will appear as you type in the Certification Authority field. Be sure to select the correct authority from the menu so their logo appears next to the certification on your profile.
  4. Click Save.

As an eCornell alum, you are welcome to join one of eCornell’s LinkedIn groups – they are a great way to network with your peers and gather valuable information helpful to your career.

Interested in learning more about how eCornell’s certificate programs can help you advance your career? Chat with us now!

Avoid Disaster With These 6 HR Must-Do’s for Social Media

In today’s hyper-competitive environment, organizations are striving to put in place social media strategies to help them attract and retain employees of all ages. No longer confined to twenty-somethings, an effective social media program is a “must have” for any organization who wishes to stay connected with its global employee base.

However, in their rush to adopt the latest and coolest program, organizations often fail to fully think through the best way to deal with social media’s double-edged sword of access and liability.

Steve Miranda is Managing Director of Cornell University’s Center for Advanced HR Studies. Prof. Miranda as he walks you through six “must do” social media initiatives aimed at mitigating your organization’s strategic, reputational and financial risk.

During this webinar, you’ll learn to:

  • Destroy your policies…before you reissue them
  • Get the troublemakers involved
  • Think inside the box
  • Not everyone gets to play short-stop
  • Be culturally inclusive versus exclusive
  • Avoid “channel fatigue”

UPDATE: Here’s the archived version of the May 14 webinar. You can check out the video and download Prof. Miranda’s slide deck here on Slideshare.

Maximize Social Media ROI with Strategic Planning

If you feel challenged to measure ROI of social media, you are not alone. But you can measure ROI in social media. Gone are the days of faith-based investment. In the year 2014, social media have been around long enough for us to know how they create value, and to estimate how much value they could likely create for a brand. The value levers are known, and the likely costs are known.

If you are interested in learning how to improve your ability to estimate ROI from social media, or how to build a business case for social business transformation, please join me in a webinar with eCornell on January 7 1PM EST, where you will discover how to:

  • Better understand and present the business case for creating a social media plan that delivers targeted, organization-wide results
  • Use a proven framework for implementing your social media plan and put the right infrastructure in place.
  • Increase social media ROI for brands of any size.

For those unable to attend, here’s the archived video of the webinar.

3 Ways To Win For the Social CEO

Social media for CEOs is all the buzz for employee engagement and was a hot topic at Salesforce’s Dreamforce 2013 conference in San Francisco. Jive’s VP of Global Alliances, Rob Brewster sat down with eCornell to discuss KPIs and how a CEO can use social media to foster employee engagement and productivity as well as nurture organizational culture. Specifically, Rob speaks about the right way to do executive messaging, how to vastly improve the process of on boarding new reps, and how to do global collaboration the right way. Click here to view the 3 Ways to Win For the Social CEO video.

Use the (Visual Content) Force Wisely

Humans are social and visual creatures. We’re also hunter-gatherers. So it’s not surprising that we created the Internet in our image: bending and evolving it to meet our information hunting and gathering needs. Evolutionarily, it makes sense that images popping into our Facebook News or Twitter feeds get hunter-gatherers like us clicking, watching, and sharing. Facebook and LinkedIn are betting on it, while the popularity of Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr seem to prove it. But creating visual content for its own sake is pointless; like all marketing communications, visuals need to support your strategy and be created in the context of meeting customer needs.

I want to see what you think…

Consumers are increasingly using social networks to “see” what other people like them are doing, what decisions they’re making, and what the results are. Instead of knocking on doors or having impromptu coffee shop chats, consumers are posting their problems or needs on Facebook and asking for recommendations.

How did that vegan BBQ recipe turn out? Your friend Sharon just posted a picture to her feed and even her non-vegan friends are gushing. How valuable was the online certificate program John took earlier this year? Check out John’s updated LinkedIn profile with a new, official headshot for his new official promotion.

“Seeing is believing.”

One big reason visual cues are so persuasive (and attractive) is that they fire up a large chunk of our brains at once. Apparently, the neurons in our brain that handle visual processing take up a whopping 30 percent of the cortex: Compare this to 8 percent for touch and 3 percent for hearing.

As marketers, we’ve all been told “Show, don’t tell,” or “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Why? Because humans are drawn to visual imagery, we process it easily, and because of this, visuals do a great job helping consumers cut through information clutter, especially in today’s uber-cluttered online world.

Online, consumers still desire some kind of “visual proof” of what people and organizations are posting, reviewing, using, or listing on their resumes. We may be glued to our iPad miles away, but seeing is still believing.

Use the (visual) force wisely

Social networks are primarily ways to connect with like-minded people, and to some degree, reinforce our preferences. We assume people we know are similar to us in some way. This means we have a higher level of confidence that the information coming from our social networks is relevant to us and our decisions.

Keeping this in mind, your content strategy should use visuals wisely. Yes—photos, videos, and infographics grab eyeballs online and engage your customers. More importantly, brain research also shows that images can improve the quality and speed of learning, information retention and better convey meaning—as long as those images are relevant to your topic or audience, and help clarify or add context.

Hit the mark and your visual content can stand in for a friend’s opinion on Facebook, or an online review. Your videos and photos can speak directly to the right customers, offering the “visual proof” that’s most beneficial for the way each customer segment makes buying decisions.

When it comes to social media, personal responses make a difference

Recent social media debacles from Domino’s Pizza and Bank of America made me think about the best approach for engaging with your social media audience. We frequently discuss the importance of paying careful attention to customer feedback and responding in real-time, as remaining silent makes your business seem divested from the social space, but the responses from Domino’s and Bank of America drive home the importance of well-considered and personalized responses.

In both cases, these enterprise-level companies relied on an automated system to respond to fan comments due to the sheer volume of comments each brand receives. While this solution does cut down on staffing and maintains social activity levels, both companies were subject to the pitfalls of using a robot for social media interaction. In each case, the auto-response completely misunderstood the fans’ sentiment. As a result, both brands were damaged and, ironically, looked less engaged to their fan bases than if they had just selectively chosen to respond to fans’ posts and tweets.

Many big box hotels and resorts are faced with the same conundrum: which comments should be responded to, which should be left alone, and how to go about it? Moreover, the challenge of staffing for social media response, without any guarantee of hard ROI, is an unwelcome prospect for many hoteliers. However, the mistakes from these big brands show that the cost of hiring a few community managers to manage day-to-day engagement outweighs the damage you will do to your brand when robots fail to respond intelligently.

The same approach should apply for online reviews. TripAdvisor’s recent Trip Barometer report indicated that 68% of travelers who see a management response below a hotel review are more likely to book with that hotel versus a hotel without a response. A 2012 Forrester-TripAdvisor study similarly reported that 78% of users agree that seeing a hotel management response to reviews “makes me believe that it cares more about its guests.” While it’s clear that hotels should be actively responding to reviews, the same damage can be done when a hotel favors an automated system or copy-and-paste template over a human-generated reply. When a response is not personalized – whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or a travel review site – it negates any perception that the hotel cares about its consumers.

While many enterprise-level brands favor an automated response system over human staffing, it comes with risk to your online reputation. After all, the main purpose of social media is to humanize your brand and show personal attention. If your property is going to invest in social media, it’s better to train savvy social media managers who show good judgment, carefully respond to comments that are highly negative or positive, and preserve your reputation as an engaged, caring brand.