Should Booz Allen Use Social Media in Managing its Crisis?

As you’ve no doubt read, the individual who admittedly leaked government secrets about the National Security Agency’s data-collecting programs was an employee of consulting firm Booz Allen. To make matters worse, this flash appeared late Monday afternoon, June 10th, for the Twitter hashtag @boozallen.

Booz Allen N.S.A. documents leak 90,000 military files stolen

The link led to a story in Forbes magazine that said “anonymous hackers penetrated a server belonging to the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton and released what it claims are 90,000 military email addresses, encrypted passwords and an assortment of data related to other companies and government networks. It also claims to have accessed and deleted four gigabytes of the firm’s source code.”

It’s a sign of the times that Forbes posted a tweet to draw readers to the article on its own website. The story about the leaked files broke on June 9th and, to its credit, Booz Allen posted this announcement on it website:

Booz Allen Statement on Reports of Leaked Information

Booz Allen can confirm that Edward Snowden, 29, has been an employee of our firm for less than 3 months, assigned to a team in Hawaii. News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm. We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter.

Booz Allen on Social Media

I decided to check if Booz Allen took to the social media airwaves to reassure investors (its stock has predictably fallen), clients and the business community that it deplores Mr. Snowden’s actions.

Twitter. @BoozAllen. The firm posted a tweet on its official Booz Allen Twitter stream dated June 9th with a link to its statement on the firm’s website. If you search #BoozAllen you will find dozens of tweets from news organizations and other Twitter members relating to the scandal. Most of them are not positive. I couldn’t find a tweet on this hashtag from Booz Allen.

The Forbes story said the firm posted this tweet on its Twitter account about the hacking of its website: “As part of @BoozAllen security policy, we generally do not comment on specific threats or actions taken against our systems.”

LinkedIn. I was pleased to see that Booz Allen posted the leaks statement on its LinkedIn company page and, to date, has received 14 comments, and, interestingly, 34 Likes. It’s important that 34 people – maybe employees, but so what – in support of the firm. Nothing yet about the hacked military addresses.

Facebook. The company posted its announcement on its Facebook page and at this writing had 71 Likes (good) and dozens of comments that were mainly negative. Again, nothing yet about the hacked military addresses.

Most people on Facebook and the other social media sites couldn’t understand how a firm as prestigious as Booz Allen would hire an employee without a college degree, or even a high school degree, in such a sensitive position.

Google+. Booz Allen has a company page but it’s only a placeholder. Posting to Google+ has the potential to boost a company’s SERP (Search Engine Page Results). Another missed opportunity.

Lessons Learned

A company never knows when a crisis will strike. Every organization’s crisis communications plan needs to include a social media component. It’s too late to open an account on the major social media networks after the fact. These social media sites need to updated continuously as new developments unfold.

As I’ve written before, companies can and should engage their employees as brand advocates on social media, not only in promoting the firm’s products and services but posting breaking announcements from the company when bad things happen.

I hope Booz Allen engages its employees in telling the firm’s side of the story as things seem to go from bad to worse for this storied consulting firm.

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Comments

  1. I have mixed feelings on this, though I do suppose in this day and age, to not voice one’s self on social media just seems foolhardy. It just makes sense that companies take responsibility and post updates on both good and bad news because it’s the right thing to do.

    • Jeri — I imagine that Booz Allen management is talking to government officials behind closed doors right now. As a public company, it has the obligation by law to deliver updates of materiality to investors and the public. But because of the secret nature of the work they do for the government, I think they are walking a very fine line here about what and how much information they can divulge.

  2. Interesting. At first I would have thought, it might be helpful if Booz Allen engaged their employees in a central place or places for comments. But the truth is, with the content of the leak – that our USA government has become George Orwell’s 1984 Big Brother – I think not.

    • Pat — see my comment to Susan. As a government contractor, Booz Allen is in a particularly tough situation. That’s why it needs the support of its employees more than ever.

  3. Hi Jeannette,

    Regarding this issue I am not sure having employees telling the story is right. The reason why is it is serious and I think it calls for the company leaders rather than employees to tell the story especially as it also concerns your government.

    • Susan — I understand your point. In non-crisis situations employees who have received training can be trusted to post about the company. As IBM’s head of communications has often said, social media hasn’t changed anything. Most companies already have policies in place about what information employees can publicly divulge. However, in a crisis situation, these designated brand ambassadors would be given the precise content to be posted — updates on new developments reflecting the company’s position that the company has publicly disclosed. That way the information goes viral instantaneously to many more people than would be likely to visit the company’s website. And traditional media might not get the company’s POV right.

