There are two options on Friday the 13th. You can try to comfort people by distracting them from the fact that it’s Friday the 13th, or you can give them something even scarier to think about.
I decided to opt for the latter. Today, we’re going to talk about the scary world of bad PR in the 24/7 social media world.
Of course, the idea that your company is vulnerable to online “trolls” or negative feedback online is nothing new. As Ann Marie van den Hurk writes in her book, Social Media Crisis Communications, PR crises existed long before social media.Consider the case of Tylenol and the terrible crisis they encountered when it was discovered many bottles of the medication had been made unsafe.
The negative sentiments people have held about companies have remained prevalent. Only the tools used to communicate them have changed. Blog posts were used to tear down Comcast. YouTube videos have been used to critique United Airlines, Federal Express, and Dominoes. Fake Twitter accounts have been used to critique BP. Fake websites and mobs of Facebook users have taken companies by storm.
Now, there is something new. The ability to “talk back” to companies may no longer be enough. Now, customers are beginning to pay to make sure their negative critiques of companies are seen.
This was revealed recently when a man named Hasan Syed purchased a sponsored tweet to complain about how British Airways mishandled his father’s luggage. Unlike a regular tweet, which can have a relatively short shelf life, sponsored tweets remain prominent and visible. The point of investing in a sponsored tweet is to make sure you get a lot of eyes on your content. If you want to make a point about a company that has failed you, it is an effective tool to use.
If this worries you or scares you, that is not surprising. However, you need not despair. The fact of the matter is that if your company has a crisis communications plan in place, as van den Hurk outlines, you will be able to handle and endure anything. If you do not have a crisis communications plan in place, this latest version of a PR threat is no more or less damaging to you than anything else.
In the case of British Airways, as NBCNews.com reported, there was a long silence on the part of the company and then a meaningless, seemingly automated tweet saying, “Sorry for the delay in responding, our twitter feed is open 0900-1700 GMT.” It is clear British Airways did not know how to handle this kind of social media PR crisis, and they only made themselves look worse.
If you are not sure whether your company has a solid crisis communications plan in place, or if you are not sure if social media has been integrated into that plan, I highly recommend you invest in a copy of Ann Marie’s book, Social Media Crisis Communications, mentioned above. The book outlines how to set up a plan and also offers examples of companies who did or did not deal with their PR crises effectively.
What do you think about customers buying sponsored tweets to promote negative feedback about companies? We’d love to hear from you.
Image: petesimon (Creative Commons)