Originally asked on Quora, with my reply below:
Has anyone been with a company that has had a social network used against them for negative PR purposes?
We recently had to ask a small non-profit to leave a building. They were here on a short term basis which they were aware of, yet they are using a social network campaign to make it sound like we are booting them to the curb via eviction. Any way to respond and not just open ourselves to even more criticism?
I’ve seen similar situations with some fairly large clients – the scale might be different but fundamentally the lessons and approach are pretty similar.
Broadly speaking it’s better to respond in a positive and proactive manner (*not* defensively or aggressively) than to just it back and take it. Silence allows those with the grudge to completely define and drive the story, something that if unanswered can do significant long-term harm to your organization’s brand and reputation. The issue is how you can respond, and a lot of that depends on the tools and channels you have at your disposal:
Do you have any sort of established presence across social networks? A company blog, a Twitter handle, Facebook page, etc.? It’s an old bit of advice, that if you don’t have a presence may be moot, but one of the best defenses against a negative critic campaign is to have been actively establishing a presence, a voice, and credibility. It gives you the platform to respond. It is extremely hard to spin something up only when the crisis hits – ask BP PR. You can, and should if possible, engage them and respond positively where the criticism is taking place – in the forum they posted, in their blog’s comments, on their Facebook post thread (just remember you are their guest in that situation…).
Whether you have a presence or not, by all means respond but do so in a positive, proactive manner. Take the high road. The path to ruin in social is to respond defensively, with threats or aggression, etc. In almost every case, unless the facts are obviously and dramatically on your side, the sentiment lies with the little guy (the non-profit), and a poor response from you could make the issue snowball into something very, very negative. Without knowing much about your specific situation, some quick thoughts:
- Acknowledge their concern positively, but lay out the facts to the extent that you can reasonably disclose.
- Invite them in to a face to face discussion of their concerns, and how or why their was a disconnect in terms of understanding. Make this invite publicly and repeatedly if not acknowledged, on your own blog/twitter/etc and also where they are raising a stink (comments on their FB thread…) so the community knows you are reaching out.
- If possible, assuming you are standing your ground, see if you can offer them some help or connections with other properties in the area. Show you are willing to go above and beyond to help them succeed in finding a new home.
- Overall – be as publicly and ridiculously reasonable as possible, even while holding firm in your position. Assuming you are confident the facts are on your side, your reasonable replies, if not met with a similarly reasonable response, will paint a stark contrast to their criticism and complaints.