Posted by Tom Gable
When the flame wars break out on Facebook and Twitter, don’t you wish you could call in the air tankers and dump chemical retardants on the perpetrators?
We have had several recent crisis PR challenges at Gable PR where clients wanted to go to war. Being of a competitive nature, they envisioned blowing away the critics with nuclear twitter attacks from all angles. Keep the miscreants on the defensive. Show them the error of the ways. Prove that we are right.
Unfortunately, experience shows that dueling vitriol and aggression only perpetuate the madness. New critics jump aboard. The snarkiest and most clever attacks go viral, attracting new garrisons of hostile forces. Gable PR had one technology client who kept arguing against online critics for a week, only to see the ratio of bad comments to good rise faster than floodwaters during a tsunami. When he set ego aside and stopped debating, the tides of criticism receded rapidly. He moved the conversation into calmer waters with updates on popular programs and future plans.
A financial client came under the gun after a marketing person erred in posting a joke rather than a typical inspirational quote on the company’s digital billboard on a main city intersection. The joke made fun of the traits of a certain breed of animal. A lover of the breed saw the billboard, took a photo and shared on the institution’s Facebook page, Twitter and several special interest websites. The photo went viral and critics chimed in from all over the country in the first 24 hours.
The client responded quickly, taking down the joke, issuing an apology and pledging funds to support a foundation related to the animal’s care. The institution then initiated a series of positive Facebook posts about community activities, awards programs, pending charitable events and other news that reinforced its long-time values of community service. Support came in from customers and the community. Within 72 hours, the negative had disappeared and all was good again in banker land.
You can fight most negative conflagrations with facts. Keep up a steady stream of positive information. Redirect the debate with new evidence and provide links to impartial outside sources and experts wherever possible. If you’ve erred, apologize as soon as possible, provide a plan to right the wrong and then carry out the plan, with regular reports of progress.
There are other nuances to consider. We blogged earlier about the half-life of a Tweet – the rapid decline in commentary when facts prevail and nasty exchanges stop – and responding immediately in what we classified as a social media “lightning round.”
- Don’t stoke the flames
- Cut a fire break (apologize, provide a new direction)
- Bring in the air tankers (bombard them with facts)
- Congratulate yourself for knocking down a big one