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How much is your credibility worth?

Nicole writes on reputation, issues and crisis management for the Firebrand Ideas Ignition blog. Here’s her July 2015 piece on the idiocy of band-wagon celebrity brand ambassadorships:

I don’t know who at publishing house Pam Macmillan Australia thought chef Pete Evans out qualified mother-nature when they decided to publish his book ‘Bubba Yum Yum – The Paleo Way – for new mums, babies and toddlers’ featuring a ‘DIY baby milk formula’ based on a bone broth recipe. Co-written with baby recipe blogger Charlotte Carr and naturopath Helen Padarin, Evans might rule in the kitchen, but in the media he had already courted controversy with his nutritional advice. Activated almond anyone?

Or who at Apple Inc, the raft of Australian glossy print magazines, publisher Lantern books (Penguin Australia) and Simon and Schuster’s international brand Astria Books; thought the miraculous story of now disgraced blogger and social media maven Belle Gibson curing herself of cancer of the everything could be entirely attributed to her adoption (and advocacy) of a clean eating alternative lifestyle. Which of course you too could benefit from after downloading the ‘The Whole Pantry’ app for $3.79.

And it beggars belief that it took almost 5 years for the full extent of the corruption at FIFA to be uncovered, after the surprise December 2010 announcement that Qatar had won the right to host the 22nd World Cup.

While ‘Bubba Yum Yum’ is now being peddled independently and investigations into the corruption at FIFA are ongoing; I can only assume that copies of ‘The Whole Pantry’ have been pulped and are now pushing up organic kale in a veggie patch south of nowhere.

Why aren’t you angry? You’re being conned!

Why is it that we see time and time again – the media and brands jumping on the latest pseudo-celebrity endorsed bandwagon without asking the most obvious of questions about credibility and risk first?

Their rationale, while not particularly moral, is pretty simple to understand: the media fuel the self-prophesying click-bait news cycle that is geared for profit. Yes you read that right — profit. While brands see dollar signs hanging from these individuals like a kid looking at candy canes on a Christmas tree, the media are playing the profitable long game.

While there is money to be made from the latest notable hipster spruiking low-foam, kale infused, quinoa activated, decaf paleo coconut water — no one seems to care if their nutritional claims are proven, their miracle healing advice substantiated, or surprise winning-bid is legitimate before jumping on the brand association bandwagon.

With social media the backbone of behaviourally based marketing, brand associations could be the longest consumer based con of all time. The big question organisations should be asking (but aren’t) are at what point they as a brand become complicit in perpetuating that con? And at what pointthey become corporate collateral damage.

Brands cruising toward crisis

Think about it – if your brand is going into a sponsorship or commercial arrangement with an identity espousing a particular product, service, or lifestyle (controversial or not) it too can quickly become part of the problem.

Being associated with an identity while they are popular is without a doubt financially lucrative to both parties, but at what point does morality become more important than money? Longevity more important than likes? Credibility more important than celebrity?

Social media means brands have never had more to lose in this equation. Forget about money for a moment, what about your reputation? Could your business withstand widespread national anti-sentiment while you become the media’s latest click-bait headline?

You can’t put a price on the value of your credibility

Like riding a wave, the key to being strategic about your brand associations is to train to stay within the curl over the long game but knowing how to out-swim the current if you get dumped.

Here are my top 4 tips for businesses considering brand associations:

  1. Do your research. Check your facts. Demand professionally recognised and endorsed evidence to substantiate personal and professional claims.
  2. Insist on legally enforceable contractual terms that provide you with a clear exit strategy. If you have done your due diligence and are still duped, refocus any media attention or public statements away from your brand and toward the source of the crisis. Take the higher moral communications ground on every occasion.
  3. Have an exit strategy. And don’t be scared to use it. Know what your organisational appetite for risk is and at what point you become collateral damage. If more than 50% of your business income is reliant on this singular association, you’re already treading water.
  4. Have a crisis communications plan. Together with your exit strategy, ensure you have an organisationally endorsed crisis communications plan. Knowing what you will do if things go south in a hurry will not only save you inordinate amounts of time, but also give you greater control of your narrative thereby limiting your exposure toward becoming brand collateral damage

To read NT News article “Columnist Maria Billias has had enough of the batshit crazy food-wankery” click here. Article image sourced with credit to the NT News/Nicole Cleary.

