Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill

Navigating negativity on social media and beyond

By Chris Duffy

Often a crisis can originate on social media with a post from a member of the public that can be harmful to a company. As a leader within your organization, your first instinct is to defend your reputation. It’s natural to think that the world is caving in on you. When you see a negative post about your company getting hundreds of likes and shares, it feels like a big problem. But often if an organization responds, it can escalate the problem and get the post seen by more people who wouldn’t have known about it otherwise.

When clients hire Goff Public to help them in the wake of a negative social media post, our first strategy is the “wait and see” approach – which often results in no public response. It’s important to remember that the social media mob often gets fixated on an issue and yet easily moves on to the next thing in their feeds.

Of course, if the post contains misinformation and comes from a credible source such as an elected official or media outlet, an immediate response is appropriate to correct the error. Other times, the better approach is to monitor the situation to see if the post picks up traction, or to see if the misinformation is corrected organically by others without your intervention. If the source isn’t valid to begin with, it’s likely a better approach not to intervene at all.


If you do respond, authenticity is key

In today’s social media-influenced world, business leaders seem more accessible than ever before. Leaders today regularly deliver updates in real-time on social media, sharing their opinions, expressing themselves in their own words and letting us see their personalities. We have become accustomed to this access, and we expect it.

This is why overly rehearsed messages often fall flat and are not well-received by the public anymore. When we read a transportation company saying that it “takes safety very seriously” in response to an accident, we want to scream, “Of course you do!” When something goes wrong that a company needs to address, it’s important for its leaders to deliver messages that are truly meaningful to their key audiences.

Leaders and companies tend to not want to communicate publicly until they have all the answers. A fear of lawsuits also leads to this hesitation. But companies can respond without having every answer or getting themselves into legal trouble. If your company doesn’t get the message out first, someone else will, and it is much more difficult to correct misinformation than to share a statement in the first place.

Referring back to the example above, maybe the transportation company doesn’t know who or what caused the accident, but they can empathize with the injured. Instead of a message about taking safety seriously, the company can say, “We are truly sorry that some of our passengers got hurt.” This statement hasn’t admitted fault, but it has acknowledged that the company is responding to the accident and that they apologize that some of their customers – who they care about – are injured.


Make deposits before a crisis

Most people think of crisis communication as something that is done in the moment – but there is a lot you can do ahead of time to set yourself up for success when a crisis hits. Through proactive communications efforts, you can make deposits before a crisis that will benefit you when the time comes. Having strong internal communications, earning trust in the community, establishing good relationships with elected officials and first responders, making donations to local organizations, securing positive news coverage and having an updated crisis communications plan can all help your reputation withstand a crisis.

This is a snapshot of the topics I’ll be covering at the EXPO in January. I look forward to meeting you there!


Chris Duffy is the vice president of public relations at Goff Public, an independent communications agency, based in St. Paul, Minn., offering public relations and government relations services. Find him at UMA Motorcoach Expo 2019, speaking Monday, Jan. 7 on “How to Respond Appropriately to a Negative Review or Bad Social Media Post.”

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