Shut Down Negative Chatter

Jonathan Bernstein crisis communication, crisis management, Crisis Prevention, Crisis Response, PR, public relations, reputation management Leave a Comment

Word of mouth has very long reach

At some point, an individual will have a problem with your organization. In the past they would tell a friend, who would then would tell two friends, and so on. Bad news, yes, but the information rarely got far. Now, instead of merely telling a friend, the complaint is posted on Twitter and Facebook for not only friends, but also anyone searching terms related to your name or brand, considerably widening the reach, and drastically increasing your need to respond.

So what exactly should you do when the Twitter alerts start flowing in? Word of mouth specialist Andy Sernovitz recently shared his tips for quickly shutting down negative talk in a SmartBlog Social Media blog post:

  • Don’t waste time. The faster you respond to an upset customer, the better your odds of converting them into a happy fan. Even if all you can do is let them know you’re listening and that you’ll have to get back to them, a quick response can help calm them before they have the chance to further complain.
  • Speak like a real person. The easiest way to turn a little negative word of mouth into a full-blown crisis is to respond like a stilted, corporate public relations robot. When you respond, put a human face on your company by speaking genuinely, identifying who you are and making it easy for them to follow up with you.
  • Point to independent sources. You want to do everything you can to avoid a debate, but sometimes it’s important to explain your side of the story. When doing this, you’ll get the most credibility by pointing to independent, third-party sources. This was a key strategy UPS used to defend its brand during a PR crisis around new industry legislation.
  • Write for the record. Above all, you need to always be conscious of the scale of the audience when you’re responding to negative word of mouth online. Even tiny blogs in obscure corners of the Internet have the potential for things to get picked up and blown out of proportion. But if you respond like a human with a sincere attempt to fix the issue, everyone will see that you acted in good faith and tried to do the right thing — regardless of the outcome

Although the mediums used to communicate have shifted, these rules are essentially the same that have applied to quality crisis communication for many years. Respond to critics quickly, avoid suspicion-raising jargon, use outside experts to raise credibility, and remember who your audience is.

I would add to this one key step to the top of this list: look at the criticism and see if it’s warranted. If it is, you’ve got to fix the problem before moving further. This approach should satisfy or even convert all but the most committed trolls, who will either have retreated after you’ve fixed any outstanding issues, or lost so much credibility their talk does not merit a response.

The BCM Blogging Team

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