Sony Hack Attack, Part 2: More Ways to Avoid Damaging Communications

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Sony Hack Attack, Part 2: More Ways to Avoid Damaging Communications.

Sony Hack Attack, Part 2: More Ways to Avoid Damaging Communications

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Email hacking Our recent post on the Sony hack attack generated a great deal of comment on LinkedIn, mostly from people who agreed that email should be treated more carefully. Most agreed with our contention that that “all communications should be professional. Being derisive, racist or sexist in comments not only opens us to litigation and damaging publicity – it’s just wrong.”

Commentators also provided some great ideas on avoiding private thoughts and conversations becoming public. Here is some of what they had to say:

Mel Hopkins, a storyteller and former broadcast journalist, says the one thing she learned as a broadcast journalist is your “mic is always hot.”

“It was that lesson that allowed for me to not so much safeguard what I say (or write for that matter) but rather (to) check the source of my contempt within and correct it,” she wrote. “Maybe that might be the first lesson in effective business communication. After all, we are adults.”

Paul Busch, who describes himself as an experienced sales and operations executive, says employees should realize that “email is a company resource and all materials are subject to review, sometimes by people that you think will never see what you are writing…Commonsense could have saved Sony some embarrassment, with or without the data breach.

Our friend, Steven J. Ibarra, JD, an executive consultant, said he always trained his students to “assume you are being photographed (or) recorded….there is no such thing as confidential communications, and to always assume you are talking to law enforcement.”

This is great advice, especially with everyone carrying a camera and tape recorder on their mobile devices. The proliferation of cameras has become an issue in sports clubs’ and other facilities’ dressing rooms, where privacy can easily be violated. With mobile devices nearby, private conversations also are easily recorded.

Chris Brooks, IT chief for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Seattle, warns that the “expectation of privacy is always going to be in question across the electronic mediums.” He also notes that “even phone calls are subject to monitoring.”

Cell phones, on which we increasingly rely, are notoriously vulnerable to hackers who can intercept and record conversations. As you may recall, phone-hacking scandals plagued the royal family and many others in Britain in the 1990s and early 2000s. The News of the World newspaper folded amid the controversy surrounding its role in hacking the phones of celebrities, politicians and crime victims.

Many commentators decried Sony’s lack of proper encryption and security on its email system – a topic the media has explored in some depth. Large corporations around the country and the world undoubtedly are re-examining their security protocols. So should employees. How many of us are truly good about changing passwords frequently and using unique passwords for each site or email account – if our company doesn’t force us to do so?

Updating passwords and avoiding the obvious ones helps avoid hacking. Deleting defunct email accounts also will avoid the embarrassment of reaching out to friends to urge them not to open files sent by hackers from an old email account.

Patrick Rardin, of Eagle Feather Enterprises, Inc., had the best new tip for managing email. He said that many email programs offer a delayed sending option for all outbound email. He has his set for a four-minute delay, and he says that delay “has saved me a lot! Additionally if your email message is heated in any way, save it to drafts and let it ‘rest’ as oftentimes a night’s sleep may change your reaction.”

We recently posted six commonsense rules for email that provides other email tips as well. Do you have any additional thoughts on how to guard against communications that can embarrass or harm your business and/or brand?

Lessons from Sony’s Hacked Emails

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Avoiding e-mail snafus

The revelation of racially insensitive comments in emails written by Sony Pictures Entertainment co-Chair Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin provide another lesson in what not to do with our most frequently used form of communication.

Their comments, suggesting President Obama would only like African American-focused movies, came to light because of a cyberattack on Sony. While most of us will never be the subject of a cyberattack, litigation and email snafus can easily expose our innermost thoughts, tasteless jokes and other ill-advised comments to the very people we would never wish to see them.

With auto-completer, it’s easy to accidentally send an email to the wrong person. Email recipients also can forward – either accidentally or on purpose – an email to others who may find the original emailed comments offensive or demeaning in some way. Litigation or complaints filed by a subordinate or employee can require disclosure of emails. The emails of public employees and contractors for public entities can be made public through reporters’ and others’ freedom of information or public records requests. In these cases, deleted emails may even be retrieved.

We’ve provided six commonsense rules for email in a previous post, so we won’t revisit those. But the media firestorm surrounding Pascal’s and Rudin’s emails remind us all – once again – that all communications should be professional. Being derisive, racist or sexist in comments not only opens us to litigation and damaging publicity – it’s just wrong.

Even with the most professional of approaches, we can still make errors or simply convey the wrong tone. Here are three easy tips to avoid such email snafus:

Re-read the email with the recipients in mind: Reading the email’s contents before sending the email and trying to put yourself in the position of the recipients will help gauge how the contents and wording will be received by them. If the email is especially sensitive or you’re still concerned about the contents, asking a colleague or friend to read it will provide the outside eye that may be needed to fully assess the potential impact of the language used.

Enter the email address last: This helps avoid sending the email prematurely. It also helps ensure the promised attachments are indeed attached.

