How to deal with negative publicity in the digital age

These days, before taking on a client or establishing a business partnership, people gather all the information they can about a company on the Internet. While in the past we only had to think of traditional media, companies now have to be aware of a whole other world of social media and review websites. It’s made monitoring for negative publicity more important, and more difficult, than ever – whatever the size of your company. Everyone is at risk, and any mistake could be noticed and make headlines – from the height of political manipulation to the simplicity of a typo or misinterpretation. So how can you ensure your reputation is safe?

Plan in advance

Every company needs a crisis plan, including contingency plans and pre-considered answers to potential problems, which must be in place before anything bad happens. This plan is usually created by a PR specialist and a lawyer and confirmed by the head of the company or the head of the crisis team (depending on how big the company is). This precaution will save time and maintain calmness in a crisis.

Stay cool and respond

Dealing with any crisis, it’s important to take an analytical approach. Ask questions: is the negative comment/article accurate? Who published it and why? Is the publication well known and widely read by the target audience? These questions should be answered with help from a specialist from the company, responsible for the criticised department, and a lawyer. Only after such analysis should action be taken. But action must be taken – as doing nothing can be worse than ignoring the negative publicity. Silence allows people to believe the published information, exacerbating the current situation and weakening the credibility of the company.

Prepare a statement

It is essential to refute negative publicity: provide arguments of misconstrued positions and present real facts. Your statement should objectively consider the situation and the position of the company, and recognise fault where necessary. It should be published on behalf of the company through all the channels of communication available. This statement should be constructive, honest and without emotion. The speaker can be, depending on the situation, the head of the company or the press officer (or the nearest responsible alternative). It also helps to ask third party industry experts to support the company’s position.

Encourage more positive or neutral publicity

With one negative comment or article surrounded by ten positive ones, it’s be easier to maintain your company’s reputation. That why it’s important to consistently talk about the company’s activities, and its products and services, fostering a good relationship with the media and your customers by providing answers on any enquiry.

You can even start building your reputation using Wikipedia – though it may appear to be a non-traditional source of publicity, everyone can see it and share it. As a key example in how far you must go to preserve your reputation in the online world, maintaining and monitoring a favourable Wikipedia article is important, even as a company or organisation.