As an exclamation point to 2012, I’ve been introducing you to fellow crisis experts I highly recommend. Next up: Teresa Valerio Parrot, principal of TVP Communications in Denver, Colorado. Before starting her own agency, Teresa served as Senior Vice President for Widmeyer Communications’ higher education practice. Before Widmeyer, she was Vice President of Media Relations and Crisis Communications for SimpsonScarborough, a higher education consulting firm. Teresa’s prestigious background as a crisis manager began at her alma mater, the University of Colorado. Her ten years of experience with the University of Colorado System, included an appointment as Assistant Secretary of the University, where she assisted the board on policy and media/PR issues over two years filled with athletic and academic controversy that drew national attention. You can find her agency on the web here.
TVP Communications is a boutique public relations agency focused exclusively on higher education. We provide proactive and crisis communications assistance to four-year public and private universities, higher education foundations and associations, and related companies.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
I love what I do, so it never feels like work. The hardest part of my job is being away from my husband, eleven-year-old daughter and Labrador puppy for days, and sometimes weeks, on end. Thank goodness for Skype!
What are your personal top three social media tools and how do you use them?
By far, my favorite is Twitter (@tvparrot and @tvpcomms), which I manage through TweetDeck. I use Twitter to track trending stories in our field, connect with peers across the country, watch others’ responses to crises, and share my personal and professional thoughts. I use Facebook personally, but never shy away from accepting friend requests from professional contacts. To be honest I have Facebook fatigue, but haven’t found a replacement yet among social media platforms. Finally, I love Tumblr because it feels like the intersection between Facebook and Twitter—content is best when brief and visuals rule the day. That level and type of information seems to best match today’s attention spans and interests.
Looking back at 2012, what were some of the most alarming trend you saw in how brands used social media in a crisis?
As in years past, we’ve all witnessed colleges underestimate the scope of their crises and tactically react to isolated viewpoints. Instead, institutions should develop thresholds that must be met before a social media response is aggressively launched. This prevents institutions from responding to postings that are not reflective of the general sentiment and possibly elevating the importance of isolated comments best allowed to pass. On the flip side, once that threshold is met institutions must react quickly and with all available tools and resources. Call on your advocates to help you, address mistruths and get your story out there.
If you could give one piece of advice to brands on how to use social media well in a crisis, what would that be?
Develop your voice, build your audience and solicit your online advocates in advance of a crisis. The worst time to reach out to key stakeholders and ask for their attention or assistance is in the throws of a crisis or when the institution’s credibility is under attack. As communicators, we need to cultivate our audiences just like our development peers cultivate their donors. Our “ask” is quite different– we want their assistance as advocates/defenders and the benefits of their social capital while we manage crises. The only way to receive a “yes” response is to have previously built a relationship. Then, when the institution faces a challenge, your audiences will help to regulate conversations or defend the institution based on their knowledge and experience.
Thanks so much to Teresa for taking time to answering our questions. I might add that I heartily concur with Teresa’s answer to the last question. Developing an army of social media advocates should be at the top of everyone’s list for 2013 strategies. It is a key piece of crisis planning that is too often overlooked for being a business operation. Are you putting brand advocacy strategy on your 2013 list of social media to-do’s?