crisis communication

“Sneaky” Crisis for Sandwich Chain

Would you like to snack on a sneaker? Or a yummy yoga mat? Sandwich chain Subway recently responded to customers who spoke out against the the company’s use of a food additive, which is also used to make sneakers springy.

Customers took to social media to protest the delicious sounding azodicarbonamide after being prompted by popular blogger Vani Hari of Foodbabe.com. Hari tried traditional customer service channels first, but ultimately used her blog to encourage readers to use social media to speak against the sandwich chain’s use of the additive. Hari’s petition quickly garnered thousands of signatures.

Hari was very skilled in how she crafted her message. By relating the additive to sneakers and yoga mats, she developed a concise, sticky message that was able to spread virally.

Deep Pitfalls of Using Examples

Specific examples are an important part of storytelling and making a point. But they also can be a trap in waiting.

AOL President Tim Armstrong discovered that painful reality after mentioning the high costs associated with two "distressed babies" as an explanation for why he ordered changes in the company's 401(k) plan. 

The references backfired when Deanna Fei, mother of one of the babies Armstrong referred to, posted a detailed, moving piece on Slate titled, "My Baby and AOL's Bottom Line." Armstrong's reference to "distressed babies" had already travelled the social media trap-lines, with Armstrong the bulls-eye of pointed comments such as, "How many distressed babies does AOL pay this guy?"

The strong response prompted Armstrong to backtrack on his 401(k) plan change, eventually apologize to AOL employees and make personal calls to the two families whose children he cited as $1 million babies.

Fei, an author whose husband works at AOL, told reporters she accepted Armstrong's apology. But, as she said in her Slate article, "the damage to my family had already been done." Not to mention the damage to Armstrong's reputation.

In her article, Fei described the ordeal of her prematurely born daughter and her struggle to survive. "I don't take issue with Armstrong's number. I take issue with how he reduced my daughter to a 'distressed baby' who cost the company too much money. How he blamed the saving of her life for his decision to scale back employee benefits."

'Transparency Is a Mindset'

"Leveling with your customers or stakeholders isn't exceptional or special. It's just good business.""Transparency is a mindset, not a strategy," writes blogger Stan Smith. We agree.

In his "pushing social" blog, Smith says, "Your readers deserve to hear it straight. They didn't sign up for spin or false bravado."

Smith is offering advice to bloggers, but the same advice applies to all content marketing or crisis communication. Honesty isn't a strategy; it is a mindset. You either level with customers and stakeholders or try to negotiate the truth.

Southwest Airlines is facing that challenge today of explaining why the pilot of its Flight 4013 landed Sunday night in the Taney County Airport instead of its intended destination, the airport in Branson, Missouri. 

Looking Like You Mean What You Say

How you appear may say more than all your words, so make sure you look like what you mean to say.If you have trouble being understood when you speak, it may not be what you say, but what you do.

Studies have shown audiences remember a lot more — a whole lot more — about how you look than what you say. For example, if you have wild hand gestures as you talk or speak with your arms folded, you will leave a lasting impression that may undermine or overshadow the meaning of your words.

Most people aren't born actors. But you have to perform to succeed in a speech, press conference or video. This takes coaching and practice. And discipline.

Neuroscience findings indicate people gesture without conscious thought, so it takes a studied effort to restrain distracting expressions or body movements.

People also give off nonverbal signals of their confidence levels, which can influence how your audience apprehends your words. If you look nervous or seem defensive, it may raise suspicion. If you unconsciously smirk while announcing layoffs, you may earn scorn for your lack of empathy.