What is Red Alert Social Media, and how did you and your team get started in this field?
Red Alert Social Media is an unconventional mix of the crisis management portion of traditional PR agencies and the content creation of a traditional social media/digital marketing agency. We focus entirely on the preparation, prevention and handling of social media crises for our corporate and individual clients.
I got started in this general area because as I moved into multiple traditional digital agencies (including Gary Vaynerchuk’s VaynerMedia) and worked in-house for a handful of other companies, I saw crises happen time and again and each time a one-off strategy was used. I knew there had to be a better way to address these situations both before they happen and when they actually do occur, so I began studying crisis events and created a series of strategies to use.
As we regularly say in our sales pitches to potential clients, “It’s not a matter of if your business is going to have a crisis happen that involves social media. It’s a matter of when and how prepared you are.”
How should the marketing/advertising industry utilize Red Alert Social Media to create either better end-results or enhance in-house performance?
The way that the marketing and advertising industries can utilize Red Alert Social Media to their benefit is to work with us to create a crisis response plan for their business or their clients. Choosing who makes the hard calls as well as how communication will be handled in a crisis before being immersed in a real event has an amazing ability to help minimize a crisis.
The media and, more importantly, the public’s perception of a crisis, its severity and likelihood of a return to a “normal” state is determined in a very limited window of time. It is based on the event itself, as well as the response (or lack thereof) from the involved groups. In the majority of cases, it is significantly better for a brand to be out there on the social web and appearing to be working toward a solution than staying quiet and hoping that the situation will simply blow over.
What trends and changes in the market led you to realize that Red Alert Social Media would fill a void?
One of the key trends that made it so clear to me that Red Alert Social Media was filling a void in the market is just how many large corporate businesses were joining social media platforms. Getting on the platform is a key piece, but when you’re playing with companies with revenues in the multi-million to multi-billion dollar range, there’s very little room for errors. Any small mistake could result in massive monetary losses, both in real dollars as well as market cap if the company’s stock is publicly traded. Having worked both in-house and as an agency partner, I knew no real planning was being done to protect the company if something negative were to happen. I wanted to change that.
A secondary audience that I felt was severely under-serviced in the business environment in regards to social media was corporate legal staffs. I do not care to count how many times I or my coworkers have had an amazing idea that we were poised to execute on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube, only to be told that the legal staff did not approve of it at the last minute. We feel that by bringing the attorneys in the room to determine how things will work in the most extreme situations that it boxes in what the PR and marketing teams can do. In exchange though, we set systems up so that once the edges of the social media sandbox are set by all the involved departments, including the legal staff, the social media practitioners can build nearly whatever they want in it with the minimum necessary oversight.
What is the biggest regret of most marketing professionals who call you during a crisis? What are the biggest mistakes that PR agencies or the brand make in the first 24 hours of a crisis?
The biggest regret we see time and again is that the brand didn’t acknowledge that they were researching a potential issue. Failing to acknowledge that there might be something wrong when it looks like there may be grounds for a complaint will make being seen as an authority in a crisis nearly impossible. From the bystander’s point of view, it looks like the company is doing nothing in response, which makes the brand appear to be somewhere between arrogant and negligent. The perception of how a crisis is being handled is in direct correlation with the brand’s authority on the issue. Silence is anything but golden for a company with a potential crisis on their hands.
This leads directly into the second part of your question in that PR agencies and even in-house PR teams fail to do the necessary research. One of the first things we train our clients to do is to verify that the claim is even possible. In the event of a product or service failure, you have to start with base level questions that most people simply assume answers for including:
- Was this person actually a customer or consumer of ours?
- Was there potential misuse of our product/service that is clearly explained as being incorrect in its documentation?
- Does this person have an unrealistic expectation level?
You would be shocked how many crises can be quickly resolved because the person was never a customer and mistakenly identified your company instead of a competitor because your brand has a greater recall due to larger marketing budgets.
Can a crisis ever be avoided?
I firmly believe a crisis — given a technical definition — can be avoided by getting out in front of the story and showing that the brand is working to resolve the issue. What cannot be avoided are what we like to call “spark events.” These are simple things that every business will face if they keep their doors open long enough: a disgruntled former employee, a defective product, an injury in the workplace or a marketing mistake. These and many other industry-specific spark events will always exist — it’s a matter of how your company or your client will make decisions on behalf of the brand and how quickly you respond.
Kade Dworkin is the Chief Crisis Officer and founder of Red Alert Social Media. Kade has successfully transformed his obsession with high-pressure business and branding situations into positive results for the business’ corporate and individual clients. Prior to starting the company, he worked with various large brands including PepsiCo, Cap'n Crunch, Gannett and Caesars Entertainment helping them leverage social media to achieve business objectives. When he’s not working with his clients or employees, you’ll find him helping out fellow Young Entrepreneur Council members and supporting his favorite sports team, Aston Villa of the English Premier League.