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.

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About Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations. He is one of the foremost Public Relations experts in the United States, with over 20 years of experience. He has won countless awards for leadership and entrepreneurship, and Ronn Torossian has transformed businesses through strategic and aggressive PR strategies.