Perils of Online Crisis Public Relations

by PR Coach

Another day, another trial by Twitter. This time for South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley when a blogger falsely reported she was under investigation by the IRS for tax fraud.

The New York Times traced how the unsubstantiated rumor, posted on March 29th by 25-year old blogger Logan Smith, caught fire on Twitter. Smith who blogs at the Palmetto Public Record, failed to verify facts with the Governor and the IRS. In minutes, other mainstream and political media and bloggers repeated and retweeted the allegations, again without verification.

Another black eye for journalists and bloggers racing to break a story first, without fact checking or editorial oversight. Media offenders included The Washington Post, CBS News, The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, The Daily Beast, The Daily Caller and The Hill among many. Many issued updates or corrections, while a few apologized.

Haley and her team stayed in damage control for days with mixed success. The Governor said she expects similar attacks to continue.

According to the Times, blogger Smith remains unrepentant. He says in an email: “I reported that credible sources said they believed the governor would be indicted — not that I knew she would be indicted, or even whether or not I personally believed she would be indicted.” [My italics added]

Welcome to sleazy southern politics and questionable blogging standards.

A big headache for an elected official, a sad reflection on lazy media under pressure to break stories in real-time and a timely warning for reputation managers near and far.

How to Manage an Online Reputation Crisis

So how can you manage a future online reputation crisis? Here are eleven tips to help you survive the next one:

  1. Have a crisis communications plan in place in advance. Prepare scenarios and possible key messages ahead of time.
  2. Build allies in advance and keep your databases current.
  3. Maintain a current media contact list with direct phone numbers and emails for reporters and key editors.
  4. Actively monitor mainstream media and social media channels.
  5. Respond quickly with prepared statements tailored to each media or social media channel. Use all channels possible if warranted.
  6. Return media calls as soon as possible.
  7. Secure third-party support or validation quickly. The IRS provided a letter saying she was not under investigation.
  8. Try to become the primary source for accurate information. Don’t surrender control to critics by hiding.
  9. Update as new facts become available.
  10. Remember the social media fundamentals: listening, openness, honesty, transparency, timeliness and engagement.
  11. There comes a point when it’s time to move on. Know when to shut up.

Have you any other online crisis PR tips to suggest? We’d enjoy hearing your reaction to this post in the comments below too.

We’ve got lots more crisis PR resources at The PR Coach website. For regular PR and social media tips, strategies and insight, sign up for our blog or get posts delivered to your favorite RSS reader.

Further Online Crisis Management Reading

Here are a few excellent articles on online crisis management drawn from our PR Library:

Best Practices for Crisis Communications Over Social Media[David Spark]
Crisis Communications in Social Media: Are You Ready? [Valeria Maltoni]
Crisis PR Plans Incomplete Without Social Media Component [Richard Nicolazzo]
Five Rules for Managing Twitter When a Crisis Strikes [Brad Phillips]
Five Social Media Crisis Communications Tips [Bill Salvin]
Six Steps To Fighting Internet Rumors [Christopher Barger]
Turning Lemons into Lemonade: 11 Components of a Social Media Crisis PR Plan  [Paula Berg]

 Jeff DomanskyAPR is a PR and social PR strategist. He blogs at The PR Coach and you can also follow him on Twitter @theprcoach or (PR 2.0 Insight).

Photo credit: Maistora 

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