For those of you unfamiliar with the “Streisand Effect”, the term is based on the online phenomenon in which attempting to censor or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of causing the information to be publicised widely, causing more harm and exposure than if no censorship had been attempted. One of the first examples of this was in 2003, when Barbra Streisand, attempted to suppress an aerial photograph of her California mansion citing privacy concerns, suing Pictopia.com for $50 million – in an attempt to have the offending photograph removed from their website. The case inadvertently generated further publicity and public knowledge of the picture increased substantially with over 420,000 people visiting the official site in question.
So when bad publicity really is bad publicity how do we cope with managing it? Especially when it happens through social media which is essentially out of our control and in the public domain. We’ve all had to deal with such incidents from time to time, including myself. Many brands leave social media to be handled by younger marketeers who tend to be more savvy and technologically minded yet lack the vital PR experience needed in handling such a level of public communication and spin.
Here are 10 rules of engagement to stop Babs from turning up:
1. Outline Your Social Media Manifesto – Before you begin launching your brand in the public domain decide in advance what the purpose of your social media is and what public attention you expect to receive from this – what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t! Don’t deviate or get caught up answering posts that don’t fit this mandate. For example, answering complaints on your Facebook Page about a ticketing problem, when your main focus is brand awareness and not customer service. When you do get these situations you’ll be well prepared and can swiftly point them in the right direction. Deciding on this early and getting senior management to agree on this will help you from day one.
2. Recognise You Do Not Own Your Social Media – These forums are for your fans and followers to contribute and comment on and not for you to police and censor, the sooner you accept this the more relaxed and confident you’ll be online. If you are sensitive about your brand then you really shouldn’t be online, but remember you can learn far more about how your brand is perceived if you are in the social media space. There is also a tendency for some form of brand presence to appear eventually anyway which you will have no control over – so it might as well belong to you!
3. Acknowledge Bad Press – Don’t ignore it. Don’t Panic. Don’t be defensive. Don’t sit on it for days. If you don’t have an immediate response then at least respond by acknowledging it, thanking them for the feedback and promising to get back to them. A ‘wall of silence’ goes down like a lead balloon. Also, like a bad smell, nothing is worse than leaving negative remarks to fester; as it attracts flies – i.e. more negative comments. Ensure you have alternative positive content to keep the conversation moving along and drive your audience forward.
4. Don’t Delete and Censor – It’s tempting at the first sign of a negative reaction from the public to delete the offending items immediately and pretend it didn’t happen, this can cause more trouble resulting in a further backlash. People hate to be censored or be subjected to some Big Brother watchful eye. If you do this too much – it generates mistrust and they may even stop contributing completely, then you’ll be left with a redundant social media presence. It does makes sense however to delete anything that is offensive or libellous! Common sense is the key here and your manifesto is there to back you up.
5. LISTEN! – Most negative comments happen because you are most likely failing to communicate in some way and therefore your fans and followers may have a valid point to make! Take time to figure out if you warranted this response and if so, decide what you can learn from it and how you can stop this from happening again in the future. People complain if they feel their voice isn’t heard, so read and respond as much as you can as this is what social media is all about – reaching out to the people who matter most and are passionate about your brand.
6. Let Fans Speak For You – The great thing about social media is that it’s open to anyone to contribute and as much as you may encounter negative comments there are certainly other people who are your biggest supporters and are as equally vocal. Sometimes fans will do your job for you, saying all the things you’d love to say but can’t and will quite happily leap to your defence. This is great, as you no longer have to police or be seen as a kill joy.
7. Keep It Short And Simple – Long convoluted responses invite further criticism, only tell your fans and followers what they need to know. Much like this bullet point.
8. Your Greatest Critics Are Your Greatest Allies – Very rarely you get the odd troublemaker. The thing about negative criticism is that it usually comes from your most passionate supporters or ‘über-fans’ as I like to call them. We all take note of those who stick their neck out to be heard from the crowd so instead of allowing this minority to become the bane of your social media existence, be strategic and make them feel special by elevating their status and offering them ‘exclusivity’ of some description – it could be judging on an online panel, to present a video blog or submit interview questions. Anything that values their opinion in some way – it doesn’t need to be much and you could turn them into ambassadors for your brand and inadvertently give you new content as a result. In simple terms, stroke their ego!
9. Protect Your Talent – There are people usually involved when it comes to promoting live entertainment brands. The more savvy performers now keep an eye on their social media presence as much as their own press reviews and PR, so make sure you actively support your talent and be seen to give 110% support, otherwise you’ll be receiving a bad rap from both sides.
10. Learn From the Experience – As with everything we do, none of us are immune to criticism. Most marketing and advertising allows you to hide behind a faceless brand but with social media it is tempting to react personally as it’s such a direct and intimate form of consumer communication. Keep listening and always remember you’re there to serve your audience first and your brand second, after all without them you wouldn’t have anything to promote.