PR is probably one of the hardest things to maintain in your company. It is a mix of smart marketing, planning, but also common sense. The simplest definition of public relations is to create and maintain a certain reputation about your company or a single person, e.g. you, in the eyes of the public. While this may seem like a straightforward thing, there are so many factors that can easily turn this into a living nightmare.
While the saying “there is no negative publicity” might be true for celebrities who have to put up with tabloids examining every inch of their lives, the same cannot be said about big organizations and businesses. Just imagine how much money companies like Coca-Cola put into creating an image that their product keeps your family and friends together; and now, imagine how the company would react to bad PR. It would launch an array of different strategies to minimize the damage, prevent it from spreading, and it would go so far as to admit a mistake and ask for forgiveness.
So, while bad PR is the stuff most marketing strategists’ nightmares are made of, there a couple of guidelines that can help you diffuse the situation.
Do not poke the trolls, do not talk to them, and do not even look at their general direction. The more you try to fight it, the angrier they get, and the more damage they can do to your business. Use that time in a much smarter way, examine what happened, find if there was something that you could have done to prevent it, and try to think of a way to repair the situation. You can recognize trolls – users who actively seek conflict, all from the comfort of their anonymity. If you do need to respond to such a user, be polite, use facts, and do not let the trolls drag you down to their level – that is what they want.
There is a difference between refraining from engaging trolls, and coming up with a suitable response. In case something bad happened to you, there is no need to hide it. This is the internet for crying out loud; everything can be found out with a few clicks, so in a situation like that, failure to respond will only be seen as admitting the blame. Once again, this does not mean that you need to engage each and every online comment, but be selective and choose the fights where you can at least have a fair battleground, which brings us to the next point.
If you are up against someone who is clearly much stronger than you, more influential or simply has some kind of bigger advantage – you should rethink your strategy. You can only lose what you have and it won’t be pretty. A good example of this is for a popular journalist to have a bad experience with you, and after writing about it, you are faced with an army of his readers. How should you engage this? Slowly, diplomatically – only after you’ve asked for a chance. Send an email asking for a rebuttal and appeal to their common sense. Ask to explain what happened and apologize. That will only make you look mature, serious, and above all – trustworthy. The worst thing you can do is to let your emotions run wild and post something on Facebook that you will soon regret.
If a situation suddenly appears, like we’ve said previously, take your time to understand it completely. The better you understand what happened, the better response you can prepare. Be sure that you are right; trying to spin something can easily end up all in your face… it has happened before. It is much better to offer an honest “I don’t know” or a sincere apology than having to eat your own words a few days later.
Even if you determine that some stuff you read online is not worthy of a response, you should always be listening to feedback. A small mistake can happen once or twice, but more than that can show a crucial error hidden somewhere deeper. This is not important because of any PR situation, but because of the PR situations that could happen. Examine everything you read about your company, and after a while, if you notice a pattern, you will be able to respond much better or maybe you’ll be able to prevent disasters from happening.
If you hear a few complaints here and there, use it to your advantage. Is your customer expressing dissatisfaction online? Respond and offer to solve any problem, free of charge. This will not only fix their problem and leave them happy, but it will give you good PR. A bad experience can spread quickly online, but so can a good one. You never know what might happen. Always try and behave as you would like to be treated. Be public about it, and do not try to hide it. Be proud that you are human, that mistakes happen, but also that you are willing to examine and correct them.
In the end, if something really bad did happen, and there is nothing you can do – then you must confess and simply be at the mercy of the public. Even this can be used to your advantage; it will show you as a human being, someone who is not always right. It is a much better plan than denial since this will at least prevent people from trying to questions your motives. Ignoring something bad that has happened won’t make it go away, but being sincere about it just might.
If you have to swallow a frog, don’t look at it for too long – just do it quickly, like taking off a bandage. This will also make the dust settle, and your critics will be left without all the juicy drama to feed on – and they will eventually move on.
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