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Bad Press Is Now Bad Press

So we have all heard know the adage that PT Barnum coined "there was no such thing as bad press."  Historically, public relations experts believed that publicity of any kind, whether positive or negative, ultimately “got the word out” about a given business—and this was supposed to be a good thing. That, even when something gets communicated negatively about something, it's still getting its name in the public spotlight. Well I'm going to theorize on why bad press is no longer advantageous (in any format) that's not the case anymore.

The basis of my theory is this – bias. Both media bias and personal network connected bias. Each of us has bias in almost all decision we make.  Whether the bias is based on a previous experience, something we just learned, or the relationship we have with someone or something—most to one thing or another; therefore in some way that opinion will make up our own minds. In the decisions that we make are we're bound by a few some simple truths in a process that unfolds as follows:

  • We receive information about are communicating some issue thing.
  • Our individual bias then weighs that message.
  • We choose to believe it, or not, or in many cases we have an undetermined opinion.
  • That opinion is then communicated to one's trusted network (i.e. family, friends, co-workers, teachers or simply the man on the street).
  • The opinion is then further weighed by our my network which is communicated back to us by overt or covert social interactions.
  • The feedback from our network further shapes our own and often skews my bias by either exaggerating our original beliefs or slowly reforming them both up and down.
  • The more that our initial belief is supported by our my trusted network, the more galvanized our your opinions will become.

The bias factor serves double-duty as a medium of is the communication in the meaning and its delivering device.  For example, if your primary source of news information is you get your news from FOX News media (a public right-wing news organization) vs. NPR (a decidedly liberal media group), your initial views about a given topic may be reinforced by the “trusted” network from which you are receiving information.  This has the potential to further exaggerate any biases you may have and the validity based on your views then takes this messaging and applies your bias. Thus, Therefore if bad negative press about an organization occurs hits (even if it's 100% true) but it comes from an non-untrusted source, the validity of the information at intel can take on a fundamentality different connotation (depending on one’s biases) and meaning.

The means in which way the message is portrayed can be is interpreted differently based on by age, race, fiscal socioeconomic status, education-level, and geographical location factors as well. For example, a product recall on a product from WalMart vs. Lexus begins to take on a different expectancy patterns based on the at biases of a given consumer.  Likewise, a white collar crime may is be interpreted differently than a violent crime involving children Infanticide crime is. In each case, these factors apply our bias to a given situation, therefore defusing bad press to potentially questionable press, or left-wing gibberish or those cooks in California with their crazy laws.

Let's start with the delivery tool however. You feel different about press you hear on the radio going into work than you would a close co-worker empathetically telling you the same content. Consider a celebrity on TMZ discussing some issue vs. the same discussion with your girlfriends over a couple of bottles of red wine.  Ah, the Cabernet factor. But I digress.

The Old Filter (Your Parents News)

Historically, The old press came to you from the television, radio or newspaper. Dependent upon your lifestyle and location it may have taken hours, even days to even get news content to a given person to the press. The application of our traditional biases were then applied to the believability of the network, reporter or author news network which served to immediately supports or potentially refutes the material information we just learned.

Next, is the complexity of standard (non-social media oriented) 'word-of-mouth' or 'water cooler' banter applies even more noise (e.g., social network bias) to the debate, often defusing the communication even greater, as the people debating the material potentially have even less position or knowledge of the facts and therefore can make the truth even seem even less likely.

The New Filter (Tomorrow News)

Today, The new news moves with the speed of the digital signal pinging all your social networks in concert. Rather than waiting hours or days, news gets reported in real time It's seconds after it happens, and seconds after resulting in the “hungry” debate among that people in a given social network discussing  are hungrily in debate about the topic and its legitimacy.

People are quick to take sides and even quicker to switch from them. Whether we like it or not, before we know it, we are inundated with information from Facebook, Twitter, SMS, chat and email before you know what forcing us to subconsciously hit you, you've “picked a side” on gone on to another the topic. And as we listed have noted above "the more that belief is supported by my our trusted network, the more galvanized our your opinion will become."

