When Digital PR Goes Sideways: How to Respond

In the digital age, and especially during social distancing protocols, social media is a vital PR tool. Whatever is posted there can generate immediate attention… which can lead to either immediate acclaim or derision. It stands to reason, then, that brands and influencers would be extremely careful and calculating in regard to what they post on social media platforms. Most of the time, that’s the case. But not always.

Even when a brand is generally meticulous in how and what they post online, social media posts can go sideways. This unexpected result could stem from a simple mistake, a misquote, an inappropriate joke, an out of context tweet, or something being leaked that the brand wanted kept under wraps. Whatever the reason, time is not on the brand’s side when a social media PR crisis happens.

Here are a few ways to minimize the potential for a social media PR crisis and how to respond if a post does create a negative response.

1 – Think it through

This might seem obvious, but, in the moment, when a brand is getting roasted for an errant post or a misguided tweet, it’s easy to get caught up in the emotion and just say anything in order to respond and deflect the problem. This almost never ends well. In many cases, an abrupt emotional response only makes it worse. So, take time with the response before posting… even when the impulse to just get something out there is intense. If the pressure to respond is insurmountable, and if the situation will definitely get worse if nothing is said, put out something neutral that buys time. Let people know the issue is being considered and will be addressed.

2 – Get multiple perspectives

Be certain what’s being expressed is exactly what’s intended to be understood. This suggestion is especially important if the response is intended to be humorous. Sometimes humor is the right way to go, but jokes don’t always translate well, and, other times, one person’s sense of humor could not play well with the brand’s established audience. One person’s self-deprecating humor could be another person’s “making light” of a situation.

3 – Respond clearly

Be certain that the response, when posted, will be clearly and easily understood. Be certain there is little or no ambiguity in what’s being said and why.

4 – Don’t feed the trolls

People can be especially cruel and unfair online, saying all manner of things while attempting to bait a person into responding. If the person is not an honest interlocutor or a sincere fan, don’t take the bait. Don’t waste time “feeding” the trolls. Put out a statement and stand by it. Answer any legitimate questions clearly and concisely, staying within the boundaries of the initial statement.

5 – Continue the dialogue

Social media is about relationships, and brands do have relationships with their fans online. This requires regular positive dialogue. In the case of a social media crisis, this could mean regular updates, new information when appropriate, or further news when the company decides if any changes should be made to correct the original issue. Use this follow up communication to let fans know how the brand will do better in the future. Invite their feedback and respond proactively to keep the conversation going.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO and Founder of 5W Public Relations, a leading digital pr and influencer marketing agency.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and Chairman of 5WPR, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 25 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America’s most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company’s growth, overseeing more than 275 professionals. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named “PR Agency of the Year” by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world’s most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine’s Most Influential New Yorker, a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, and a recipient of Crain’s New York 2021 Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Torossian is known as one of the country’s foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and has authored two editions of his book, “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations,” which is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.

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