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How to Handle a PR Crisis In the Age of Social Media

2010 December 28
by Steve Lawson

Social Media adds a very long tail to a PR Crisis

Will registering the url,
help in the event of a PR crisis?

According to Domain Name Wire, Bank of America has been aggressively registering domain names as a pre-emptive move just in case the sensitive, unflattering documents being released by WikiLeaks about a major US Banking institution belong to them.

To make sure the “bad guys” (defined in their world as anyone who would say anything bad about them or their brand) don’t get advantageous URLs, they are grabbing up any URL that could be used against them.  Like any URL related to Bank of America, management etc with the word “sucks” or “blows” attached.

OK, what is funny about this?  Well, for one thing, you can’t possibly buy every URL – and even if you could, with URL shorteners, Facebook, Twitter etc, it doesn’t even matter.  If you “suck” or “blow”, people will know about it and the word will get out.

Out with the old PR Crisis model – In with the New

Social Media Influence Chart from Social Media Influence - June 2010

The Long Tail effect can prolong and/or re-energize a PR Crisis

In the old days, a PR crisis would blow up huge in the beginning when the media got wind of what was going on.  The PR folks would gather and come up with a strategy, and before you knew it the press had grown tired of your story and had moved on.  Crisis over.  Social Media adds a whole new perspective.  Because Social Media is a long-tail communication tool, it’s harder to predict when the crisis will actually reach media critical mass.  Often, the press doesn’t even know or care about a problem until it becomes a big deal in social media.  Once a big deal in social media, the crisis can take on a third life or a 4th or a 5th.

According to an analysis published by Social Media Influence regarding the BP’s social media crisis surrounding the Gulf Coast oil spill,

“A brewing protest movement can come from anywhere. Often it gathers kindred followers online and grows slowly at first. It might attract attention from niche blogs, local news outfits, anybody with some level of influence and following. This added attention is just enough to push the movement into a new more visible light. This initial outside surge of interest is the tipping point, capturing the attention of a whole new group of people, which brings it to the attention now of the mainstream media. After their initial stories, the movement experiences a third life and a fourth. It’s the tail that contains the sting now and it creates a whole new set of headaches for specialists in crisis PR and reputation management.”

“It’s the tail that contains the sting now.  The half-life of these PR crises extends for weeks, months, even years more and has the capability to reignite yet again.”

The bottom line?  Clean up your act.  Be honest and transparent in all of your dealings.  Follow the golden rule.  Make a mistake?  Come clean; really clean, and fast!  You can no longer sweep stuff under the rug.  Because social media and web 2.0 will pull the rug right out from under you.

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