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Brand lessons from the @NatSecWonk Twitter debacle

There is only so much you can do to prepare for stupid, as the recent dismantling of the @NatSecWonk account proves, but there are steps you can take as a company to safeguard the brand.

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If it happened to the White House, it can happen to your brand

If a high level national security staffer with top security clearance cannot be counted on to behave appropriately on social media, you can be certain that there is absolutely no way you can completely eliminate the possibility that someone in your company will do something at some point that will embarrass you or tarnish your business’s reputation. There are a few things you can do to have a chance at preventing such a problem, but with no way to eliminate the risk, so let’s take a look at your options once such a thing happens.

Jofi Joseph is in the news this week after admitting to being the person behind the Twitter handle @NatSecWonk. Over the last couple of years, the anonymous account became fairly well known in political and national security circles for caustic and insulting tweets aimed at high level staff and officials and revealing, at times, insider knowledge of Obama Administration information. Until he was fired last week, Joseph was head of a non-proliferation section in the White House and had been involved in recent negotiations with Iran over nuclear weapons.

Strategy: aggression, separation

The White House has responded aggressively by not only taking the obvious action of confronting and firing Joseph, but whether based on fact or used as a tactic to protect the Administration’s reputation, “official sources” and an “individual briefed on the matter” have also gone after Joseph, claiming he is suspected to be behind another anonymous account called @dchobbyist that reviewed exploits with escort services as well as other topics. While named sources are attached to the primary accusation, no named source has taken credit for linking Joseph with @dchobbyist and in Joseph’s response apologizing for his @NatSecWonk activities, he does not address the seedier accusations.

Since the situation certainly does not make the administration look good, they have employed a strategy of attacking and impugning Joseph’s character to separate themselves from him and his actions and to decrease his credibility. If they do not know for certain that he is attached to the escort-focused account, the move is simply unethical, but we will likely find out more in coming days about the second account which probably has equal chances of belonging to either Joseph or some Secret Service agent.

When you find your brand under attack

When you find your company under attack – whether from inside or outside – it can be entirely appropriate to counter-attack, just as at least some portion of the White House attack on Joseph is very justified. But counterattacks can be risky and sometimes arise as a response that makes the counter-attacker feel better, but accomplishes little. Particularly when counter-attacks involve regulatory audiences, it is advisable to seek detached consultation by individuals familiar with the audience you are trying to influence.

The administration also used the time-honored tool perfected by candidate Bill Clinton in his first race for President of getting out ahead of the story and revealing the issue prior to it being revealed by others, although some accounts indicate that the White House responded to inquiries by reporters when Joseph’s Twitter account closed last week. Either way, by getting out on the story early, the administration was the primary source of information and was able to frame the story from a favorable perspective.

Beyond these individual tactics that sometimes apply, though, are some general concepts to keep in mind as a serious issue or crisis has begun in your business.

  1. As quickly as is practicable, inform your primary stakeholders on the basics of the situation, paying particular attention to any safety or security information that needs to be shared. At this stage, you may know only the basics yourself. Be honest and reveal as much as you can without harming yourself further.
  2. As you learn more, keep your stakeholders informed as to the impact and meaning of the situation and show them that you have a deep enough understanding of the cause of the problem and the ability to keep a similar problem from happening in the future.
  3. After addressing the basic, critical elements above, work to maintain or repair your company’s reputation. At this stage, you will use whatever strategies are appropriate to the situation from the counter-attack described above to apology, to compensation and other options.

An important final stage is to review not only the cause and initiation of the problem, but to study your response to it and how you could perform better if another problem occurs. The more you plan ahead of time, the less likely the problem will occur and the more likely you can contain or diminish the damage.

And don’t be a wonker. You’ll eventually get caught like @NatSecWonk.

David Holmes, owner of Intrepid Solutions, has over 20 years experience planning for, avoiding, and solving crises in the public policy, political, and private sectors. David is also a professional mediator and has worked in the Texas music scene.

Business Marketing

No-reply emails have run their course, they don’t help customers

(BUSINESS MARKETING) No-reply emails may serve a company well, but the customers can become frustrated with the loss of a quick and easy way to get help.

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Let me tell you a modern-day horror story.

You finally decide to purchase the item that’s been sitting in your cart all week, but when you receive your confirmation email you realize there’s a mistake on the order. Maybe you ordered the wrong size item, maybe your old address is listed as the shipping location, or maybe you just have buyer’s remorse. Either way, you’ve got to contact customer service.

Your next mission is to find contact information or a support line where you can get the issue resolved. You scroll to the bottom of the email and look around for a place to contact the company, but all you find is some copyright junk and an unsubscribe option. Tempting, but it won’t solve your problem. Your last hope is to reply to the confirmation email, so you hit that trusty reply arrow and…nothing. It’s a no-reply email. Cue the high-pitched screams.

Customers should not have to sort through your website and emails with a microscope to find contact information or a customer service line. With high customer expectations and fierce ecommerce competition, business owners can’t afford to use no-reply emails anymore.

