Six Crisis Communication Lessons to Running Your Business During an Emergency

Ten years ago, when I was in crisis communication for the Indiana State Department of Health, part of my job was to create an emergency contingency plan if we were ever in the field without power or an Internet connection.

Our job was to communicate with the public during an emergency, and we couldn’t let little things like power outages stop us. Our plan involved battery backups, cell phones, a Verizon MiFi, car AC converters, and even hand delivering CDs of videos and releases to local newspapers and TV stations.

I was reminded of all this when I had to send my Mac to the shop to have the logic board replaced, and they said they’re keeping it for 3 – 5 days.

I’ve run my business out of a backpack for the last seven years, and this marks the first time I’ve tried to function without my handy laptop. In just a few agonizing days, I’ve been reminded of those emergency preparedness lessons, and I’ve learned some new ones as well. Here are six ways to function during an emergency or equipment loss.
My iPad and Bluetooth keyboard - a bare bones crisis communications setup

1. Make sure you already know how to use your gear.

I’m going to be working off my iPad and a Bluetooth keyboard for about five days, writing everything on Google Drive and using Google Chrome to update my client blogs. I had an old MacBook, but it bit the dust last month, which means I’m using the ultimate in dumb terminals.

Luckily I’ve used this kind of setup before, so I didn’t waste a few hours trying to figure out how to get everything to work. I fired up Google Drive, connected the keyboard, and I was off and running. But I was able to do it because I’ve already practiced this setup before.

Identify your backup gear, and try to spend a day using it. Find the holes in your knowledge and equipment, and fill them both quickly.

2. Store things in the cloud.

I have two external hard drives, but I also recently started backing up my important documents to my iCloud account, as well as Dropbox. So even if I don’t have access to everything on my hard drives, my important files are easily accessible.

Basically, I’m writing everything on Google Drive, including this article, since that’s how I share my client documents anyway. And while I normally keep my works-in-progress on my laptop, I uploaded everything to Drive before I headed to the Apple Store, just in case I got some bad news. I could also download my current articles from my iCloud and open them with Pages on my iPad.

And if my computer was completely destroyed, I can still restore everything from one of my hard drive backups.

3. Use cross-device apps and services.

I also use other cloud-based services for my business. My bookkeeping is on Freshbooks (they have an app, as well as their website), Todoist is my to-do list (which runs on all my devices, plus online), and I keep track of important information on Evernote (cross-device, cross-platform, as well as web-based). And my email portal is Gmail, which I can access from anywhere. (I could even go to the local library and answer emails if things were especially bad.)

However, the major DDOS attack last week reminded us how vulnerable we are if our access to the Internet goes down. This is why I don’t operate completely in the cloud, and still store things on my laptop. It’s why a cloud-only setup is not ideal. Even if we were cutoff from the rest of the world, anyone who still keeps documents on their laptop can still function. So don’t put all your electronic eggs in one basket. Strike a balance.

4. Keep everything powered up.

One lesson Hurricane Matthew reminded us of is to keep your devices and your batteries powered up at all times. Since my Bluetooth keyboard is cordless, that means I need to have batteries on hand. Since I’m working at home most of the time, I’m fine. But on those days that I’m working in a coffee shop, it’s smart to keep a couple batteries in my bag, just in case.

I also have to keep an eye on my iPad, which is running wifi and a Bluetooth. It slowly loses power over time, even when it’s plugged in, so I try to take a break every couple hours to let it recharge faster.

5. Use a password vault.

Security is also important, which starts with secure, hard-to-remember passwords. The problem with having everything on the cloud means trying to remember every password you ever created. Or worse, you can easily remember the one password you use on all your accounts. (Don’t do that. It’s extremely unsecure).

I use a password vault that syncs my various passwords between my laptop, tablet, phone, and the cloud. I never have to remember my passwords, I can either retrieve them from the vault by hand, or have them fill in directly. So I only remember the master password to get in, and my vault handles the rest.

This means I can even use a backup computer, and still access my various web services without using the Forgot Your Password retrieval function. I recommend a password vault like LastPass or 1Password, which both work on different devices and platforms. Even if you have a Windows laptop and an iPad, they’ll still sync up your passwords.

6. Practice, practice, practice.

When I was in crisis communication, we were always training and preparing for terrorist attacks, as well as natural public health emergencies, like avian flu. But rather than wait for years for one of those things to happen, we decided our best practice was to work on any small emergencies, like an e. Coli or salmonella outbreak.

