By Les Fugate
Remember 2010? It was the year Roy Halladay pitched the second no-hitter in post season history, Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock took home the Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Actress, Lady Gaga was dominating the airwaves.
It was also the year that Facebook’s user growth exploded from 360 million to 608 million users, Twitter topped the 100 million user mark, Pinterest launched in March, with Instagram following in October. And since, dozens of additional social media platforms have exploded onto the scene.
Just six short years ago, we lived in a very different communications atmosphere. Even then, news organizations and communications professionals alike were still adapting to the 24-7 news cycle. But the rapid changes that popular social media platforms ushered into that environment further altered how industries and brands communicated with their customers.
Today, the channels through which brands, associations and organizations manage their reputations are endless. Long gone are the days when only the newspaper or the evening news might deliver positive or negative information about you. New, alternative websites seemingly appear online out of nowhere, increasing the mediums through which your target audience might receive their news. These alternative news sources do not adhere to traditional journalistic standards: the emphasis is placed on headlines that generate audiences (which in turn generate ad revenue), and presenting and reporting on the facts becomes optional.
Brands that have struggled to adapt quickly enough to these shifting mediums may find themselves subjected to “death by a thousand pinpricks”: negative reviews, comments, and story headlines percolate across the internet and manifest themselves in the form of a negative reputation. Once this damage has been done, repairing reputations requires a significant, concerted effort.
And that is the good news. Through strategic public relations, brands that have been maligned in the court of public opinion may once again strike up a dialogue with their customers and begin to repair the damage caused by too many years (or months) of one-way dialogue.
So, where should you begin if your business or organization has gotten caught in the crosswinds of public perception?
1. Communicate with your customers where they are.
Even if you find yourself loathe of social media, it is a communications platform utilized by billions of people each and every day. If you want to strike up a dialogue with your customers, you must be present in that space and you must meet them where they are.
Determine where your customers are most active, and create and maintain a presence in that space. Craft and implement internal processes that streamline how customer issues will be addressed. Respond to online reviews, Tweets, and Facebook comments in a timely manner. For some brands “timely” means responding within 3 hours. For other brands, a response within 24 hours is sufficient.
2. Correct falsehoods with the facts.
We often jest that people believe everything they read on the internet. The sad reality is that there is truth in that statement.
When a story or social media post provides false information or incorrectly reports the facts, correct it swiftly (and politely). Think of it as snuffing out a small blaze before it turns into a raging forest fire.
3. Utilize third parties to tell your story.
The advent of the social era also ushered in with it the era of crowdsourcing. And while the court of public opinion may at times seem an endless ocean of naysayers, it can also produce a tidal wave of overwhelming support just when you need it.
Whether you are a startup business or a long-established brand, there is a high likelihood that you have fans and advocates who will go to battle for you. There may be times where their voice can be heard more loudly than yours, and you should mobilize these advocates to speak on your behalf.
Finally—remember that your social media and online presence does not exist to merely address the negatives. Social media has created a tremendous platform to share the GOOD information about your company or brand. If the internet is a vehicle—content is its fuel. Investing in and managing a comprehensive, strategic content strategy is your best bet to engaging existing customers and creating new ones.
Les Fugate is a Senior Vice President at RunSwitch PR. Learn more about RunSwitch’s comprehensive communications and reputation management solutions at www.runswitchpr.com.