Use the phone: Even with emoticons, jokes can often fall flat in print. We’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Pick up a phone if you wish to make a quip to someone or say something you wouldn’t want others to see in print. Pascal and Rudin claimed they were joking in their exchanges. Both have apologized, but speculation is swirling that Pascal’s days are numbered at Sony.

Why are People so Bad at Pitching Stories to the Media?

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Pitching stories to the media is a fine art. Most people have no idea what makes for a good story. We have a background in reporting. It helps us be more successful because we understand what makes a good story.

PR News created the following infographic, which details many of the tips for successful pitching.

media pitching infographic

Three Lessons from Bill Cosby’s Silence

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NPR Coverage

Bill Cosby, once one of the most beloved TV sitcom fathers, tried to remain silent when decades-old allegations of rape and sexual assault resurfaced in the media on Saturday. But his silence reverberated through the media’s echo chamber, spreading more widely with each passing hour.

Cosby only shook his head and said nothing when first questioned by NPR reporter Scott Simon about allegations he drugged and sexually assaulted women in incidents dating back to the 1960s. His silence became the news in yet another indication of how “no comment” rarely works for public figures or public scandals in today’s 24/7 news cycle.

Fair or not, a no comment or silence in the face of damning allegations is often perceived as an admission of guilt. So what could Cosby have done instead? Here are three lessons from Cosby’s current crisis:

  1. Be prepared for the hard questions. Cosby and his wife were seeking publicity for the donation of some of their art collection to the Smithsonian. Seeking coverage of such positive news is likely to trigger some tough questions because reporters don’t want to serve as a celebrity’s PR machine. Moreover, the allegations surrounding Cosby’s past behavior had resurfaced when a video of a comic’s standup routine about the charges had gone viral. Cosby’s publicist should have known he could face some hard questions and had him ready to respond on NPR.
  2. Say what you can say. After Cosby’s silent response, his attorney issued a statement, saying: “Over the last several weeks, decade-old, discredited allegations against Mr. Cosby have resurfaced. The fact that they are being repeated does not make them true. Mr. Cosby does not intend to dignify these allegations with any comment.” Cosby could have provided an answer along these lines. The statement is missing the denial most would like to hear from Cosby. But it at least tells the audience that the allegations are extremely old, and it asserts they were discredited.
  3. Get the right answer the first time. You don’t want to have to backpedal and correct. That only gives the story longer legs as reports on the correction add another day of coverage. In Cosby’s case, a second statement appeared today on the website from his attorney and the attorney for one of the women who claimed Cosby sexually assaulted her. It said: “The statement released by Mr. Cosby’s attorney over the weekend was not intended to refer in any way to Andrea Constand. As previously reported, differences between Mr. Cosby and Ms. Constand were resolved to the mutual satisfaction of Mr. Cosby and Ms. Constand years ago. Neither Mr. Cosby nor Ms. Constand intends to comment further on the matter.”

After three days of reeling from the charges, Cosby and his team are starting to rally support, which is probably the best they can do at this point. Whoopi Goldberg spoke out for him today on “The View.” Other supporters will likely join the discussion, raising questions about the veracity of the allegations. But at least one of the women claiming he sexually assaulted her is making the talk show tours, and the ongoing debate will only increase the knowledge of the allegations at exactly the time Cosby and his wife were seeking to solidify their legacies as philanthropists.

What other lessons can be learned from Bill Cosby’s response to these allegations?

Honoring Veterans’ Sacrifices through Storytelling

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President Reagan's words inscribed in the memorials at Pointe du Hoc.

President Reagan’s words inscribed in the memorials at Pointe du Hoc.

As we honor our veterans today for their many sacrifices for our liberty, we are reminded of one of the great storytellers of modern times and his ability to capture one of history’s greatest moments, the taking of Pointe du Hoc during the Battle of Normandy. Whether you liked his politics or not, you must acknowledge that the late President Ronald Reagan could capture the imagination and inspire the public through his storytelling skills, his masterful delivery and his sense of the moment.

The words he used to retell the story of Pointe du Hoc on the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy in 1984 were poetry. His delivery – with the aging “boys of Pointe du Hoc…the men who took the cliffs” seated before him – is etched in our memories. His speech is preserved in plaques at the memorial and in videos, such as this one.

President Reagan, of course, had the advantage of years of training as an actor. But watching him and listening to the words of this speech honoring the sacrifices of our veterans are good reminders of how powerful storytelling and presentation can inspire and influence us all.

Do Men or Women Use Social Media More?

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This is a fascinating look at the differences in the sexes’ use of social media. While this plays to stereotypes, it’s probably not surprising to see women leading men in the use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media that aims to build relationships of all types. The men, not surprisingly, are more likely to use LinkedIn and the more “manly” social media.

Considering the audience you’re trying to reach and the differences in the genders’ interest in different social media channels and messages will help ensure a social media program is reaching the intended audiences where they’re most likely to be engaged and with messages that are most likely to engage them.

Who uses social media more?