Intended or not, no-reply emails send your customer the message that you really don’t want to hear from them. In an age when you can DM major airlines on Twitter and expect a response, this is just not going to fly anymore.

Fixing this issue doesn’t need to be a huge burden on your company. A simple solution is to create a persona for your email marketing or customer service emails, it could be member of your team or even a company mascot. Rather than using noreply@company.com you can use john@company.com and make that email a place where your email list can respond to questions and communicate concerns. Remember, the whole point of email marketing is to create a conversation with your customers.

Another great strategy for avoiding a million customer service emails where you don’t want them? Include customer service contact info in your emails. Place a thoughtful message near the bottom of your template letting people know where they can go if they’re having an issue with the product or service. This simple change will save you, your customers, and your team so much time in the long-run.

Your goal as a business owner is to build a trusting relationship between you and your customers, so leave the no reply emails behind. They’re annoying and they might even get you marked as spam.

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Business Marketing

Simple way to sent text, email appointment reminders to clients

(MARKETING) This new app has tons of automatic tools that help small businesses continue to move into the digital age with ease of use.

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As the world becomes more heavily reliant on automated messaging and computer-mediated communication, we become more reluctant to actually speak to someone on the telephone. While I often find myself in this category, I also feel saddened by what Alexander Graham Bell must think. I digress.

We can certainly argue that a major reason we prefer to text or email rather than sit on the phone is for convenience. We can send a quick text while working, as it’s much more difficult to get away with a phone call on the down low.

That’s why it’s become so popular for places such as doctor’s offices and salons to begin using text and email alerts as appointment reminders. Now, Remindr is getting in on the action.

According to their site, “Remindr.co is a tool for small businesses to schedule automated email and text message appointment reminders. Reduce your meeting no-shows by alerting your clients beforehand. Easily confirm appointments with your customers via text message.”

They proclaim that they’re “great for any business that schedules customer appointments or client meetings,” citing their top use cases as restaurant reservations, nail salons, personal trainers, barbers, tattoo shops, spas, real estate agents, independent car mechanics, and tech sales scheduling customer calls.

This is a win-win as it’s convenient for the customer, but also saves time on the business’s side because it eliminates hours of reminder calls. Additionally, the method supports the reduction of no-shows, which is incredibly important to businesses – especially small ones.

Remindr features include: text message, email, confirmation, reusable templates, schedule alerts, and easy user interface. With text messaging, businesses can send personalized SMS messages to customers from your Remindr phone number.

With email, businesses can send personalized email reminders to their customers through Remindr email addresses. Then, customers can confirm their appointment via text messages or email, and businesses can review confirmations on their Remindr account.

Businesses can create their own personalized reminder templates to pre-fill the reminder form (for example: “Hi NAME! We’re looking forward to your appointment tomorrow (DATE) at TIME. Respond YES to confirm your appointment.”) Reminders can be automatically sent via email or text at a predetermined time.

Remindr provides an easy user interface where businesses can start scheduling reminders instantly, use full-keyboard form navigation, and it is mobile friendly.

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Business Marketing

PHD job seekers shouldn’t scare employers, they should be welcomed

(BUSINESS MARKETING) It’s time to change the narrative for PhD candidates on the job market. They have been through so much and can contribute just as much to your company

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Employers have historically been skeptical of hiring PhD graduates for jobs, but it’s time for that to change. It seems counterintuitive, but many employers are scared of candidates who bring such a high level of education to the table. They worry that PhD graduates will ask for too much money, get bored with the work, or not be able to perform in a non-academic setting.

PhD graduates may come from an academic background, but this doesn’t mean they can’t be a valuable asset to your business. As for them asking for too much money, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but academics are not exactly swimming in pools of gold. People don’t go into academics because they want to get rich quick – or at all. By earning their degree, PhD graduates have proven that they possess dedication and grit to persevere in an environment that requires resourcefulness and strong problem-solving abilities.

Another common fear employers have about PhD graduates is whether or not the work will be interesting enough to keep them around long-term. The reality is this is something you should be concerned about for all of your potential new hires not just graduates. Keeping your employees engaged in the work can be one of the most challenging parts of running a business. PhD candidates want the same things as everyone else. Indeed recently talked to an expert on the subject, Vay Cao, the founder of Free the PhD, a company dedicated to helping postgrads find their place in the workforce. She says, “What PhD candidates are looking for is that opportunity to prove themselves [and] learn some new things.”

PhD graduates have long suffered from these misconceptions, but modern business owners have the opportunity to change the narrative. By ignoring graduates, you miss out on the wealth of opportunities their experiences offer your business. PhD graduates are often innovators in their fields with excellent presentation and inter-personal skills. These candidates can bring unique skill sets and experiences to your business that may give you that extra edge on the market.

At the end of the day, your priority as a business owner will be to do what’s best for your business. Hiring and interviewing candidates from a wide range of backgrounds will always be to your benefit. Take advantage of these unique and highly educated candidates. They are an asset you can’t afford to ignore anymore.

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