On September 23, 2014, I published a post called Social Media in a Crisis: How to Help the Search for Hannah Graham. I heard from a lot of people who were in support of my guidance within. I heard from two people who had different opinions.

In my professional capacity with my firm, Jaggers Communications, I advise businesses and the people who represent them, in part, how to use social media and how to conduct themselves online to achieve business goals, to maintain a professional profile, and to establish strong personal brands. I also have more than 18 years’ experience in public relations and advising corporations and public entities in crisis communications strategy. I use my blog as a vehicle to advise people who are interested in these pursuits, and sometimes reach a much broader audience, as was the case with this post.

I am watching news unfold today from the Washington Post about possible misconduct within the Grand Jury in the Ferguson, Missouri criminal case regarding the shooting of Michael Brown.  The news concerns Twitter and its use by members of the jury and their friends who also use Twitter.

Social media use can certainly complicate a criminal trial. It makes it very difficult to appoint a jury of people who have not seen or heard information or opinions about a case with news as widespread as the Ferguson shooting case, or as in the case against Jesse LJ Matthew and the disappearance of Hannah Graham. A compromised jury in a criminal case can sometimes result in a mistrial. Missteps in our criminal justice system can sometimes mean a guilty party goes free. It sometimes mean that an innocent person is charged.

My role, as a communications professional counseling others is to provide guidance about best practices. It’s to help us all be thoughtful about our communications both one-on-one and to a vast audience. I hope, like all members of the community in which I live, that Hannah Graham is found and justice is served.

We can help that cause by sharing sources for news, information relevant to the community (search sites, calls for volunteers, requests of the community made by the police department and other relevant content that needs to reach a larger audience.

 

The city of Charlottesville, the surrounding counties, and the University of Virginia community have been dealing with a crisis for the past week. On September 13, Hannah Graham, an 18-year-old second year student at UVa went missing.

Social media really lights up in a crisis, and can be useful for those trying to share a message, such as the tweet below from Charlottesville city government, encouraging witnesses to come forward.

 

People who may not normally pay attention to Twitter or Facebook are tuning into these platforms to try to get the most up-to-the-minute information. These platforms can be helpful for that, and it’s good to see the news organizations live streaming press conferences and sharing news updates as they are available. A couple of ways to stay on top of these are to follow the hashtag #hannahgraham on Twitter and to like the pages of local news organizations reporting on the unfolding story. https://www.facebook.com/NBC29 is one, and https://www.facebook.com/Newsplex is another.

In all crisis communications, one of the main rules is to refrain from speculation. Speculation can hurt a criminal case, it can distract from the mission at hand, and does not assist law enforcement in doing their jobs.

Here are five things you can do to help in the search for Hannah Graham:

  1. Share updates on Facebook from official sources to gather volunteers to search for Hannah, that share the WANTED poster of the person of interest in the case, and the tip line information to help make it accessible to anyone who might have a lead.
  2. Retweet sources announcing press conferences or other news the Charlottesville Police Department wants shared.
  3. Use the hashtag #hannahgraham to become part of the search stream on Twitter.
  4. Steer clear of fueling rumors or speculation about the case by staying out of online conversations about it.
  5. If you have something relevant to share, contact the police department, not the media.

Let’s all try to stay focused on helping the law enforcement professionals in this difficult case.

 

So many companies set up their marketing and social media efforts as an afterthought. They might engage an intern or an already-overloaded employee to manage these efforts, resulting in a bunch of one-off posts, releases, or ads. The whole thing comes across as half-assed.

If you want to build a brand and establish a reputation, the effort needs to be strategic. It should be thoughtful, consistent, and well-managed. There should be an internal point person (who doesn’t consider the tasks unwanted chores foisted upon them).

If the person in your company assigned to marketing and social media isn’t a marketing person trained and well-versed in social strategy, you have the wrong person in that seat. If that person isn’t passionate about establishing and growing your brand’s reputation, again: wrong person, wrong seat.

It’s easy to build a reputation if you’re following a strategic plan for doing so, and touch that plan every single day. It takes time, of course, but nothing compared to the time it takes to undo a reputation gone awry.

I think it’s a common misconception: companies eschew marketing themselves because they disdain self-promotion. I’ve definitely been in meetings where clients have shied away from what they thought would be “tooting their own horn.”

That’s not at all what marketing or social media engagement should be. NOT AT ALL.

Instead, teach us something. Opine. Shed light. Tell the backstory. Illustrate a point. Give us your take on a national or international brand. Let us get to know you and what you like to do.

Be authentic. Share a lesson learned. Sing a song. Make us laugh.

But really, there’s no need for self-promotion in marketing.

When I was in college (in the early 90s btw — think of me sporting flannel), I was part of a literary group. This group would host a couple of poetry readings each year and one year, one of the goofballs I shared this group with suggested we call the event The Vertical Soup Exchange.

This suggestion was made after the typical round of silly brainstorming, but when he said it, we all said, “Yes. That’s it.” And so it was.

Then, and now, Vertical Soup Exchange means nothing. It’s just a collection of words that sound kind of nice together. But I’ll tell you, it caused MAYHEM.

The administration of the small, private, liberal arts college were convinced (CONVINCED!) that the phrase meant something. They implied that it was possibly dirty. They suggested that it was somehow inappropriate. They made noises about shutting the thing down.

A poetry reading.

What rebels we were.

My point: sometimes there IS NO MEANING. Sometimes, there’s no intent. Be careful when you go looking for hidden meanings; they may all be coming from your head, not the writer’s.