Thursday Thoughts: Public Relations in Social Media

I am a graduate student at George Washington University and I am fortunate enough to be taking a leadership class with a former high-level government official. My professor has served at the highest levels of government, and provides a first hand account how to lead large, complex and bureaucratic government agencies. Every Thursday I’ll post some thoughts on previous lectures that intrigued me, hopefully they do the same for you.

Public Relations in Social Media

In this day of hyper-speed news cycles and social media, public relations seems to be playing an even stronger role in how an organization is viewed. When there is a situation in the social media medium there seems to be a natural progression to how organizations seem to respond to online viral news, and its not the correct way to respond.

Non-organizational publics are people that are engaged in social media but aren’t organized by organization but by their common linkage on social media. These people can either enhance or impede what is trying to be accomplished. Think about last week when Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky delivered an almost 13 hour filibuster on the Senate floor, which prompted a #StandWithRand viral campaign on Twitter – an enhancement of a message. Now think of a situation like the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. When the news was breaking, Twitter was all over the place wild with speculation and rumors- an impediment to the message the Administration wanted. The groups of people who helped establish and promote these viral “campaigns” are an example of non-organizational publics.

Now lets get into where most organizations go wrong when dealing with issues in social media. When responding to a crisis that is running rampant on social media these are the steps that most organizations take in reacting:

1) Deny the situation
2) Ignore / Go Silent – “We’re not going to lower ourselves to their level and respond to their false attacks.”
3) Mount a Response – Finally accept that there is a problem and figure out what to do about it.
4) Opposition claims victory because they forced you to change your behavior.

What I’m getting at here is that it is better to take a position on social media with issues that arise outside of the normal news cycle than to not take a position. If you follow the normal steps above, the opposition claims victory because they made you change your behavior because of an action they took. When an organization decides to take a position, remaining active in the subsequent discussion will help alleviate people who suspect you are only responding because you were forced.

Social media is the sociological equivalent of climate change – a permanent change to our sociological ecosystem. When organizations start to use and react to social media it will become the norm and the commonly held mental models of how to deal with an “internet crisis” will begin to evolve.

How has your organization dealt with issues that arise in social media? Did an opposing group force you to change behavior?

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