Crisis Communications

Twitter Plays a Role in the Ferguson Shooting Grand Jury

By | Crisis Communications, Social Media | No Comments

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.


Social Media in a Crisis: How to Help the Search for Hannah Graham

By | Crisis Communications, Social Media | 3 Comments

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. is one, and 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.


The 5 Actions Paula Deen Should Take Right Now

By | Communications, Crisis Communications | No Comments

I haven’t been a fan of Paula Deen for a long time. When she came out of the closet about her Type 2 diabetes and began touting a pharmaceutical product that would allow the user to deeneat whatever they wanted, I grew incensed. Deen has grown a food empire; restaurants, cookbooks, television programs, endorsed brands, product lines — she has been, by all counts, a financial success.

I hope she banked a lot of it, because I believe her payroll just ran out.

Food Network dismissed her after, in a deposition, she admitted using a racial slur. Smithfield Foods dropped her as a spokesperson. It’s not looking good for Deen, even though some fans still support and defend the on-air personality.

I’m neither working for Paula Deen or any of her employers, nor am I defending her in any way. But were she to ask, “What do I do now, y’all?” I would say this:

  1. It’s time to put your succession plan into place. Your sons are untainted (thus far) and as adults, it’s time they took over the family business. Get the heck out of the spotlight and start transferring ownership to them. 
  2. Stop making terrible apology videos.
  3. Disappear from the spotlight and begin to think about the next stage of your career. Writing is a good place to start, and your fans will still buy your cookbooks.
  4. Enroll in sensitivity training and let people know you’d like to learn from your mistakes, and pass along to your children and grandchildren a greater understanding of how important it is to be thoughtful about language. Share what you learn from that experience. But please, not on YouTube. Write it, and run it through an editor first.
  5. Take trusted counsel from your attorneys and PR firm. Not from friends. Not from Al Sharpton. Not even from fans.

Many have empathy for Deen, either because they, too were raised in a generation or geography where racial slurs were commonplace and even accepted, or because being human means we all make mistakes. Others will throw the book at her, tired of the practice of letting people (especially entitled white people) off the hook for being inappropriate. If you’re a die-hard fan, buy up the cookbooks and DVDs; I think it’s going to be awhile before we see any kind of meaningful comeback from the southern butter pusher.

WTF? Friday: How NOT to React to a Crisis

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WTF Friday

I enlisted the help of my friend Alex Gulotta executive directorof Legal Aid Justice Center to demonstrate exactly how an organization or individual DOES NOT WANT to react in the event of a communications crisis.


Rather, consider these three steps:

  1. Get out in front of it — if the writing’s on the wall, what can you do, proactively, to head any damage off at the pass?
  2. Plan reactionary statements for all possible scenarios.
  3. Develop the right messages about the situation that are CLEAR, SINCERE, and INFORMATIVE.

Thanks for the demonstration, Alex!


Transparency and the Crisis Communications Client: Five Questions to Inform Decisions

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As I’ve said before, I love crisis communications. There’s something about the challenge of taking a bad situation and getting the best out of it, that I enjoy. The opportunity to tell the story of a company’s good works in a community that has been hurt by it (think BP), to humanize a brand, or to help rebuild a reputation that has all but been ruined is a challenge I like.

But of course, sometimes that means engaging a client that people don’t like. Or that has done something to harm the environment, or people’s lives or livelihoods. It means defending, in some cases, the indefensible. In public relations, the BIG money often comes from the indefensible industries; tobacco, legalized gambling, chemical production, firearms manufacturing, and the like, all fairly unpopular sectors with a great many haters.

So how does a PR firm decide it’s worth taking on a client that, on the surface, seems to have NOTHING positive to say?

Here are five questions to carefully consider before engaging with a crisis client:

  1. Does the client share the same values as you and your firm? 
  2. Has the client demonstrated the ability to take and follow other professional counsel (e.g. legal counsel)?
  3. If the client has committed past sins, is that now over, and are you confident the client will not repeat the same mistakes?
  4. Has the client expressed true remorse and demonstrated a commitment to change, in both words and actions?
  5. Is there a benefit to your firm, either financially, from gained experience or as a future case study, to enable other crisis work?

If you and your firm aren’t satisfied with the answers to these questions, it’s probably wise to walk away, and allow other counsel to take on the work.

What other considerations are there when considering crisis work?