The idea of being targeted by the Tweeter-in-Chief is not something to be dismissed lightly.
Whether to respond to a social media attack or ignore it is a question all companies should consider, irrespective of whether the attacker is the man in the Oval Office.
There are two rules every brand should follow: first and most importantly, have a plan. Second, monitor the Twittersphere, and all other social media.
Developing a playbook for an attack is a critical investment of time and resources. Identify the individuals in your organization responsible for the activity - make reporting lines short and crystal clear.
Having the debate internally, and running drills before an attack, will pay dividends.
Carefully consider areas of vulnerability. For example, if you are in the auto industry and have manufacturing plants outside the U.S., you should already have developed the arguments to support your position. The same is true for any company that is a major importer.
If you are a service provider, such as an airline or a fast food chain, you will hopefully already have a robust crisis plan, but everyone would benefit from regular reviews of plans and methods of delivering key messages.
If your CEO decides s/he wants to fight fire with fire, be very clear about the risks of going up against someone who tweets with impunity. That said; the potential damage to a company’s business and brands that could be caused by rolling over must be weighed against supporting principles that have underpinned them.
Some organizations have already taken a stand. Kellogg stopped running ads on Breitbart, concerned that the outlet supported racists, misogynists, and anti-Semites. Firms such as PepsiCo and Amazon that have taken very public positions in support of environmental issues could well find themselves in the President’s crosshairs.
The same is true of the NBA, which has been vocal in its support of LGBTQ rights. Deserting principles that represent powerful elements of a brand could prove even more damaging than fighting back.
Deciding whether to respond depends on several factors, but assessing them must be undertaken quickly and, if a response is to be made, it must be done fast. This is frequently antithetical to the way companies operate, but slow response can be worse than no response.
Be honest and straightforward. If you are at fault, apologize and do something about it. If you are targeted for something you didn’t do, present the facts in a compelling way. The tone and manner of your response will be critical in determining how it is received.
Finally, never lie. Politicians may have the dubious luxury of living in an "alternative fact" world, but company executives do not.
Lucas van Praag is former global head of corporate communications at Goldman Sachs, now managing partner at Fitzroy Communications. Got a question for Lucas? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org