Linda’s Facebook post went viral, receiving over 35,000 interactions. Someone created a Facebook page demanding justice for Linda. In 24 hours, this page has 5000 likes –close to the size of the Facebook audience of Seven News Sydney and the debacle is beginning to hit other news networks.
Then Seven News Sydney made the most rookie, worst possible community management mistake: They deleted the post. Cue the ”Streisand Effect” and fan the flames, because nothing irks the ire of the Internet like censorship of legit commenters.
Within 3 hours of the Seven News Sydney “apology” there were 350 responses, only 7 of them were positive. Although the statement was clearly made by Chris Willis – on behalf of Seven News Sydney – the majority of criticism was directed at the network itself. The statement fuelled anger and outrage, intensifying existing negative perceptions and damaging Channel 7’s reputation across the nation. So why was Chris’s apology not accepted and why were people still so angry after reading it?
I don’t think it’s any surprise that the response provoked more anger, because:
- It defended Channel 7’s actions rather than responding to the needs and emotions of the online community.
- It apologized for a technical error rather than the emotional distress of mother who had endured a horrific loss.
- It seemed to confirm what everyone thought: Channel 7 lacks compassion and sincerity… the exact reason for the initial outrage.
In situations like this it’s easy for commentators to emphasise social media risk, which can make leaders, many of whom only see social media when it hits traditional media, hesitate to invest in social media. ntegrity believes in a solutions oriented approach. We have drafted risk mitigation protocols similar to the US Airforce, but most brands don’t require that level of oversight. Here are some simple tips for Channel 7:
Don’t wait until you have an “official statement” to respond to criticism. Give your social media team the authority to respond immediately and honestly at the same time that you are processing the situation internally.
“Hi Linda, my name is Richenda and I work on Channel 7’s social media team. I am so sorry for your loss and for any distress this story may have caused. At this point I have no internal information to explain these actions so I am sending your feedback directly to our leadership and will ensure you receive a response in 24 hours. Are you comfortable with us contacting you directly to discuss this further? If so my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, sincerest apologies and I hope that we can rectify the situation. Sincerely, Richenda“
If you have done something to upset your community work with your legal team to draft an apology. If your legal team is too risk adverse to respond proactively -which is common – contact an expert like Leanne O’Donnell for help. Respond directly to the community member and if the complaint spirals draft a public post. Ensure all your communication is personal, authentic and honest. Speak as if you are talking to someone face to face rather than drafting a public relations statement. The greatest social media backlash is directed against inauthentic, impersonal approaches. The greatest wins look like this.
Tell your story
When a situation spirals and you feel you have been misrepresented, create further content that explains your story. You can do this through a blog post, video or article on your website. When I was working as Social Media Manager at World Vision USA, a member of the Facebook community made damaging and inaccurate accusations against World Vision not responding to female genital mutilation. In response, we created this web story that explained circumstances and dispelled myths. In the end, the community became educated on the topic and responded to the critique on behalf of us. That said, this tactic is only helpful if your company or organization is prepared to be open, honest and transparent.
If your audience is overwhelmingly critical of your approach, consider changing it. If I were advising Channel 7, I would ask them to consider taking the lead on creating ethical guidelines for news organisations to address bereavement in the future. If they don’t change, they’re target #1 if this were to happen again. With traditional media consumption fragmenting, your actions and messages need to prioritise the interests, needs and emotions of your audience (especially your vocal ones!) or they will go elsewhere.
In my experience, executing the above actions authentically and efficiently requires an in-house social media team. Unlike most digital agencies, ntegrity does not believe you should outsource your social media. Your internal team should deeply understand your audience and advocate for their needs in partnership with your legal, marketing and PR teams. Doing this adequately can inherently change how your organisation works, especially in responding to a crisis.
To be honest, this was a hard blog post to write - a young girl died. That’s what made this hit the news - and that’s what got me, and so many other people thinking about it. Why did Channel 7 think they had the right to silence Linda and refuse to apologise?
On the outside Channel 7′s approach suggests a lack of decency but from experience as social media manager it seems likely that Channel 7 lacks an understanding of social media and all the best practice principals, processes and preparation that must come with it.