My staff and I would put together a press release, gather the necessary information, and share it with the appropriate media outlets. We worked to get it out within an hour of our first notification, because we knew that would be our benchmark if we ever had a real emergency. While an emergency never arose, we were even prepared when we participated in full-scale exercises that involved the entire state, and would have been ready for the real thing.

Similarly, I try to spend a few hours every frew months working solely in the cloud or working on this iPad-and-keyboard setup to make sure I can make it all run efficiently when the time arises. I’ve still managed to meet all deadlines and respond to my emails, without any problems.

While this setup isn’t ideal for someone who focuses strongly on high-scale production work, and needs access to a lot of local information — photos, videos, and past work — it’s at least a great way for me to stay productive and give my clients what they need. It’s put a few of my wish-list projects on hold, but I’m still managing the important work.

By keeping backups of everything, and being very familiar with the way my backup equipment and services work, I was able to come home from the Apple store, switch everything on, and get back to work without missing a beat.

Screw the Long-Term Strategy! Smart Content Marketing is Agile

There’s an old story about an architect who was hired to design an entire campus of buildings surrounding a large empty quad. When the buildings were done, the administrators asked the architect to lay out a series of sidewalks between buildings.

He decided to wait instead. As he waited, people walked between the buildings, finding their own way, eventually wearing the most efficient paths into the grass. Then the architect had the sidewalks installed on the paths the people had made, saying they were more efficient and useful than anything he could have created himself.

How many times have companies created a long-term strategy for content marketing or social media marketing, only to scrap the entire plan after two weeks because of a crisis or major event.

I’ve talked with companies that will schedule everything — blog posts, Facebook updates, and even individual tweets. I’ve seen spreadsheets of scheduled tweets, three per day, five days a week, which took days and weeks to create, all thrown away because of a change in a law, regulations, or even a CEO or CMO.

There are plenty of reasons to have a long-term strategy, but plenty more reasons to avoid the strategy and be more agile. Here are five ways you can be more agile with your content marketing.

1. Create a topic checklist.

Marathon Checklist signFor some clients, we’ll blog about particular topics each month, but the actual titles of the blog post are wide open. We’re more concerned about the general theme of the month, but we don’t script each individual post. For example, a men’s clothing line might have a topic checklist like this:

November

  • 2 posts on dressing warm for winter
  • 2 posts on hats
  • 2 posts on scarves
  • 2 posts on winter suits

The blog posts themselves could be about how to wear a suit in the bitter cold, which kind of hat to wear to the office, the proper way to tie a scarf, and what materials are warmest in the winter.

This method lets the content marketing manager decide what to write about, taking input from product managers, as well as PR and marketing staff. It’s also flexible enough to change if problems or news stories arise. For example, if hats became suddenly more popular, they could drop a couple posts on suits and scarves, and write more about hats.

2. Watch your analytics

Google AnalyticsGoogle has stopped telling us what keywords bring people to our blogs, but you can still get a good idea by looking at the pages that get the most traffic. If you spot a pattern, you’ll understand what people are turning to you for. This means you should put more energy into those topics.

Keep an eye on your Google rank as well. Use a service like WebCEO to find your true Google rank for certain keywords and topics. Write about the areas you want to shore up, as well as write more about the things you want to improve.

3. Answer customer service and tech support questions

People who ask questions are usually a smaller subset of people who have a particular problem. That is, if 10 people ask a question, there may be anywhere from 100 – 250 people with the same problem. Write blog posts and create videos to answer those questions. As people search for the answers to their questions, they’ll find your content and visit your site.

Search your email for questions that start with “how do I. . .” Talk to your customer service department to find out what people are calling about. Rewrite and publish FAQs and tech support knowledge forums into blog posts. Use screencasts and videos to show people how to complete a particular process or fix a problem.

4. Monitor the industry news

As David Meerman Scott says, newsjacking is about injecting your ideas into a breaking news story. It’s about becoming the “second sentence” in a news article.

Newsjacking chart

As soon as you hear about breaking news in your industry, write a response story that includes your take and your ideas on how it affects your customers and your industry. It should be the second sentence in your blog post or press release. At the very least, your customers will appreciate you alerting them to the issue. At best, journalists will see you as one of the authorities on it, and call you for a response.

Be a voracious reader of little-known and industry insider sites. Create RSS feeds of your industry’s thought leader blogs and news sites. Set up Twitter lists of those people and monitor them constantly.

