Published in Slogan (December issue)
Ayesha Hoda emphasizes on the need to build a PR team that can battle in the online world.
“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it,” said Benjamin Franklin.
Similarly, it takes a one-line status on Facebook or 140 letters on Twitter to make a rumour or half-baked news to spread like fire, persuading people to question a person or company’s claims and credibility. Your best friend’s neighbour may be dissatisfi ed with a certain brand and choose to target it on his blog. Your best friend may sympathize with him and share his blog post on Facebook, barraging it with his own two bits. Wouldn’t you believe him and hesitate in using that brand? There is no smoke withoutfire, right? You would then go ahead and warn others. Tweet and retweet the post – do your bit to spread the word against the blood-sucking, profit-maximising corporate.
Many have said, and rightly so, that social media is a double edged sword.It has definitely changed the work dynamics of Crisis PR specialists. Nothing is in control with the increase in the number of bloggers and citizen journalists.
A PR/communication expert has no option but to be proactive and follow the activities of almost everyone who seems to take an interest in his company or in a competitor’s. He has to keep his friends (or online allies) close and his enemies closer.
A crisis created in the online world is not restricted to it but easily fi nds its way in the offline
world. A proactive PR professional will be able to halt and fi nish it off before it gets out of hand.
However, this is easier said than done. Digital communication fi rms abroad are trying to educate their clients that the possibilities of online crises are high. Even if a company is satisfying its customers, there can always be an aggressive competitor, a disgruntled ex-employee, a supplier with grievances or a bored consumer, who may not care two cents
for the company’s good name. They can and they will mislead the public with anonymous online
postings or by giving updates in their circles of influence via social networking.
While positive thinking may be a good thing, companies and their PR agencies must start anticipating crises. They need to acknowledge their weak points internally and while making
improvements, work on their defense strategy. If they fight the small battles well, they can prevent a PR war or an unexpected attack.
Locally, several companies – which are still trying to fathom the importance of traditional
public relations – are oblivious to the fact that their reputations are also at stake in the virtual
world. Netizens are fully exercising their right to voice their opinions, often stating them as facts. What companies should realise is that even if they choose not to leverage the global social media tools, others will use them to communicate about the organisation. Therefore, staying away from the digital world can only harm them.
Internationally, many efforts are being made to keep online crises under control. For instance,
global PR fi rm Weber Shandwick has launched a new social crisis simulator, FireBell, which allows clients to take part in a real-time dialogue in a secure, off-the-internet environment. It simulates crisis situations on multiple social media platforms including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Digg, LinkedIn and blogs. The crisis drill helps prepare clients for a similar dialogue during a real crisis – they will know exactly how to respond.
Other simpler measures can also be taken to deal with or prevent crises. Links of positive
coverage may be bookmarked and shared, sometimes as part of responses to any negative
coverage about the company or its brands. Responses based on factual data rather than
flowery words can also help, although apologising for inconveniences may be a good idea in some situations (where the company is to blame). The company can also run a full-time blog to regularly update key audiences on its side of the story. It should analyze who reads and responds to stories on the company in the online world. There is also a need determine how important confi dentiality is versus transparency, which can satisfy the curiosity of the public.
Given the right response strategy, an online crisis can even be used as an opportunity to
generate positive buzz about a brand. Look what happened with Gap recently. Its new logo was
criticised by all and sundry on social networks but, as a blog called Future Lab pointed out, ‘even the logo’s loudest detractors managed to build positive buzz for the Gap brand.’
Deadlines are short or none during a crisis. One needs to be very quick. Online responses are
bound to eventually lead to mainstream media coverage which can leave a lasting impression on people. Rather than wait to clean up the damage and start building a good reputation all over again, learn the social media fundamentals and build a strong team that is ready to command and control on the digital front!