Firebrand Talent ignite the careers of digital, marketing and creative specialists by matching outstanding talent with great companies. Find out more about them online at www.firebrandtalent.com or follow them on Twitter @FirebrandTalent.

Why the customer isn’t always right on social media

Nicole writes on reputation, issues and crisis management for the Firebrand Ideas Ignition blog. Here’s her May 2015 piece on why brands shouldn’t take the ‘customer is always right’ approach on social media:


The customer is always right… until they’re wrong. But who in business has the courage to tell that customer they are out of line?

What’s that I hear? The sound of silence with a few intermittent crickets?

Do you really have nothing to say to customers who publish inappropriate remarks on your social media networks?

The widespread adoption of ‘the customer is always right’ mantra across customer service focused businesses (and indeed the same can be said for the client/consultant and employer/employee relationship) is well intended, but the result is a prevailing culture of ‘yes-people’ who run for cover at the first sign of conflict. Critical thinking, skepticism, and robust discussions are actively avoided in favour of a philosophy that aims to make everyoneright all of the time.

Customers expect – no demand, to be kept happy; and by and large we feed that sense of entitlement by trying to please everyone — often to our own detriment.

On social media in particular, the balance of power between a business and a customer is exceedingly disparate. Customers hold the balance of power because they count on the fact that businesses are afraid of public admonishment and will, more often than not, avoid public conflict. Businesses relinquish a portion of their social media power by being overtly afraid of having a voice, for fear of bad publicity, and social media anarchy.

Of course, often we only hear from our customers when they feel their expectations haven’t been met. The court of public opinion is where we first discover a complaint has been leveled via your business’ Facebook page, Twitter account, or in a review on a pseudo-social site like Urbanspoon or TripAdvisor.

Contrary to popular belief, I think the notion that ‘the customer is always right’ is an utter load of crap. Since when has keeping someone else happy at the detriment of your own business, wellbeing, or moral and ethical standards become the accepted norm?

I don’t buy it.

And business leaders: neither should you.

What would you say on social media if you weren’t afraid?

Learning how to pick your battles on social media is somewhere between an art and a science. Knowing your audience and cultivating a ‘village of support’ before you actually need one is all science; having the ability to craft assertive responses, definitely an art.

Let me be clear, I’m not suggesting that the majority of your complaints warrant an assertive response — but in a small handful of circumstances, you should consider the customer most definitely wrong and call them on their inappropriate remarks. Such situations may include:

– Racist, sexist, and any other discriminatory comment,
– Personal attacks on you or your staff; and
– Comments that incite violence or make threats.

The aim in such circumstances is to avoid being drawn into a public stoush by defining a clear line between objective commentary and subjective (emotive) remarks. Deal with the former in facts, while calling out the inappropriateness of the latter directly.

A great example is the response below from Gelato Messina to a comment made on their Urbanspoon page.

(Click the image below to enlarge)

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 1.45.19 pm

Business leaders: be brave!  

YOU are the judge of what is acceptable and appropriate on your social media networks. Having clear community guidelines published on your social media accounts is essential if you want to enforce particular standards.

Demonstrating strong leadership in response to an inappropriate remark or complaint posted on social media does more than just address the grievance concerned. It also sends a strong message to your workforce (and the public) that you will not tolerate inappropriate behaviour toward them. Everyone loves a leader who goes into bat for their workforce because it demonstrates a conviction of character that rightly prioritises being nice over being right.

Here are my top 5 tips for dealing with inappropriate behaviour on social media:

  1. There are always two sides to a story. Your customers and yours. Tell your story (truthfully)!
  2. Manage complaints received via social media (and pseudo-social sites such as Urbanspoon and TripAdvisor) early and thoroughly. Aim to get legitimate complainants offline as quickly as possible – don’t be led into an online debate.
  3. Investigate the veracity of a customer’s claims – not only to remediate the situation appropriately, but with a view to considering complaints as early warning indicators to possible broader, systemic service or product issues.
  4. Choose your words carefully. Use active language. Be clear. Be concise.
  5. Take a leaf out of the celebrities who read and respond to the mean tweets they receive on camera. The impact a short video can have on reaching your audience, and beyond, in responding to inappropriate behaviour cannot be underestimated.

What would you do on social media if you weren’t afraid?


Firebrand Talent ignite the careers of digital, marketing and creative specialists by matching outstanding talent with great companies. Find out more about them online at www.firebrandtalent.com or follow them on Twitter @FirebrandTalent.

