Sep 22

Responding to Online PR Issues Requires Advance Planning

How will you respond – or will you?

Every month or so, we hear of another company facing a public relations crisis. More and more often, these originate on the Internet or have a strong online component. Responding in the face of a crisis or criticism has long been a function of the public relations manager. Today, more than ever, PR staff must be equipped to analyze and react to online issues — or to offline issues using online tools.

To this end, the Air Force has developed an excellent flow chart that helps clarify the decision-making process when responding to public relations issues appearing on social media. The “Air Force Web Posting Response Assessment” (pictured below Link to PDF) identifies four types of online posts: Trolls, Rager, Misguided or Unhappy Customers.

Options for response that are identified by the Air Force include monitoring only, fix the facts, restoration, concurrence, or let it stand. In many ways, this algorithm applies logic similar to what PR staff has long used in responding to criticism in letters to the editor, editorials, or other media reports.

If you decide to respond as part of an online crisis, author Rohit Bhargava provides five steps to apply:

  • Identify the participants
  • Evaluate the conversation
  • Respond authentically
  • Publish your point of view
  • Monitor and respond to conversation

Of course, whether to respond or not is one of the critical questions a PR practitioner must answer as an issue develops. When and if to respond to an online issue or criticism is often challenging. Nathan Gilliatt put it well in a post on his site, The Net-Savvy Executive, when discussing blog criticism, “The short answer to almost every interesting question is, ‘it depends,’ and the question of how to deal with critical bloggers is no exception.”

Thinking out possible options in advance and making plans for addressing online issues, as the Air Force has done, is part of the role of a public relations manager — and one of the keys to success when a real crisis actually develops.

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