In ancient China, soldiers would warn against impending attacks by sending smoke signals from tower to tower up to 300 miles away within just a few hours; In 1775, Paul Revere used his vocal chords and a horse on his “midnight ride” to warn of the British invasion and in the 1800’s Samuel Morse used a type of character encoding system to send 20 words per minute via radio.
Today, in just a few typed lines and a few clicks, stories are being spread around the world through social networking sites circling the globe in a matter of seconds. And the vivid details from personal accounts through citizen journalism and the proliferation of camera phones are adding more truth and authenticity to these stories. In some cases the immediacy and extra scrutiny can lead to positive things (e.g., shedding light on last summer’s Iranian protests). In others, it can be
devastating for the main character or brand – causing irreparable harm to their reputations. The BP oil spill in the Gulf, the English goalies blunder against the U.S. team in the opening round of this year’s World Cup, or any Lindsey Lohan story these days are just a few stories that go against the old PR adage, “Any publicity is good publicity as long as you spell my name right.”
Celebrities have been putting up with this type of scrutiny, to some degree, for years with paparazzi constantly photographing unsuspecting beach goers wearing unflattering bathing suits or in compromising positions. But when it happens to our politicians, business leaders, corporations, athletes or just everyday people, how does one cope with the instant barrage of viral videos, bloggers, or tweeters, and the repercussions that follow? At least bad weather would force the ancient smoke signalers to take a break every now and then. Barring a colossal Internet crash, today’s perpetual flow of information continues to tarnish reputations worldwide (and many times rightfully so).
Today crisis communications is becoming increasingly difficult with public relations and marketing people scrambling to keep up with today’s technology. One lesson that Southwest Airlines taught the PR community back in February is to always keep a close eye on what the media, especially social media, is saying about your company. When movie director Kevin Smith was kicked off a Southwest Flight on Feb 18, 2010, essentially for being too fat, he tweeted about the episode and the next day the story was all over the Internet. However, Southwest wasted no time and offered an apology to Smith via Twitter and posted an explanation of their policy on its own blog before the story started to trend.
Maybe there should be an island for all the victims of negative social media fall out, where they can live in solitude and where there are no computers, web access, or mobile devices until their names are mercifully pushed down the search engine results list. Even then, it probably wouldn’t take long before helicopters were swirling overhead taking video and instantly downloading the footage online. A more practical approach would be to prevent the crisis from spreading further by paying close attention to what is being said in all forms of media and to who’s saying it.
The “who are you with attitude?” is old school now. So how are you preparing your clients and executives for “the every one is a reporter mentality?” Please share your thoughts with me and the readers of BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas.