Much like the Internet changed the way people read the news, social media drastically altered the way PR pros develop our strategies.
Every aspect of media relations, public affairs, and client outreach has been influenced because every person has a voice on whatever online network he/she chooses. However, the one area in which most of us are just beginning to understand social’s influence is crisis communications.
All crisis communications plans are being rectified, teams are being reconstructed, and ideas are being changed because the information vacuum of social media can suck a little if you don’t prepare accordingly.
The question is: When it comes to social media and crisis communications, is “preparation” even possible? An answer may be in a story involving a canine hater and former CEO of Centerplate named Desmond Hague.
Just let that soak in.
The next PETA voodoo doll you see pictured is the aforementioned Desmond Hague. Centerplate is one of the largest stadium catering companies in the land, servicing some of the largest sports and entertainment venues such as Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco, BC Place in Vancouver, and Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
And essentially it is because of social media that dude is no longer in charge of buying hot dogs and nachos.
What had happened was somehow surveillance video shot in an elevator of the Private Residences at Hotel Georgia in downtown Vancouver shows an unidentified man kicking a dog several times. This mysterious ne’er-do-well can then be seen hauling the dog by its leash as he exits from the elevator.
After some sleuth with the local SPCA got a hold of the video late last month, we discovered that it was Hague.
Social media targeted Centerplate and created the number one trend worldwide.
Although it took him three days, Hague apologized for the incident in a public statement, calling the abuse “completely and utterly out of character.”
Social media continued to direct hate in Hague’s direction.
So, Centerplate released its own statement stating “[Hague] would be required to serve 1,000 hours of community service and donate $100,000 towards the creation of an organization dedicated to protecting animals.”
Yeah, still not good for Internet trolls who met the statement with vitriol, and followed up with a Change.org petition with 180,000 signatures demanding that that Centerplate fire Hague.
They did, as noted on Centerplate’s website:
Centerplate’s board of directors announced today that Chris Verros has been appointed to the role of acting president and chief executive officer, effective immediately, following the resignation of Desmond Hague from the company. The decision comes as a result of Hague’s personal misconduct involving the mistreatment of an animal in his care.
“We want to reiterate that we do not condone nor would we ever overlook the abuse of animals,” said Joe O’Donnell, chairman of the board of directors for Centerplate. “Following an extended review of the incident involving Mr. Hague, I’d like to apologize for the distress that this situation has caused to so many; but also thank our employees, clients and guests who expressed their feelings about this incident. Their voices helped us to frame our deliberations during this very unusual and unfortunate set of circumstances.”
It’s clear Centerplate tried to avoid that happening for some reason. It’s obvious the powers-that-be thought this whole beating a dog thing would just blow over. However, it’s definite that social media and the power of the people had a play in this imbroglio.
A crisis communications plan had to change because of social media. A public relations debacle only intensified because of social media. And a man got what he deserved because of peer pressure.
Welcome to the future of crisis communications.