Whether it’s a product recall or malicious behavior by employees, companies are launching multi-prong responses that make use of the skills and training that business and technical communicators exemplify.
Unfortunately, there is little information or training available to business and technical communicators regarding responses to accusations of wrongdoing (or apologia). In order to educate the next generation of communicators, we should start including case studies of apologia in business writing, technical communication, and new media courses.
Here is a brief description of an assignment or exercise that can easily be included in any business writing, technical communication, or new media course.
1. Take some class time to highlight real product recall situations or accusations of wrongdoing in the news. Look at press releases, corporate websites, and social networking sites that are used by the company to address the situation.
2. Assign students into groups and have them select a case from the news. Ask each group to provide a brief analysis of the situation (including what happened, why it was perceived as being wrong, and what the company’s messaging should be to overcome the problem).
3. Ask each group to devise a plan to address the problem/situation using the corporate website and social networking. Here is an initial list of questions that you can include on the assignment sheet to help the groups get started:
- What needs to be communicated?
- How can/should the company’s corporate website be used?
- What role can/should social media play?
- What documents will consumers need to see and download?
- Is video important? If so, how? To show a CEO apologize? To demonstrate how to find product numbers and identify recalled products? To provide instructions for fixing a product defect?
- How are all of these pieces integrated in terms of information architecture? How will they be connected in terms of link, buttons, and navigation?
4. In addition to analyzing the situation and producing a response plan, you can also assign the groups to produce mockups of their plan’s deliverables. For example, if a goal of your course is to teach document design, you could have them produce PDFs that would be downloaded from the corporate website. Similar deliverables can be assigned regarding website and video production, if those aspects are part of your course goals.
By positioning real-world scenarios in such a way, professors can help lead discussions not only about tools, software and delivery methods, but also about the rhetorical goals behind such responses. Here is a list of pedagogical goals that this assignment can help achieve:
- Place rhetorical situations and rhetorical goals at the forefront of class discussions.
- Practice considering multiple audiences—including consumers, employees, shareholders, regulators, etc.
- Highlight the ways in which new media and social networking can be used in business and technical communication.
- Help students learn and hone skills such as website development, video production, document design, social networking, etc.
- Help business and technical writers understand how corporations address accusations of wrongdoing and how they can contribute to the process.
To help your students discuss potential solutions, you can conduct class discussions about these websites:
MEGA Brands—Note the downloads that are available and use of video.
Mattel—Note the use of information available on the website and the method of linking information. In addition, you can view a video on YouTube that was originally posted on the main page of the corporate website.
Domino’s—Note the use of social networking sites, such as YouTube, FaceBook, and Twitter (for Facebook and Twitter, you’ll need to search back to posts on or near April 15, 2009).
First, let me stress that you do not need to be an expert in apologia theory or crisis management to include this assignment in your course work. Many of the scenarios can be analyzed using rhetorical theory and common sense regarding messaging and delivery.
However, if you’d like to look up additional information, the following books can provide quick and easy explanations regarding how to respond to accusations of wrongdoing:
“Ongoing Crisis Communication” by W. Timothy Coombs–In this book, Coombs helps alleviate the confusion of what to say by outlining a continuum for evaluating the specific situation you face and then selecting the appropriate response. While the details are too long to explicate in this post, here’s what it comes down to. Say your company faces rumors of wrongdoing. According to Coombs, your level of responsibility is low, since rumors constitute unfounded statements or gossip. In that case, the continuum indicates that the appropriate response would be to attack the accuser, calling his or her information and motives into question. Coombs’ continuum provides a visual way to address a situation and select an appropriate response. This visual continuum can be discussed with students in a matter of minutes and given to them as a handout along with the assignment sheet.
“Crisis Management by Apology” by Keith Michael Hearit–Hearit breaks apologia into two aspects—the “manner” and the “content.” In terms of the “manner,” Hearit states that an ethical apologia is: truthful, sincere, timely, and voluntary. In terms of the “content,” it should: acknowledge wrongdoing, accept responsibility, express regret, identify with the victims, ask for forgiveness, seek reconciliation, disclose relevant information, provide an explanation that addresses the victims’ questions and concerns, and offer corrective actions and compensation. These elements can be used by the students as well as the professor to analyze responses and discuss their appropriateness.
I want to share some assignments that I developed for Introduction to Social Media Marketing, which is a 3-week open online course at MulinBlog Online J-School. If you are an instructor of social media, please offer some comments and share your course materials; if you are a student, please also share your learning experience.
The three weekly modules in this open course each covers a focused topic – concept, strategy and tactics. This course does not cover the range of topics I would include in a regular college-level course, which will go deeper in each topic and will include additional topics such as engagement and measurement.
In each week, there are selected readings, tutorials, quiz, class discussions, and one or two assignments. You can download the syllabus or view it embedded below. I developed detailed instructions for each assignment; see below the embedded syllabus for each week’s assignment instructions.
[gview file=”http://www.mulinblog.com/mooc/syllabus_mulinblog_social_media_marketing.doc” save=”0″]
Week 1 assignment: Social media marketing concepts
Following guidelines and examples in the reading, please conduct a real social media SWOT analysis. Some suggestions on what you can do:
- You can do an analysis of a big brand; compare their social media practices with the four areas of a SWOT analysis, and discuss what we can learn from this brand.
- You can analyze social media activities of a small business or a non-profit organization, and try to suggest improvements. It can be a business or organization you have connections with or otherwise have knowledge of.
- If you want to, you can even conduct a SWOT analysis of your instructor, Dr. Mu Lin, who has been promoting his blog (www.mulinblog.com) on Twitter and Facebook.
When posting your analysis, please follow this format:
- Description of the business or organization you are analyzing.
- The actual SWOT analysis (please follow examples in the reading).
- Takeaways or suggestions. Something we can learn, or improvements they can use.
Week 2 assignment: Social media marketing strategy
There are two options for this week; you can choose to work on one or both of them.
Option #1: social media strategy
Read or download a social media strategy template by HootSuite and create a social media strategy for a real business or institution. You may need to conduct a SWOT analysis and incorporate findings in your strategy.
Option #2: content curation
Follow tips in this week’s reading for finding content ideas, research for an idea and create a Storify story.
Week 3 assignment: Social media marketing tactics
There are two options for this week; you can choose to work on one or both of them.
Option #1: Social media listening
Set up social media listening in Hootsuite for a brand, an institution, a celebrity or just any subject where there may be active related social media discussions. You can refer to the lesson for how to set up listening streams as well as what to monitor.
In your report, tell us what you listened to, what streams you set up, what you have found that interest or otherwise surprise you, and what you suggest that business or institution should do, and just anything else you want to discuss and share with us.
Option #2: Message creation
If you have a Twitter or Facebook account, try promoting something following best practices in this week’s lesson.
Specifically, choose a piece of content that you think may interest your followers/fans. Create a new tweet or Facebook post following writing guidelines in the lesson, conduct a hashtag research to find and include a few hashtags, then publish your message.
In your report, paste the actual tweet or post you created, tell us what specific guidelines you followed in drafting that message, how you came up with relevant hashtags, and tell us about responses to your message.
Need more ideas about social media marketing? Check out these popular books at Amazon:
About Mu LinDr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (www.mulinblog.com/mooc), a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
View all posts by Mu Lin →
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