How hard could it be to undo bad publicity?
In one of the questionnaires relayed to 160 Israeli directors as part of the study conducted by the Faculty of Management at the Tel Aviv University, the participants were asked to recall information on Israeli companies that was reported in the press. The research revealed that the directors tended to remember the negative news published in the media regarding these companies, but that it was harder for them to think of positive news about the same enterprises. In addition, bad news traveled fast. The number of people who received word of a negative report in the media was almost five times greater than that of people who were informed of positive reports.
People remember bad news published in the media more easily. This may be an example of the brain’s negativity bias. Events that trigger negative emotions increase activity in the emotion-processing areas of the brain, such as the orbitofrontal cortex and the amygdala. These emotionally charged memories are preserved in greater detail than happy or more neutral memories, but they may also be subject to distortion. This mechanism for the preservation of bad memories may have evolved to protect us against future negative events.
While we may not want to deliver bad news, it’s worthwhile to remember that people would rather know the worst than fear the worst. Daniel Gilbert, who is professor of psychology at Harvard University and the author of “Stumbling on Happiness,” writes:
“Consider an experiment by researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands who gave subjects a series of 20 electric shocks. Some subjects knew they would receive an intense shock on every trial. Others knew they would receive 17 mild shocks and 3 intense shocks, but they didn’t know on which of the 20 trials the intense shocks would come. The results showed that subjects who thought there was a small chance of receiving an intense shock were more afraid — they sweated more profusely, their hearts beat faster — than subjects who knew for sure that they’d receive an intense shock.
“That’s because people feel worse when something bad might occur than when something bad will occur.”
The following case studies of the “Year 2010 in Review” series show how companies and organizations can harness the power of social media to deal with bad news and counteract bad publicity.
The first example comes from Visit Florida tourism organization that proactively used social media in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill to provide real-time information about the state of Florida beaches. Its website http://www.visitflorida.com/floridalive aggregated updates from local twitter feeds, webcams, photo reports to tell the eyewitness story of what hundreds of miles of Florida coastline looked like. This is its commercial that invited people to visit the Florida Live website for the current updates.
The second case study is Destination Hotels & Resort’s Wild Dunes property in Charleston, S.C., which faced serious problems with beach erosion in 2008 and saved its peak season with a social media campaign. Through optimized press releases, YouTube videos by the golf pro, photos, and a dialogue about Isle of Palms on TripAdvisort, the campaign strengthened relationships with customers and brought more business despite a serious image problem. You can now read about the beach nourishment project and see the before and after images of the beach in the photo gallery and more photos and videos on the Wild Dunes Resort Facebook page.
Here are a few take-aways on social media and crisis communication:
- Don’t hide from the bad news. Use social media as a platform to engage the public and reduce the uncertainty.
- Anticipate the questions and concerns of the public and address them in your social media campaign.
- Gather as much information as possible to better understand the situation and don’t be afraid to enlist the help of others.
- Be prepared to respond to questions and deal with strong reactions.
- Stay flexible and adjust your course as needed. Consider “what if” scenarios and develop contingency plans.
- Update the public on the efforts to solve the problem and turn your challenges into opportunities to strengthen the relationships with your customers and reinforce the values of your brand.
How would you leverage social media for crisis communication?