  4. Cheryl — Agreed. The accuracy part is paramount. Unfortunately, too much misinformation is flying around the web and being treated as gospel.

  5. Booz Allen should use social media more effectively to tell their side of the story.

    But I am not sure using employees to do so would be a good idea. This crisis calls for coordinated efforts by top management to show they realise they made a mistake and take responsibility for it.

    Personally think the main problem here is not Booz Allen but the fact that national security is being privatized. It’s a disaster waiting to happen and something much worse than this will take place. Just a question of how, when and by whom. Am certain that a lot of issues occur behind the scenes frequently that would make the general public panic, if they knew. So in my opinion politicians and advocates pro privatising national security should do crisis management on social media.

    • Catarina — I agree about the dangers of privatizing national security. We saw what happened when the US government used private contractors to monitor checkpoints at airlines. It didn’t work so they now hire their own employees and while it will never be perfect the TSA employees are smarter and more accommodating.

  6. Great post. In the middle of a media crisis it’s easy to feel that everything you do is just making it worst by over exposing the issue. In that context, companies can start to hermit, running from the media or keeping low key, which of course generally makes things worst. Social media can be so explosive and you’re never quite sure where a story will go but companies who don’t incorporate it into their communications activities do so at their own peril. If someone hash-tags my corporate name during a media crisis, I’d would expect that I’d at least show up in the results or I am letting people with way less vested interest tell my story.

    • Thanks, Debra. Running from the media is the worst thing you can do. The first rule in a crisis is to get all the bad news out right away and don’t dribble it out. They need to be following what’s being said on social media and the hash tag makes it so much easier.

  7. Interesting post. The media takes stories that they do not have all the facts and run with it. It is so important to put out the the fire before it rages out of control. Using social media can douse the fire. Sometimes that way we defend our position is not always the right way. In Philadelphia a building collapsed and six people were killed. It became a media frenzy. An investigation was being done to see if the inspector who surveyed the building before it collapsed had signed off on demolition work. He tried to defend himself through social media and it didn’t work. Thursday he killed himself. Not all the time when bad things happen and we post the announcements can they be corrected or accepted. With that said, it is still important for your company to post the renouncement before someone else does.

    • Thanks for visiting, Arleen. The building collapse in Philadelphia was tragic as was the suicide of the inspector. It will take time to learn all the facts — and possibly the complete truth about what happened may never come out.

  8. With the immense power social media has, it is hard to say if it would help or hinder, but at least you would be trying to take some form of control over what is being accepted as truth.

    • Becc — Yes, social media has the potential to level the playing field for companies. But they need to be prepared with how they are going to respond when a crisis hits.

  9. As the story keeps unfolding, it make me take pause. In the end, I believe, how it will affect Booz Allen is yet unknown. I pretty sure that the other shoe has yet to drop. Time will tell.

    On a personal note: It does make me think about how and what I do on SM for sure. 🙂

    • Susan — the other shoe is already dropping as Congress begins hearings to learn why Booz Allen had access to Top Secret documents. What a mess.

  10. Jeannette,
    I agree with Susan Oakes’ comment that the employees should not be telling the story. One of my previous employers was a large non-profit organization that had it’s share of PR nightmares due to the actions of what the public perceived as being our “parent” organization. Our Board of Directors and our legal counsel advised us to hire a media firm to handle the situation. As for staff, everyone was instructed to route any inquires to our communication department, which had talking points from the PR firm. I’m sure that today, social media would definitely be included in the crisis management plan.

    Thanks for sharing your research!

    • Sherryl — in a crisis, all inquiries need to be directed to the crisis communications team. Agree that only designated employees should be responding to media inquiries and using social media with a consistent message approved by the company.

  11. I’m not sure what to say about this story – I don’t think we will ever know all the details. I agree that this is one where employees should not be tweeting all – they probably don’t even know the details. The overall topic itself is controversial.

    • Leora — yes, as I mentioned to Sherryl, only designated employees should be speaking out publicly. The crisis team should be on top of every breaking development and ready with the company’s official point of view.

  12. Social media is another mechanism for organizations to communicate to their audience. In fact, it’s a wonderful way to provide direct messages that are unfiltered. It should be embraced as a means of communicating. But like all communications, it must be managed. It is immediate and lasting and it’s effect can be profound, so in some ways it does require greater diligence with the message. But that is a question of how to manage, not whether to use social media!

    • Leon — It was the message, not the medium that was at fault. But as you point out, you’ve got to manage your messages on social media. The whole world is watching and listening.

      • You are right about the message. It’s interesting to watch how many companies pay so much attention to their public profile and messaging in traditional media, yet are clueless as to managing the message on social media.