Sorry, there is such a thing as bad publicity

Universities virtually teach us that there's no such a thing as bad publicity. Marketing is, after all, about getting your name out there.

But the rules have changed since Facebook and a dozen more sites appeared around 2008. Thanks to social media, bad publicity is no longer just bad, but disastrous – if you let it.

According to Brian West, Global lead for crisis management for FleishmanHillard, speed is one of the most critical trends shaping crisis management in the digital age.

In a media roundtable, West talked about how Aseana Airlines’ reputation was hit by a wayward tweet posted by an onlooker just 30 seconds after one their passenger planes skidded off the runaway in July.

Earlier in 2011, Quantas’ reputation was also smoldered when one of its planes burst into flames, starting a rampant digital-fist shaking among the public. Over a few weeks, the Australian carrier’s stock prices nose-dived by over a 100%.

“Reputational damage is real and lasting. They did everything classically right like sending official statements and contacting newspapers, TV and radio but they have no idea that their planes have crashed and have killed everyone on social media.”

As much as speed is damming to brands, being nimble is the only way they can thrive in the emergence of the 24/7 newsroom, West explains, but it doesn’t necessarily mean tweeting and posting as quick as the public to immediately counter negativity online.

For Don Anderson, SVP for regional strategic digital integration, sincerity is as important. Rather than focus on agility, he recommends focusing on authenticity.

“The worst thing you could do is to belittle your audience and social media. A lot of brands forget that they will be judged based on their apologies and if they are really true.”

Should you Twerk?

West said that 90% percent of all potential crises can be identified in advance if the company is willing to devote the resources for it. In addition, crises can be better managed if brands accept that there are no one-size fits all solution.

He stressed that crisis management rules greatly differ per region. For instance, westerners typically will recommend not to apologize for a mistake, which is totally not recommended in Asia unless you want to have irreparable damage to one’s reputation.

“In Asia, an apology is not just an admission of guilt but an acknowledgement that you care. That is something western companies don’t understand and must change, in the same way Asian companies behave in the west.”

On thing that is universal, according to Anderson, is that brands should be treated more as a person than as a business, with or without a PR nightmare.

“Social media requires brands to be more honest – it ultimately humanizes brands. They are not institutions, they are things. But interestingly the same rights granted to brands are similar to human beings.”

If brands were a person, Miley Cyrus could likely be a great model. The controversial pop star seems to be immune to bad press, going straight in at number one on both the singles and album charts in the UK despite receiving flak almost every day since her raunchy performance at the MTV Video Music Awards back in August.

Sticking out your tongue and licking sledgehammers, however, treads a very thin line between publicity and ruin.

In an industry were reputation is a much sought after, albeit fickle, currency, marketers may not afford to go twerking in social media to win the hearts of a displeased public – unless you want a proverbial wrecking ball smash your brand to bits.