Combating Negativity in Social Media

Sometimes you have to put in your boots; somtimes you dont.

Post originally appeared at the PR Finish Line.

As PR professionals, we’re trained to think about worst case scenarios and are continually learning and testing strategies and tactics that will help our clients address any crisis situation -- no matter how severe the facts and brand risks may be.

While some of the tactics we employ are just as viable today as they were 10 years ago, including strong, clear messaging, other tactics aren’t, such as relying on traditional media to tell your story.

As counselors, we have to be on our toes more than ever today because of the share of voice and influence that social media channels can create on any given day, at any given time and around any given issue.

Take what’s happening to Nestle for example.

Emily Steel of the Wall Street Journal wrote about Nestle’s battle with Greenpeace-backed consumers over palm-oil purchases. As the report outlines, environmental activists are using social media channels to pester and attack Nestlé over its purchases of palm oil for use in KitKat candy bars and other products. They are claiming that Nestle is contributing to destruction of Indonesia's rain forest, potentially fueling global warming and endangering orangutans.

To channel their outrage and fuel their cause, activists have swamped Nestle’s Facebook page with negative comments; used Twitter as a loud speaker; and, posted a negative video on YouTube.

Attacks on brands by consumer groups have been happening for years, but social media channels help these groups turn up the volume quicker and louder than ever before. The instant reach and often emotion-laden nature of online communications can become a sword or shield. The Motrin Moms and Dominos cases are just two recent examples in a growing list.

When volatility lurks behind every status update, many brands are struggling with how to handle the fact that empowered consumers expect communications from a brand to be a two-way street. It’s a question our existing and prospective clients ask us every week. While the fears around online engagement are real, there are three steps that brands can follow to leverage these channels in good times and in bad: listen, learn and engage.

Listening is the biggest part of any communications program, not just as it relates to social media. Brands that aren’t monitoring their brand online are making a big mistake. There are plenty of tools and services out there that will help you gather the sentiment and context to the conversation around your brand, but simple listening (analyzing brand-related content and determining the roots of an issue) can go a long way. In the times where a brand is neck deep in a crisis, listening is a 24/7 effort, but it is absolutely critical to stay on top of the conversation. If you don’t, how can you think about what’s next?

Social media channels are chock full of key learnings for brands. Read blog posts about your company, your products or services. Be sure to pay attention to the influence that specific content creators can wield over others. Just as certain columnists or TV commentators can move mass audiences, there are influencers online with ears and eyes at their disposal and the ability to rally like-minded folks quickly. What are these people saying about you positively or negatively? Learn from their experiences with your brand so you can improve your offering and be ready in the off-chance that a crisis arises.

The last piece of the puzzle is engagement. Have something valuable to say or share. In a crisis situation, you may employ various levels of engagement. We would never counsel a client to withdraw the troops (delete a Facebook page for example), but we would talk about picking battles wisely. Not every comment on the Facebook page needs a reply.

Use your messaging to drive home your point of view on the subject. Use video where others are using the written word. Be as transparent as legally possible, but stay true to your brand’s core values. Whatever the crisis is, use your social media channels as an opportunity to educate your employees, stakeholders and target audience.

Balanced awareness promotes understanding that can cause a wave to crest or turn the tide. When you get to the point where traditional media is quoting or citing even obscure social media as validating sources, you know it’s time to assess where and how social media can fit into your crisis planning.

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