How to prevent a social media crisis

Serious business executives checking documents over white

Nicole writes on reputation, issues and crisis management for the Firebrand Ideas Ignition blog. Here’s her March 2013 piece on how to prevent a social media crisis for your business:

Do you think before you tweet?
Ponder before you post?
Hypothesise before you hyperlink?

As we all sit comfortably in our armchair commentators boxes, watching the latest #PRFail like it’s a global spectator sport, we become experts don’t we?

We laugh, we judge, and we provide subjective commentary on how, why, and when it all started to go wrong.

But what if the subject of the latest #PRFail was you? Or your organisation?

Hindsight with 20/20 vision is exceedingly accurate; yet the philosophical concept of cause and effect in a social media context that is right before our eyes is hard for people to grasp.

From the outrageous to the obvious, the misinformed and outright malicious – the truth is, crisis communications in the social and online media environment is rarely discussed UNTIL an organisation finds itself in a crisis. And even then, the inclination to direct blame outwardly is exceedingly common.

Why is it that the last place people look to for answers when a social media crisis unfolds is within?

What causes a social media crisis?


Yes, that’s right – inevitably YOU (or your organisation) are the navigators in your own social media crisis misadventure. Here’s how:

Why you need to plan for a social media crisis

It’s easy to take the view: “Not my circus, not my monkey” (~ Polish proverb) when it comes tosocial media risk mitigation, but while the monkey might be off your back after a crisis has passed, the online circus never actually leaves town. Instead it lives on in perpetuity inside Google’s cache.

You must plan for a social media crisis because:

  • Your organisation may not survive the consumer backlash as sales plummet, orders are cancelled, or shareholders sell their stocks
  • Social media mayhem will act as a catalyst for highlighting other workplace deficiencies. A lack of leadership, poor organisational planning, or an absence of media acuity will have knock on effects, impacting other parts of your workforce
  • Organisational morale will dive at the time you need your people focused the most
  • A #PRFail will dominate your SEO – a costly endeavour to remediate

How to prevent a social media crisis

Preparedness for social media crisis starts at the top. One of the biggest preludes to crisis communications failure is a leader who has a general apathy toward social media and communications in general. If they don’t think it’s important – why will anyone else in the organisation?

Preventing a social media crisis is about planning for risk while ensuring functional organisational alignment:

  • Be present, active, and engaging on your social media channels
  • Have a social media strategy in place that clearly defines your goals and objectives
  • A social media crisis communications plan must form part of your overall social media strategy. It must also align with broader corporate communications activities in a holisticwhole-of-organisation approach to managing crisis in general – social media crisis won’t be contained to just your online channels
  • Resource and train those responsible for social media in your organisation appropriately: including in customer experience if you use social media as a customer service portal
  • Identify and contract in the expertise you don’t possess internally but need early. It is much cheaper to hire a crisis communications consultant to assist you in risk identification and strategy development than it is to hire them to manage your crisis
  • Organisationally practice your social media crisis communications plan in a simulated learning environment. Apply the lessons learned during this process into your social media crisis communications plan

With on average one diabolical, globally viral social media crisis (#PRFail) occurring each month and numerous less apocalyptic examples appearing daily: don’t wait for your own crisis to learn how to navigate your way out of social media disaster – learn from the cache of organisational and individual misadventures at your disposal.


Firebrand Talent ignite the careers of digital, marketing and creative specialists by matching outstanding talent with great companies. Find out more about them online at www.firebrandtalent.com or follow them on Twitter @FirebrandTalent.

Too soon to talk Ebola Crisis Communications? No – Too Late!

This morning I received an invitation to a webinar on ‘Is it too soon to talk about Ebola Crisis Communications.

Is it too soon?
No – it’s TOO LATE!!!

If your business or organisation could be impacted by Ebola (or any other contagious disease outbreak) why don’t you have a crisis communications plan prepared BEFORE an outbreak occurs?

Planning for disaster after disaster has struck is the least effective approach to managing a crisis.

You already know your organisational pain points – why haven’t you planned for them ahead of time?

Take a leaf from The White House Crisis Communications strategy – they have a ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ plan. Not because they think Zombies are about to fall from the sky; but because they know successful outcomes are the result of smart forward planning.

Is your organisation planning for a Zombie Apocalypse?