Most importantly, be prepared to jump on those news stories immediately. Take a crisis communication approach: Be first, be right, be credible. That means writing blog posts as soon as things happen, or even assigning someone to be a dedicated content marketer whose primary responsibility is to write content. (This may mean giving them a “get out of meetings free” pass.)

5. Think like a beginner, or ask your beginning customers

You work in a particular field day in, day out. You’ve talked about your work so much, you’re sure everyone knows the most basic information about what you do. It turns out, most people know nothing about your industry, your company, or your specialty. They come to your website because they have those basic questions and they need answers.

Ask your salespeople to explain their sales pitch, and look to your FAQ. Come up with lists posts like “Five Things to Consider About _____,” “Five Things to Avoid When Buying _____,” or “Five Reasons You Need _____” to answer those beginning questions.

Many of my clients are surprised to see these beginning posts are some of their most-visited posts. They figured “everyone” knew all about the subject, but it turned out no one did. I’ve helped clients scrap entire content marketing strategies because they had to take it back to the beginning.

Rather than spending a lot of time and effort creating a content calendar, leave yourself open to serendipity and happenstance. An agile content marketing approach lets you change directions and go with the flow when responding to events as they arise. It lets you provide more value to your customers and clients than a fully-developed and strictly-followed content calendar will ever do.

Photo credit:

Home Depot Learns Important Lesson on Social Media Outsourcing

Home Depot learned a painful lesson on outsourcing this past Saturday, after an employee of a social media agency tweeted a racist comment with a photo from ESPN’s College Game Day of some Clemson bucket drummers.

The tweet was deleted almost immediately, but not before @ImFromRaleigh managed to grab a screenshot of it.

Home Depot (@HomeDepot) was not amused either. To their credit, they sprang into action, deleted the tweet, and followed up with the message that the (unnamed) agency was immediately fired, as was the employee who posted the tweet

They also apologized over and over to everyone who tweeted how upset they were with the tweet. It may have been a copy and paste job, but I’m impressed by the fact that they did it.

But here’s the bigger lesson that everyone needs to learn: Social media, like every other service, process, and occupation in the world is filled with stupid people. Stupid people who say stupid things.

This is why it’s important to screen for character, and not just experience. This is where price becomes less important than quality. This is where the lowest priced agency is not the best choice.

Too many horror stories like this abound, where big companies hire agencies to manage their social media. And the agencies hire people who apparently can’t tell the difference between their own accounts and their corporate accounts. Or who are prone to say things that are racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise idiotic. Or, if they didn’t actually mean it that way, didn’t wait five crucial seconds to see whether a comment could be taken that way. They didn’t just ask themselves, “should I send this, or will someone be offended?”

This kind of thing is going to happen again and again. We shouldn’t be shocked or surprised by it. We shouldn’t even say this is a problem with outsourcing, because it happens to companies with full-time employees too.

But companies need to start looking at some of the intangible qualities an employee or agency. Are they careful and do they think ahead, or do they shoot from the hip? Are they low-key or are they prone to impulsive outbursts?

In my own business, I see people choosing price first and quality second (if at all). When you’re choosing a social media agency, you can’t just go with the cheapest one. Because the cheapest one is going to hire the least experienced, least expensive employees.

And you will truly get what you pay for.

Five Things Miley Cyrus’ Tongue Can Teach Us About Business

My friend Casey jokingly challenged me to write this post:

Casey Valiant's Miley Cyrus Tweet

After Miley’s R-rated performance at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), including gratuitous tongue wagging and grinding on singer Robin Thicke, social media was ablaze with shocked reactions and stunned disbelief at what they had seen.

Of course, I’m never one to turn down a good “What _______’s tongue can teach” blog post, so I accepted the challenge.

There are a few business lessons, especially related to crisis communication, we can all learn from Miley Cyrus’ tongue.

Sort of.

1) Transparency and visibility are not always highly valued.

Photo quote about Miley Cyrus - Transparency and authenticity are the two big watchwords the social media hippies like to spout. But there’s such a thing as too much transparency. No one wants to know how sausage is made, and no one wants to see your Gene Simmons-esque tongue flapping in the breeze.

There is such a thing as too much transparency. Don’t air the company’s dirty laundry just because you think you should. Which leads us to. . .

2) Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

We hear about the PR stunts and the corporate jackassery all too often in the business pages, and we read with the appropriate amount of shock and horror. And that should clue you in that PR stunts backfire, and jackassery, well, is not looked kindly upon by most people.

