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Ask the Crisis Experts: Meet Jeff Domansky

Next up in the crisis expert series is Jeff Domansky from Vancouver, British Columbia. Jeff is also known online as “The PR Coach.”   His blog is a superior collection of PR tips and resources. It’s one of my frequent go-to sites for information on every facet of PR and covers many sectors. Jeff’s been around awhile and when he speaks, we should all listen. Sit down with a cup of your favorite and get some insight into where the world of PR is headed.

Tell us a little about what you do?

I’m principal and CEO of Peak Communications Inc in Vancouver, Canada. I’ve run two entrepreneurial PR agencies as well as regional offices for several multinational PR firms. My consulting work is best described as “social PR.” What I do for clients and organizations is create strategies and build programs that get results by combining the best of traditional PR with the new frontier of social media.

 Today, that can mean anything from crisis management and media relations to social media strategies that engage audiences using storytelling, content marketing, blogging, curation and the best of many new social media tools available. More and more, I find myself “coaching” other business and PR pros on how to get the best of their own social PR strategies. I developed a website and blog called The PR Coach. With nearly 8000 tips and resources, it reflects my belief in content that engages. I’m also the author of PRoactive: The Public Relations  Job Hunters Guide, a book for PR job seekers. I’m enormously excited about PR in the new social media era. Our skills as writers, communication strategists and innovators will always be in demand no matter the situation or the technology. I’m glad to carry a conversation on Twitter @ThePRCoach or through my website.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

My biggest challenge as a social PR consultant?  Staying ahead of the latest technologies and social media tools. Clients expect me to guide them so I spend a lot of time listening and staying informed about the tools and technology that have the most promise. That’s a bit of a selfish pleasure and payback because I love technology. What I’ve learned is there are no “silver bullets” when it comes to social media tools. It’s all about how good you are at communication regardless of the tool or channel. And there’s always something brighter and shinier just around the corner.

What are your personal top three social media tools and how do you use them?

I have three tools that I can’t live without:

  • My iPhone – with all the apps and features available now, it’s a mobile communications command center, office, crisis and publishing essential for any PR pro on the move.
  • Scoop.it – this is one of the best curation platforms available. It lets me publish my Twitter stream in a magazine format. I can share it in numerous social media channels with a click and it’s also very useful as a search and discovery tool.
  • Social media toolkit – I have a large toolkit. Every day I depend on Twitter, WordPress and Tumblr blogging, website metrics, search engines and a series of my own designed search and “listening tools.” I’m optimistic about Google+ but I can’t stand Facebook for business.

 I really can’t imagine PR life before social media. If we’re smart, it allows us to go directly to our most important audiences and engage with them.

 Looking back at 2012, what were some of the most alarming trend you saw in how brands used social media in a crisis?

I’m still amazed and discouraged every day by the mistakes that marketers  and senior executives make in not anticipating PR fallout or crises from their product, marketing or leadership decisions.  If you ever wanted a case study in how NOT to handle layoffs, look no further than Citigroup last week. I’ve never seen a worse example of a news release announcing layoffs badly, demonstrating callousness and filling a terrible, public lack of CEO sympathy for those affected. It’s your classic PR fail. Terrible for the brand and it’s now archived and searchable on the Internet forever.

Social marketing/PR mistakes were everywhere in 2012. Marketers seem to trip all over themselves in social media. In some cases, retailers tried to take advantage of everything from hurricane Sandy to earthquakes and tornadoes to market their products. Others fell on their own sword on Twitter or Facebook. Still others forget that “engagement” drives social media success.

If you could give one piece of advice to brands on how to use social media well in a crisis, what would that be?

Social media is now an essential tool in crisis. Every social media channel during a crisis has several risks for PR pros though. Reliability is still an issue. Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook can go out of service or be unavailable at the worst times. Separating truth from rumor, lies or wrong information is difficult. The noise is deafening and the volume of comments to monitor is challenging. The consumer now wields enormous power and there’s nothing we can do to change it. We can only manage better.

My best advice is to plan, plan, plan. Be prepared. Pick just a couple of key social media channels to be used in a crisis and do them well. But don’t forget your traditional tactics like media outreach and community relations .  I suggest adding Twitter, Facebook and your corporate blog to your crisis plan. Test them out in advance in a tabletop exercise with your crisis team. Remember that traditional media are still valuable but they also use social media themselves. Finally, ensure you have alternatives and backup for your social media channels and be sure your listening and monitoring are up to the challenge.

Many thanks to Jeff for taking time from his busy schedule to give us all some advice. I’d like to echo one nugget from this treasure chest of advice: there are not silver bullets when it comes to social media tools. Yet, the pressure to keep in front of the technology in the PR profession is tremendous. I’ve relied often on Jeff’s advice on Twitter about tools. Are you keeping ahead of the technology wave? How do you do that?