When Are Blogs Not Enough For Crisis Communication?

This is not a pile-on aimed at Typepad and Six Apart. You may think it is, but that is not my intention. They are a company operating out in public. Their recent problems are common knowledge and there are lessons to be learned.

So, this most recent incident with their customer service failures offers an excellent opportunity to discuss the use of social media in crisis communication.

When will blogs not work?

…we want to
reiterate just how sorry we are for the inconvenience
this has caused(you)…

Well, first of all – they won’t work if you don’t use them. In the October failure, Six Apart didn’t use their support blog – hardly at all. People were mad. They did do some emails to ‘select’ customers. That just made some users even angrier. Then, it took them quite awhile to get around to addressing grievances. Certainly, their offer of refunds – and allowing users to choose how much they received – was a good move. It was just late in coming.

In the second episode, they did post a bit more in their “Everything Typepad” blog. They use that for support. As of today, they have not stated if they will be giving refunds again. One would think they will, but – just how much is all of this costing them? Will they be bold enough to this time give everyone the two days of service (plus a little more) off on their next bill?

However, that isn’t enough. The word “sorry” – as in apology – did not appear on their support blog until yesterday. That should be the first thing you say to your customers when you make a mistake. It was a nice apology, just too late. (See pull quote to your right.) Thdy did cause the mistake, even if they claim hardware failure as the cause. Among the steps they could have taken are (1) having redundant hardware on hand in case of a failure and (2) sufficiently testing the upgrade before implementing it. Sure, the cost may have been high for a redundant server(s), but what value do they place on their reputation and the best interests of their customers?

A simple first rule to remember? When the problem is one ‘you’ cause, then it is your responsibility to be proactive and go to the customers. Now, in a way they did do that with a message in their login area. If you wanted to get into your blog, apparently you were redirected to the support area – or, were given a brief message about the outage. I don’t know which (or if both) were applied.

Still, not enough. Why not have an email waiting – in advance – before someone goes to their blog? Seems like a simple and quick form of communication. They certainly have email addresses – probably ready to go (think billing) – for their customer base.

Is email the total answer? No. But it does show your customers that you are making all of the available efforts to reach out to them.

Is it really that hard? No. Can you tell me any other single tactic / strategy they have at their disposal to immediately contact all of their Typepad users? No. Or, maybe you can tell me yes on either (or both) of those options. I’d love to hear it.

They could even use SMS + RSS. And do it, for free! Again, make it opt-in/opt-out. The latest Yahoo! announcment (their new partners) makes it possible.

Further, in the time between October and the recent server crash, Six Apart could have instituted an opt-in/opt-out traditional email subscription process for any user that ‘does’ want to be warned – immediately – when the entire blog service goes down. Now, how hard would that be to implement? Really?

I posted a comment at JEremy Pepper’s Pop-PR Jots blog. It covers, what I think are some key failures in the Six Apart handling of the events. I honestly do not think they had any strategy in place.

That is strange considering they just had a similar problem in October. They had plenty of time to prepare a crisis communication plan in the interim. The comment points to specific instances of company leadership either sitting silent, posting places – other than at Typepad – and the most bizarre one … writing about music and other goofiness while it all happened.

When people praise some new tactic as a powerful tool, and pitch their services to business (as Six Apart has been doing) for all the great things it can accomplish for them – then, fail to utilize the great tool…. well, it is just mind-boggling. If you can’t put the products you pitch into useful practice, what kind of credibility do you have?

The following goes a bit deeper into specific examples of Six Apart’s failures. (Update: Just found where the comment was quoted at association inc. in a post by Kevin Holland entitled: Email Still Matters.)

This is the comment I posted at Pop-PR Jots:

Six Apart has not done enough to fully address their users.

Some examples.

Barak Berkowitz, Chairman and CEO of Six Apart, gave a very contrition filled nice explanation of the problems … in Debbie Weil’s CEOBlogWrite site, as a comment. It is not on the Typepad site. In fact, no explanation with any depth appeared until today, on their site.

Barak hasn’t posted one word on his blog since December 10, 2005.

Mena Trott is apparently still healing wounds from her Les Blogs meltdown. No posts from her since then.

Benjamin Trott has been writing about music and other such frivolities while this all came down.

MSNBC, Forbes and countless others pointed to them and said “failure” by pointing out their foibles.

A podcast with Technorati was their strategy for crisis response? Please.

They failed, again, to implement any customer base emails – on a wide scale – and although a bit better about posting to the support blog, they just dropped the ball again.

Why they cannot learn from these mistakes is a mystery.

Email could help. Offer an opt-in/opt-out support list for members to subscribe to for such instances.

Six Apart seems to think that the customers should come to them (visit the blog) when problems occur. When the problem is Six Apart’s, they should be proactive and go to the customers. The blog isn’t enough.

Disclosure: I do not use Typepad. I did use it for a ‘brief’ period. I could not justify the expense of the account while comparing it to a WordPress blog or a Movable Type blog (or any other, for that matter) that I hosted myself on some shared-hosting provider or my own servers. It just didn’t make sense – for me.

I am discussing this solely as a public relations best/worst practice issue. That’s all. I honestly wonder if Six Apart will ever create a crisis communication plan. We’ll see. Isn’t there a saying about bad things happening in threes? That is a funny blog, by the way. And, she appears to be a loyal Typepad user. Member since 07/2003

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0 thoughts on “When Are Blogs Not Enough For Crisis Communication?

  1. Debbie Weil

    Robert (it is Robert, isn’t it?!)

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve been scratching my head over 6A’s apparent lack of a crisis communications plan. And while it was nice that Barak left that long comment on my blog I wondered why he didn’t post it to the SixApart site – either on the status blog or Mena’s blog or someplace where everyone would see it.

  2. Robert

    Hey, Debbie. Yep, ya’ got it right. 🙂

    Thanks for writing. Why they haven’t addressed this important area yet, is a head scratcher. I agree.

    It is just that kind of message that the company needs their customers to see coming straight from the home site, as well as posted in user blogs. It is good that they did some blog outreach, but they don’t seem to have a plan for that either. I haven’t seen many comments other than the one at your blog. And you were nice to them, where are the comments in those very unhappy users?

    Just doesn’t make sense.

  3. Mike Driehorst

    Whether you are in a crisis or not, if you are a company and you have a blog, you’d better be ready to use it — and quick after any event, especially if it’s a crisis. There is a level of expectation for those that have a blog.

    Yes, you’d think Six Apart would have a plan in place to handle outages. If there is a third one, you would hope the powers that be respond quickly. With e-mail, and posting to its blog as soon as it can. But, like any company, it doesn’t want to appear weak or apologetic. Being humble in the corporate world is a rare trait.
    Keep up the great work.
    Mike

  4. Robert

    Thanks, Mike.

    Agreed. If you have the blog (tool), then use it. And the rarity of humility and transparency can be overcome, to some degree, through the two-way communication of the blog. Still, you have to use it for the practice to work.

    The thing about Six Apart’s experience that still puzzles me is their leadership in creating and promoting blogs. They talk about it – even push the adoption of blogs – yet, they don’t seem to either (a) believe they will work or (b) have a reliable plan in place to implement their use. I’m sure there could be other reasons, but those kinda leap out at ya’ in their latest stumbles.

    Take care and Happy New Year!