Michael Darragh, Ogilvy: Dealing with the negative

Containment and damage control are the name of the game when defusing negativity online.

The panic starts when a Google search lists negative sentiment about your brand in blogs, forums, video networks or other online media. Feelings of doom arise and gut instinct says erase the hate at any cost and with any tactic.

Welcome to crisis management as it has evolved with social media characteristics. In this new era of comms where anyone can be an influencer, even a relatively small crisis - such as a negative blog post - can feel like an all-out brand assassination where every move we make may be scrutinised in public.

The astute social media marketer will have already been monitoring conversations with a listening post and have crisis procedures for people in the organisation to follow. Containment and damage control are still the name of the game. So how do we defuse negativity online?

It is vital to act quickly and establish the identity behind the negative post or comment, for that will determine how much credence to lend the situation. Unless the author has used their real name - or an otherwise established online identity - their comment is not as seriously damaging to your reputation as you might think.

The nastiest comments are the craft of trolls and haters of the internet. The most popular definition of a troll at UrbanDictionary.com is 'one who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument'. Trolls are an annoyance, but thankfully other users easily identify their style.

Of greatest concern are opinions of people who use social media for good, people who share their knowledge and expertise through social media. These influencers appeal to the majority of internet users who are raising families, making work choices, planning holidays, purchasing clothes, managing finances, maintaining their health and myriad everyday activities. Influence online is determined by factors covering analytics, authority and popularity. These are the known and trusted bloggers who have built a reputation in just about every category and almost every act an influencer takes online via social media results in some form of word-of-mouth. Nine out of ten people are said to trust the opinions of people they know, so if someone has a genuine grievance online, then it's vital to form a response with no time to waste.

New media relations is derived from traditional media relations, so some rules still apply. Where many people slip up is in the outreach. From blindly pitching stories to angry retorts and cease-and-desist letters, many people everywhere are getting it wrong.

The right way is personalised and transparent outreach on a human level. If you engage in anonymous tactics, you choose to play in the same gulag as the trolls. Even in times of crisis, advocate transparency - if you love your brand you have nothing to hide.

Speed is another key factor. It must be addressed as soon as possible, so be prepared. You must know where your audience is investing its time and trust online and who is shaping public opinion online. You should have a mutually respectful dialogue happening within the platforms and communities that are relevant to your brand.

Everyone fears a negative comment, tweet or blog post, but there is a right way and wrong way to do it. The right way is a measured reaction, which is fast, personalised and transparent. The wrong way is to be misleading and have something that could easily have been contained taking on a life of its own. Just remember: what happens online stays online.

Views in brief

What's the best brand PR campaign you've seen on Facebook?

The new Ford Explorer, an iconic American SUV, was launched on Facebook.

What's the key to managing a brand's Twitter feed?

Commit time and resources to it. The last thing we need is another abandoned Twitter feed that seemed like a good idea at the time.

How can in-house PR people encourage people from all departments to get involved with a company's digital strategy?

Get colleagues involved through in-house groups in LinkedIn and Facebook. They're more fun than an intranet and easier to share the work you are doing.

Michael Darragh is head of 360 degree digital influence at Ogilvy London

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