Using Social Amidst a Crisis: Q&A With Scott Peacock & K.C. Brown
Social media can quickly turn local events into breaking national news which means every season is crisis season.
For Visit North Carolina’s Scott Peacock, summer 2015 was a particularly challenging, shark-filled season.
How did Scott’s team keep the state’s tourism afloat? They turned to their crisis communication plan and Cision Global Insights At the recent “Prepare for Crises Lurking Beneath Your Brand,” Scott Peacock and Cision’s K.C. Brown discussed how to track an audience in real time, turn to qualitative and quantitative data before making decisions and downplay the entertainment factor.
During the webinar, Scott and K.C. answered several attendees’ questions, but many were left unanswered due to lack of time. Here, Scott and K.C. address the remaining questions and provide more insight on how to mitigate a crisis:
Q: When these negative stories/news reports surfaced, did you call the journalists (in hope to educate them/answer their questions) after the fact, or did you avoid discussing their stories with them?
Scott: We avoided reaching out to every journalist that reported on the shark attacks. It was just too many for us to talk to them all so we were selective in who we reached out to. Just three major influential news outlets with different audiences: The Weather Channel, The Washington Post and National Geographic.
Q: What resources were used to research evidence of people cancelling trips?
K.C.: On the media side, we looked across the social landscape for tweets, forum posts, status updates, etc. for any mention of actual or contemplated changes in people’s travel plans. They just weren’t there.
Scott: We have software to look at both search and booking trends for hotels and beach rentals. We also talked on a weekly basis to our coastal communities and had them give us updates on what their rental properties/hoteliers were reporting to back that evidence. So in essence, we used software and also went directly to the source itself.
Q: You didn’t find anything via social – but what if you did? How would you have handled it?
Scott: We would have been more aggressive in sharing content on beach safety tips and and all the other great things you can experience, eat and see on our coast while not in the water to encourage visitors to still come and have a great vacation, even if they didn’t want to go into the ocean.
Q: How did Visit North Carolina communicate with area businesses to assure them the agency was working on their behalf? What was their expectation?
Scott: We communicated to local tourism officials in each community and they then communicated directly with businesses in their areas. We never directly communicated to individual businesses unless they reached out to us, which only happened once or twice.
One of our roles is to foster relationships within the industry and to strengthen the position of our local CVBs and DMO partners so that they are seen by businesses in their communities as the trusted authority on the industry.
Fortunately we’ve done a good job, as have they, over the years of working with their local communities to be in a place of authority and trust within the community.
Q: Did Visit North Carolina pursue certain major (or influential local) media outlets in order to influence overall narrative of the situation?
Scott: We proactively worked with three outlets — The Washington Post, The Weather Channel and National Geographic — each for specific reasons, to convey a specific message and reach a specific audience.
Q: It seems like the press’ baseline now is to go negative/critical. How do you deal with reporters who are coming in with a preconceived notion about your product/service and get them to at least write a fair/balanced story?
Scott: We didn’t try to stop the negativity and critical nature of the stories, we let freedom of speech rule here. But we were monitoring closely for inaccurate information or false speculation, such as the theory that sea turtle rescue efforts had led to an increased population this year and the sharks were coming in closer to feed off of young sea turtles.
Only then would we reach out with facts to dispute the speculation/rumors as we needed to protect our sea turtle rehabilitation centers and coastal communities that rely on sea turtle populations for education and tourism.
Q: Can you review the quantitative data you relied upon to determine that this was a story that would need to be managed (vs. a story that was small and would blow over.)?
K.C.: We looked for context in four ways:
Momentum: This is the simplest and most common.It was a story yesterday. Is it still a story today? Are volumes going up? Beyond reporting the event, are questions being asked?
Longitudinal: We put the magnitude of the North Carolina story into the context of prior years’ shark story of the summer. My initial look showed that within a couple of days it was approaching a five-year high. By July 3rd, the N.C. story was covered as much (in a set of national outlets) as any shark-attack story since 2005.
Topic: I had to see how large the “shark attack” subject was across all news and social and see how associated the North Carolina brand was with that topic.
Brand: Finally, I looked at the topic context inside out. Of all North Carolina coverage, how much of it — in the heat of this crisis — was related to sharks?
Q: When setting up alerts or monitoring, how did you choose what keywords to look for?
Scott: We worked with keyword experts on our account team at Cision and in the end we chose vague terms such as “shark + north carolina” or “shark attack + north carolina” or “shark + outer banks.”
We had to acknowledge that even though we never use the word “attack” and call them “bites” most media outlets were using the word “attack” so we had to monitor for that.
Q: How can you be proactive, rather than reactive in crisis communication when you don’t know what the crisis subject will be? Basics for having a plan in place ahead of a crisis?
Scott: That’s a great question. In tourism, our crisis subject can vary from natural disasters, to hotel fires, protests and even corporate corruption scandals. Anything that affects the public’s perception of our destination or property.
So in the end, you have to build a detailed, but simplified plan. There’s no need to write a 50+ page plan that accounts for every possible scenario out there. You’ll spend an entire year just doing that. The key is to put into the plan the infrastructure and assigned responsibilities of your crisis team.
Also make sure you plan for being remote and account for the likelihood that not everyone will be able to be in a “war room” at the same time. Once you set up listservs, create a few custom but broad templates for communication and rehearse and go over everyone’s roles.
That’s about all you can do. As you pointed out, crisis can vary so much that you have to just know you’re going to have to adjust on the fly, you can never plan for every possible thing that will come your way or happen.
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