Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Framework for Responding to Negative Blog Postings and Online Forum Mentions

In the Era of Social Media, organisations will inevitability find their names mentioned in some blog or internet forum. While positive mentions are good publicity and should be encouraged, the question facing PR Professionals is how to deal with the negative mentions. And, given the practically infinite number of blogs and internet forums, PR Professionals need a practical framework with which to assess, analyse the impact of the mention and then decide how to respond.

One framework which PR Professionals can use is what I call SCAER – an abbreviation for the factors Source, Content, Audience, Effect and Response. As a framework, the SCAER is a deliberate process to guide the PR Professional's assessment of the mention. Done sequentially, the framework will prompt the PR Professional to the most logical response to the mention.

Source. The aim of this factor is to determine the credibility of the source. Under this factor, the PR Professional will assess where the mention is found, the type of website, its viewership, the profile of the viewers and the reputation of the blogger. Determining credibility is important as it will determine how likely the target audience will believe the content.

Content. Next, once the credibility has been determined, the PR Professional will then assesse the content of the mention. The aim of this factor is to determine the mention's objective and intent behind the mention. For example, the PR Professional must determine if the mention is aimed at discrediting the organisation, urging customers to switch brands, or is it a personal vendatta against the CEO of the organisation. Ultimately, understanding the intent and objective of the mention will allow the organisation's response to address the root of the issue.

Audience. When a mention is put online, there are generally four target audiences which the PR Professional must consider - apparent, ultimate, intermediate and unintended. The apparent target audience is the direct recipient of the message; the ultimate target audience is the actual target of the source's mention; the intermediate target audience is the conduit to get the mention to the ultimate target audience; and the unintended target audience is anybody that may come across the mention. Identifying the ultimate target audience of the mention is crucial as it will then allow the PR Professional to more accurately assess the mention's impact.

Effect. This final factor is a cumulation of the previous 3 factors. Based on the findings of (a) the source's credibility; (b) the intent of the mention; and (c) the ultimate target audience, the PR Professional then draws a conclusion on the effect of the mention. As a guide, the PR Professional will make an asessment based on the impact to the organisation and the probability that stakeholders will believe the mention. The PR Professional can then use the following 2x2 matrix to determine whether the organisation should respond to the mention, and if so, the approach to take.

Response. In general, there are 4 possible responses that an organisation that adopt towards a negative mention. They are direct refutation, indirect refutation, forestalling and silence. My advise to PR Professionals are as follows:

  • Quadrant A. For mentions that have a high probability of being believed and once believed, is likely to have a high impact on the organisation, PR Professionals should directly refute the mention. In this response, the organisation goes on the “offensive” and actively disputes the mention. For example, to address a customer complaint of poor service, the organisation will dispute the customer's story point by point.
  • Quadrant B. In this scenario where the mention is assessed to have a low impact on the organisation but likely to be believed by the stakeholders, the appropriate response is an indirect refutation. Using the above example of poor service, in the indirect approach, the organisation will issue a response (on the same platform) citing third party endorsement of its good customer service. Essentially, the organisation addresses the mention by playing up facts that contradicts the mention.
  • Quadrant C. In this third quadrant, the assessment is that the impact is likely to be high but unlikely to be believed by the stakeholders. Here, the organisation's best approach to forestall. In this approach, the organization does nothing to address the mention, but pro-actively “corrects” the issue.  These measures when publicized ahead of the crisis will mitigate the effect.  Additionally, a preliminary crisis management plan is readied for immediate implementation in the event the mention evolves into a crisis. 
  • Quadrant D. In this fourth quadrant, the assessment is that the mention is unlikely to be believed and even if it is, the impact on the organisation is low. As such, the appropriate approach for the organisation in this scenario is one of silence where the organisation chooses to ignore the mention and carry on with operations as per normal.
The use of the above SCAER framework is a basic model to aid PR Professionals in addressing mentions in blogs and forums. Used correctly, the framework will allow any organisation the ability to quickly assess and, if necessary, to deal with the countless mentions in cyber-space.

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