Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI finally started to apologise to victims of paedophile Catholic priests.
It had to happen. The weight of evidence is so overwhelming that he had no choice, unless he wanted to cause a haemorrhage of believers from the faith.
The Pope, just like Shell with the Brent Spar public relations disaster, MacDonalds with the McLibel Two, and exporters of live sheep to Europe, had learned the hard way. You cannot win an argument on Facebook if you are the one who is accused.
Last year, I along with 11,500 supporters opposed a plan by The Corporation of The City of London to build a vehicle-only road on Hampstead Heath. Facebook still has 6,135 members of The Say No To The Road page, and they are watching.
In the 1980s, I had a client, Farleys. This company made Complan, Farley’s Rusks, and Ostermilk. The milk processing factory in Kendall suddenly became infected with salmonella, so the whole production process, including the baking factory in Torr Lane, Plymouth, had to be closed and be thoroughly purged. The entire supply channel had to be cleared.
Dr Emyr Williams, the then marketing director, went on TV, apologised, and said that the factories were now clean. The brands went back on sale. Two weeks later, salmonella was found again in Complan, which is a food for the elderly and sick. All confidence in Farleys collapsed.
Within a couple of months, the business had been bought by Boots. What it didn’t want, Evans Medical took.
Facebook can only magnify a disaster like this. What can you do?
Here are five key steps:
- Monitor on a daily basis what is being said on Facebook about you and your company
- If you have got the money, hire a PR agency which offers online reputation management (I recommend two at the end of this post)
- React quickly, cheerfully and positively online at the first sign of discontent
- Ask what the problem is, and ask for suggestions from the online grumblers to help sort out whatever the problem is. Agree a plan of action if the problem is major. Offer discounts if it’s minor
- Treat your critics with respect, and make certain that they know you are taking them seriously. You want these people to be your supporters
And here, gentle reader, are three things you must not do, not even in your dreams:
- Do not make it personal. MacDonalds did, and paid the price
- Do not tell everyone that you are more clever than them. Shell did this concerning the Brent Spar, and paid the price
- Do not involve lawyers, especially in trying to gag dissent, which Trafigura did. The price Trafigura will pay is not yet clear, but it will definitely adversely affect its business.
Online reputation management is becoming essential. If you run a well branded mainstream business, you ought to give Carl Courtney a call at Publicasity. He has tons of experience, as does Kay Williams at Gravitas PR. Kay specialises in medical, ethical and environmental issues.
If you want to talk to me first, please send me a comment, and I’ll get in touch.