This means that while some things may be legal, that doesn’t mean they’re right — looking at YOU, Wall Street!

3) When your actions get in the way of your message, rethink your plan.

My oldest daughter used to love Hannah Montana, and I will grudgingly admit that she has a modicum of talent (“he mumbled curmudgeonly”). Which, I assume, is why she was invited to the VMAs in the first place. But I couldn’t even tell you whether she sang that night, or what song she did sing. And I’m willing to bet that in 10 years, no one will remember the song, but they’ll remember her performance.

Do I really need to draw this particular analogy out for you? Don’t do stupid stuff.

4) If you’re going to screw up, you’d better have a plan for recovery.

In a recent interview, Miley cited Madonna and Britney Spears as positive role models other singers who have made, um, questionable decisions about performances, and she pointed out that people forgot all about it.

Eventually.

Of course, you have to have a lot of star power to pull off a “screw you, I don’t care” recovery plan successfully. For the rest of us, you need to work on containment and recovery. You need to work on overcoming the issue. Don’t hide from it, don’t deny it, don’t pretend it didn’t happen. The road to business failure is paved with bad PR advice.

Just cop to the problem, admit it, apologize, and move on. Assuming your problem isn’t legal or going to see you in court/jail, just shrug it off and promise to do better.

5) When that’s not even the worst thing people are discussing, you’ve got bigger problems.

All the photos I’ve seen of Miley are of her tongue sticking way out of her head. Not all of them are of her grinding on Beetlejuice, but they are all of her and her tongue. And yet that’s not what people are talking about. When every photo is of your tongue, and yet that’s not even the elephant in the room — though, given its size, it does give the elephant’s trunk a run for its money — then you have a problem.

Don’t lose your small problems in your bigger problems. If you’re going through a crisis with your company, you still have to focus on the smaller problems at the same time: deliveries, customer service, sales, etc. You don’t shut down. You don’t assume that your customers will give you a pass. You take care of business and deal with the crisis at the same time.

Lawyers Need to Cooperate with Marketing, or Get Out of the Way

It’s the customer every brand dreams of: the superfan who spends their own time, money, and energy evangelizing a product to all their friends and family.

Sara Rosso is a Nutella superfan. So much so that she created World Nutella Day back in 2007, and it has taken place on February 5th every year.

A photo of a guy who has managed to wedge his head up his assThen she received a cease-and-desist letter from Ferrero’s (Nutella’s parent company) lawyers, demanding that she no longer use the Nutella name in her I-LOVE-NUTELLA-THIIIIIIIIIIIS-MUCH efforts.

According to an article on Social Media Today, Rosso got media coverage of the event on NBC, CNN, and ABC, plus a social media audience of 47,000 fans and followers.

And yet, some lawyers who had no idea about the awesomeness she was spreading (pun totally intended) as well as no freaking clue about how free marketing evangelism worked, shut her down.

So Rosso took her case to the people, and posted the cease-and-desist letter to her blog, and almost immediately — I hope after the marketing department shouted “WHAT THE F*** DID YOU JUST DO?!” at the legal department — contacted her to rectify the situation.

When it was all said and done, Ferrero issued this press release, which Rosso posted on her website:

“World Nutella Day: a positive conclusion

Positive direct contact between Ferrero and Sara Rosso, owner of the non-official Nutella fan page World Nutella Day, has brought an end to the case.

Ferrero would like to express to Sara Rosso its sincere gratitude for her passion for Nutella, gratitude which is extended to all fans of the World Nutella Day.

The case arose from a routine brand defense procedure that was activated as a result of some misuse of the Nutella brand on the fan page.

Ferrero is pleased to announce that today, after contacting Sara Rosso and finding together the appropriate solutions, it immediately stopped the previous action.

Ferrero considers itself fortunate to have such devoted and loyal fans of its Nutella spread, like Sara Rosso.

Problem solved! World Nutella Day has been saved!

Except it should never have been a problem in the first place. Without going into all the “everyone in a company should communicate” drivel, which you and I know will never happen, Legal should have at least been smart enough to check with Marketing and said, “Hey, have you guys ever heard of World Nutella Day? Is this a thing?”

And Marketing would have said, “No, but it’s pretty cool. Why do you ask?”

Legal: “Because we want to shut it down. Someone is using the Nutella name other than us.”

Marketing: “Don’t be stupid. Clearly this is someone who is helping us further the cause of Nutella, which helps us make more money, which is how we can afford to support your non-revenue generating asses.”

