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How to React to a PR Issue on Social Media: The 3 Rs Reason, Reaction and Response

by | Feb 6, 2017 | Public Relations & Customer Support

Social media is a medium that allows for rapid communication exchanges at a global level. This give users the ability to share, send or like whatever information they desire with their followers or friends.

Differing from previous communication pathways the internet and social media enables a fully accessible 24-hour news source. However much like traditional media sources individuals are freely criticizing organisations that are in turn putting strategies and plans in place.

Being able to respond to crisis is crucial. By incorporating information from case studies and articles from other commentators the three Rs, reason, reaction and response, of social media will be explained.

A Theoretical Approach

Researchers have been evaluating and critiquing crisis communication models and now have adapted them to meet the needs of social networking sites.

Professor Timothy Coombs developed a crisis communication model explaining the correct crisis response action. Drawn from the findings of his peers and research, this model is the basis of great crisis communication and effectively illustrates the three Rs. Some guidelines for best practice are summarized below.

  • Crisis strategies used to manage and build relationships with should be tailored to your image, reputation and the crisis.
  • Responses include attack the accuser, denial, scapegoat, excuse, justification, compensation, reminder, praise and victim age.
  • Organisations or individuals either incur these issues through direct actions, accidentally or through an unforeseen and unpreventable event.
  • Crisis sources can originate outside the organisation or internally through an unintentional action or by violating a law or policy.
  • An initial action is to reason and identify the problem then react after consideration seeking to satisfy and maintain relationships with stakeholders.


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A Practical Approach

Managers have shared their beliefs, providing a rich source of practical experience. Carola Finch, in her article Understanding and Responding to Criticism on Social Media, writes from the perspective of a blogger and digital publisher.

She conveys that there are steps in analyzing and responding to criticism as well its different types. Constructive and destructive criticism reflect the array of responses yielded online with some aiming to praise and others looking to troll.

Finch outlines that trolls are critical spectators and are looking to vent and express their emotions or feelings online. This increases the difficulty of the practitioner’s job as responding to this type of criticism is difficult.

By integrating the three Rs into Finch’s approach a clear set of steps can be recognized.

The first step, reason, involves determining whether the comment deserves a response or should be ignored or deleted. Ideally you are seeking to find out how you should respond.

Secondly timing, responsibility and attitude are the three key factors that will dictate your reaction. Aiming to demonstrate to your audience that you are able to respond appropriately can hinder negative feedback.

Thirdly monitoring responses and assessing at what stage of the crisis you are in is the third step. Negative feedback can be softened if you treat your audience with dignity and are willing to amend your errors.

In any situation there is the option to take users offline and deal with the situation outside of the public sphere. The users attitude would be the key factor in taking this step and the practitioner’s task would be to determine if the their claims have any legitimacy. Only accept responsibility for areas you have been wrong in and let users know your initial intent.


Creating Your Crisis Response Guideline

An initial protocol to manage these situations is to create rules for any social networking site you are managing. Outlining a set of suitable terms on how users can respond gives the manager greater power and shortens the thought process in dealing with crisis.

  • Planned guidelines should be designed and implemented before broadcasting.
  • Banning or barring users can be a touchy process but with a set of rules there is reduced leeway in assessing those who are out of line.
  • The site owner can shut down negative responses immediately.
  • Keep a vigilant watch over your social network sites is essential as this will not stop users from posting.
  • Creating a balance is key, aim to show you’re open to constructive feedback but will not tolerate deviations to the rules.
  • Responding in a proper manner is key, keeping an open mind to all feedback will allow you to distinguish between what is legitimate and what is phony.
  • Maintain the formality of your guidelines to keep your message reflective your site and the situation.
  • Unavoidable situations such as natural disasters call for response catering to the well being of your audience and employees.
  • When accidents happen possibly delaying your reaction and waiting until more information surfaces leads to a well educated response.


O2 Industry Example

Large organisations have successfully been able to deal with and avoid crises by responding appropriately. O2’s 2012 crisis is a clear example of how a crisis can be effectively handled.

O2 received a large scale negative feedback from users concerning a 2-day network outage. Their response to the bulk complaints was to address users directly including some who other organisations would block or ignore.

Users directly targeted O2 via twitter with a culmination of responses. Some were outraged and aimed to damage O2’s reputation with each tweet.

Fixing the network outage was out of O2’s control and was causing them as much frustration as their account holders. O2 was reflective of this in the manner and attitude of their responses but ultimately wanted their users to know they were being heard.

Their method of employing a humorous social media response strategy that allowed them to turn complaints into opportunities won them praise. This demonstrates the size and scale of your social media use should represent that of your entity.

The relaxed attitude of social media allowed O2 to put a human voice behind their organisation. This strategy reflected the three Rs as they understood the motivation behind the outburst then adjusted their communication to the crisis and progressively stopped the problem.

Social media management is a tough task and the volume and varying nature of activity can be overwhelming. The three Rs offer a calculated strategy for any company looking to employ calculated responses to social media mishaps.

Assessing the situation or initial acknowledgement of a problem works as great first step. The next task for managers is determining what response is appropriate to nature of the crisis and will neutralize further damage.

There will always be those out to troll you but by creating and maintaining a Crisis Response Guideline for your company, dealing with users can be made easier.


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