“We were sitting in a staff meeting that was very boring, to be quite honest, when suddenly the Corporate Communications VP barges into the conference room and says she needs to speak to me right away.”
That's SocialMedia.org member Danny Chung, telling the story of how his team at Southern California Edison was recruited into social media crisis communication on the other side of the country.
Hurricane Sandy had just devastated the East Coast, and SCE was preparing to send 180 linemen, 100 vehicles, and several thousand pounds of equipment to help restore power. As the Manager of Corporate Communications, Danny was needed on the ground.
“She asks, ‘How quickly can you pack your bags?' and of course, being a Marine for twenty-something years, that was easy for me. I said, ‘I'm already packed and ready to go.'”
In fact, this wasn't the first time Danny was asked that question.
As a Public Affairs Officer in the United States Marine Corps, Danny often led public affairs teams into countries all over the world.
As a part of these teams, Danny worked with government relations and media communications personnel for disaster relief operations during events like Pakistan's 2006 earthquake, Sri Lanka's tsunami in 2004, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the 1994 earthquake in Los Angeles.
So when Danny got called into social media crisis communication during Hurricane Sandy, like a true Marine, he was actually excited. “I can't tell you how thrilled I was, because that's what I do — and this time, it's even better because no one's shooting at you,” he says.
“That's when I really realized how critical social media could be in a crisis scenario.”
In New York and New Jersey, Danny and his communications partner, Nancy Casanova, covered power restoration efforts on the ground. They kept audiences ranging from victims of the hurricane to SCE's partners, government officials, and the people back home updated in real time. And with few resources on the ground, they communicated through tweets using #SCESandy and raw videos taken with an iPhone.
Today, as Ingram Micro's Senior Manager of External Communications, Danny heads up social media and crisis communication.
“I make sure that we're all speaking with one voice. That's not to say I dictate every letter and word they push out, but rather to provide the vision and strategy that shows them generally what direction we're going, what behavior we want to entice from our customers and followers, and what our business goals are in the end.”
And for a company with offices in 40 countries and customers in nearly 200, that's a lot of voices to calibrate.
“The most exciting aspect of my job is also the most challenging,” Danny says, “I manage people around the globe whom I've never met. We call each other, we email each other, but I've never met these people. To be entrusted with global communications for a Fortune 69 company is both daunting and exciting at the same time.”
Twenty years in the Marine Corps has prepared Danny to face challenges like these, but he's also a firm believer in constant learning.
As an Adjunct Professor at Azusa Pacific University in the Communications Department, Danny says he loves to teach, because it's one of the best ways of learning.
“If you're not always learning, you're not adding any value to your profession. And that's something I continue to do by taking online courses, watching TED Talks, or joining discussions through organizations like the Public Relations Society of America, of which I've been a member since 1998.”
He's also inspired by thought leaders like Guy Kawasaki, author of The Art of Social Media, The Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell, and Chip and Dan Heath who co-wrote Made to Stick, Switch, and Decisive.
In the spirit of hard work in social, Danny also developed a phrase for his generation of communicators: “digital immigrants.”
He explains that unlike digital natives who are born into new media and intuitive tech, digital immigrants grew up “programming in DOS with command prompts across a black and white screen.” But he says learning how to adopt new, different technology is a trait that puts digital immigrants at an advantage.
“For a lot of digital natives, if it's not intuitive, they won't do it,” he says.
“Even with social media, you really need to get into the weeds and develop that full, annual calendar and strategic plan before you build anything. In part, our generation has a huge responsibility to pass on that you have to work at certain things.”
Follow Danny on Twitter and ask about why he says Google+ could be set to overtake Facebook in 2015. Danny has been a member of SocialMedia.org since 2014.