While I understand the need for brand protection and support, there needs to be a mechanism in place where the marketing folks can have some input on the cease-and-desist letters and tell the lawyers, “wait, don’t send that one.”

Then stories like this would never have to be written, and Nutella and Ferrero wouldn’t end up with egg on their face.

What We Can Learn About Social Media Marketing from The Onion

It was a rather shocking tweet. Someone who was in charge of The Onion’s Twitter account basically called 9-year-old actress and Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis the C-word.

It was so reprehensibly awful and terrible that Twitter just beat the holy bejeezus out of The Onion for it. Within an hour, they deleted the tweet. (This was remarkable in itself, given the fact that these guys never back down or apologize for anything.)

A LOT of angry discussions on whether The Onion should have apologized or not. The angrier ones seem to be on the

A LOT of angry discussions on whether The Onion should have apologized or not.

This morning, even as the Internet was storming Castle Onion with pitchforks and torches, their CEO, Steve Hannah, even went so far as to post an apology to their Facebook page.

Dear Readers,

On behalf of The Onion, I offer my personal apology to Quvenzhané Wallis and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the tweet that was circulated last night during the Oscars. It was crude and offensive—not to mention inconsistent with The Onion’s commitment to parody and satire, however biting.

No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire.

The tweet was taken down within an hour of publication. We have instituted new and tighter Twitter procedures to ensure that this kind of mistake does not occur again.

In addition, we are taking immediate steps to discipline those individuals responsible.

Miss Wallis, you are young and talented and deserve better. All of us at The Onion are deeply sorry.

Sincerely,
Steve Hannah
CEO
The Onion

From a social media marketing standpoint, this gives rise to a bigger question: when do you blame an entire company for the acts of a single person? When does one person’s views reflect the entire company? And should they ever?

Let’s face it, what this unnamed person did was reprehensible. You just don’t call little girls that word. (Actually, you don’t call any women that word, but there’s a very wide line between being a sexist a-hole and the worst person in the world, and the unnamed person managed to keep one foot planted on either side of it.)

Now The Onion is bearing the brunt of that one person’s poor judgment.

In a lot of cases, people will forgive a company for the missteps of a single person. If you have a bad waitstaff experience at your favorite restaurant, you don’t boycott the entire restaurant. If you received a damaged package from your favorite online bookstore, you don’t stop ordering books. Yet, there are thousands of people who have un-liked and un-followed The Onion on all their social properties, because of a single tweet by a single person.

But this isn’t entirely unexpected. During the presidential election, when someone from a candidate’s past 30 years earlier does something mildly offensive, the other side will scream that this proves that candidate is the anti-Christ or a fascist. When the CEO of a corporation says or does something awful, consumers scream that this kind of attitude pervades the halls of that company.

There’s an awful lot of screaming going on, and people are understandably and justifiably outraged. What this unnamed person did was awful, but the entire organization didn’t sit down at a table and vote on what to tweet.

Are people overreacting or are we justified in screaming at The Onion? Did one bad apple spoil the entire bunch, or should we look at their entire body of work, and forgive them in the end?

This Shouldn’t Stop Companies From Using Social Media

The problem is that whenever anything like this happens — at least the problem for social media professionals like me, Jay Baer, and Doug Karr — is that potential clients look at this and say, “See, we can’t trust our employees not to do something stupid and boneheaded like this.”

It makes our job harder, because they’re worried that their punk intern just out of college is going to start tweeting about his drunken antics at his cousin’s wedding. Or she’s going to launch into some profanity-laced tirade about how her basketball team couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat.

So we have to remind these clients of a few things:

  1. If you have employees like this, you have a hiring problem, and that’s your fault, not social media’s. Those people would act like this even if Twitter had never been invented.
  2. You need to hire people with several years of experience and common sense to run your social media campaigns (these two traits are sometimes mutually exclusive in some people).
  3. You already trust employees to count and handle your money, take trips to faraway places, and even answer the phone without you hovering over them. You need to trust employees on social media this same way.
  4. You need to have a clear-cut social media policy about things you cannot say, words you cannot use, and ideas you cannot convey. At least then people will know why you fired them for violating numbers 1, 2, and 3.

For companies thinking about social media marketing, you need to think about these things:

Will people do stupid things? Yes. It’s in our nature.

Did you hire those people? Yes, because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Did you hire them to do those stupid things? No. Otherwise, that would make you as stupid as them.