Safety In Numbers

It's also easier to believe something that your trusted social network believes because you are insulated by protected by your belief when in the company of decision with like minded people. Lemmings you say? Yes. Socially, opinionated, self-sustaining lemmings, but rest assured, the more they support your positions the more confident you will feel in that decision.


Social Peer Pressure

When we interact within social networks, conversations often occur in "threads." These conversational threads are the comments that come after a Facebook post, or after a journalist has posted an article in a digitally redundant publication. When the gauntlet is thrown down by saying something like "iPhone 4 on Verizon is the only way to go" the sea of debate that could come from that could sway pro or con to your opinion. Not only supporting or adjusting your position but ALL the people within that thread. And once adopted by the numbers, even though you may have started the conversation, by the end you may have lost the battle. Greater than that, you may even agree with the outcome!

Advocacy, Causes & The Guilt Factor

There is also the the phenomenon that social networks feed on positioning advocacy to their networks. We talk about causes, non-profits, charities, donations; and they are  not simply backed  most often by the truth of the programs, but what I call 'digi-guilt.' Digital guilt is a powerful tool simply because the more you see your social trusted people backing that point of view; the more likely you are to fall in line with their views.

The Line Of Demarcation

So what's this mean to my business? What it means is that if bad press afflicts attacks you, you  cannot rely on the general public to debate it, and time will not defuse its impact. Moreover, you must be prepared to react with an equal amount of voracity in order to diffuse ANY press in the case of it turning against you. What will 's your PR department or agency ready to do for you if your 'two for one' offer starts to appear in the blogosphere as if your sound like your product is so must be crappy that you have to and you can give it away?

"Social Backlash" (ford links) is increasing killing brands. Recent example was Kenneth Cole's tweet “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo -KC” All this of course during one of Egypt's worst social/political upraising in recorded history. Or the Red Cross's drinking binge tweet; Or Groupon's "Tibet" Superbowl spot (which has since been pulled) all of which where terrible representations of the brand, but are also giant gas-soaked toilet paper rolls being catapulted into a social volcano of hate.

Brand Fortification

So what can you do? Well first don't ever let a Superbowl spot be vetted by a focus group full of drunk Klans men. And first and foremost be prepared to work WITH social adversity and not prepare to defend against it. Angry social networks are like rabid dogs running through a mall, they smell fear and will attack as a group to anything that attempts to present itself as the alpha. But if you except responsibility humbly and work with the same social groups on the war path, given time you can turn your worst enemy into your greatest ally.

It's important to fortify your brand with layers of protection. When Lexus took responsibility for issues relating to safety they worked in ringlets of brand protection: acceptance, assurance, correction, respect; and applied it to a "history of making things the right way" and therefore healed wounds and became stronger because of it. Are they completely out of the woods? No, but they're doing better than most put in the same situation.

Counter Measures

The best thing you can do is to actively connect with your consumer. This is the BACKBONE of social media for brands. Reach out and talk with your consumer. Survey, feedback, and post purchase evaluations are a part of a greater whole. Actively search out news ways to bring your social advocates from beyond the fence into your world. If you fail be honest, take your hit and eat some crow, most of all DON'T STOP TALKING TO THEM! Incentivize them with product, coupons and even something as simple as spotlighting their loyalty online. It shows that you're as human as they are. All this preparation will help when the negativity hits, but don't try to convince yourself that it's not bad press.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. As well, if anyone would like to share a case study of bad press and or their rebound, I'd love to hear it! Thanks!

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Reader Comments (1)

GREAT post -- since I work in both traditional and social media, it's a constant balancing act...

Did you follow the Marie Claire/Hunger Diaries controversy? In my circle, it was a BIG one: http://katywidrick.com/2010/10/28/crisis-response-a-marie-claire-case-study/

February 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaty

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