Will people blame you for it anyway? Yes. Because we all want someone to be outraged at.

Does this mean you shouldn’t do something, like use social media? No. Because people do stupid stuff with all kinds of technology, but that doesn’t mean we don’t 1) use computers, 2) use fax machines, 3) use phones, 4) use cars, and 5) hire people.

We still do all those other things, we just make sure they’re used properly.

That’s how it needs to go with social media. More than half the country is using it. More than half the country is expecting you to be on it. And despite the bone-headedness of some people, it’s still a good and decent place to reach an audience.

People make mistakes. Big, goofy, bone-headed, dumbass mistakes. That’s all just part of the rich tapestry of the business world, and everyone does it. Some are just worse and more crass than others.

The question is, will you stick your head in the sand because of what someone else did, or will you embrace the latest technology and learn from other peoples’ mistakes?

How the FDA Lost Our Trust During the Meningitis Outbreak

In the face of the meningitis outbreak, which was caused by tainted drugs, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be leading the crisis communication.

But they’re not.

That responsibility has fallen to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).Tweet from the CDC about the meningitis outbreak

Why? Because we, as the public and consumers of media, trust the CDC. We don’t trust the FDA.

The FDA should be embarrassed.

Jim Garrow pointed out on his Face of the Matter blog — Building Trust is an Everyday Job — that the FDA should be in charge of this outbreak, since it was caused by tainted drugs, which fall under the FDA’s purview. The CDC oversees contagious disease outbreaks, which this is not.

Yet, according to a recent Mashable article, “. . .Twitter users searched for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more often than the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” Furthermore, the CDC is regularly updating the media through conference calls about what’s being done about the outbreak, not the FDA.

Why is that?

We Trust the CDC, We Don’t Trust the FDA

Believe me, there is a distinct division between agencies. They usually don’t cooperate or communicate, even when they’re treading some of the same ground. I can only imagine there has been some jockeying for position, for credibility, and for Top Dog-ness between the two three-letter agencies.

So when the CDC, and not the FDA, started holding media conference calls, we should have gotten a clue about the problem, and gotten a good indication about who the media (and the public) trusts and who they don’t. Who has done a good job of earning our trust, and who hasn’t.

Who uses social media well, and who doesn’t.

Tweets from the FDA

Irony, thy name is FDA. (I honestly wish I was making this up.)

We trust the CDC, because we see them on social media more. We trust the CDC because they communicate with the public more. And we trust the CDC, because they tend to talk to us more like people and less like little children.

The CDC has been getting some great press coverage over the last couple of years, thanks to things like the CDC’s Zombie Preparedness campaign, which actually taught people how to prepare for a viral outbreak like pan flu. (Pretty sneaky, CDC.)

While the FDA has tweeted one time — ONCE! — about the meningitis outbreak, in between tweets about Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the Kefauver-Harris Drug Amendments of the 1960s to its 13,875 followers (seriously? I have almost as many followers as the FDA?!), the @CDCemergency account has tweeted updates 6 times to its 1.375 MILLION followers.

(Pro tip: If you’re in the middle of an outbreak of a deadly disease because of tainted drugs, it’s probably not a good idea to commemorate the historical signing of an amendment to make drugs safer. Or to tweet about that more often than you tweet about the contaminated drugs that are currently killing people.)

Any wonder why we trust the CDC more?

The Fight For Credibility and Eyeballs Begins NOW

If you want people to trust you on social media (and other) channels, you have to start using them now. If you want people to know they can turn to you when there’s a real crisis, you have to start sharing information with them before the crisis hits.

The CDC has been doing this by tweeting out important information during small crises, and treating them like practice before a big event. They communicate regularly with people, they use social media to its fullest — complete with Facebook page, Twitter accounts galore, blogs, YouTube videos, and just about anything else (hell, they even have a Google+ page for their National Prevention Information Network!). Meanwhile, the FDA’s website still has a starry night background with a dancing baby animation (okay, not really; but they’re still referring to Twitter as a microblog; it quit being a microblog in 2010.).

The short of it is this: You can’t wait until the day of a crisis to launch your crisis communication plan. That thing had to be in play months in advance. And the FDA has lost all control of this crisis, and abdicated it to the CDC.

Maybe this will be a wake-up call to the FDA that they need to do better, so the next time it happens, they can actually be prepared, and we’ll be more likely to trust them.

And you can read all about their efforts on their new Friendster page.