Social Media: Are You Prepared For Negative Publicity?You’re ready, right?

Everything’s under control, isn’t it?

You’re about to watch a firestorm of negative publicity hit because of something you didn’t even mean to do, but you aren’t worried, right?

It could be anything…

  • Your recent merger is falling apart at the seams, and blogs are swelling with excitement.
  • You just had your entire Intellectual Property Team leave for Big Firm LLP down the street, and it’s all over Twitter.
  • Someone in the firm just posted a photo from a firm event on Facebook that shows your client in a less than positive light, and it’s being shared.
  • One of your partners was just pulled in on a DUI last night, and LinkedIn seems to know about it before you do.
  • You could slip up like clothing brand Kenneth Cole, and say something unnecessarily callous in Social Media.

You and I could think of 50 different situations that might occur in your firm that could cause trouble for you in the public eye. We might consider one or two probable, a few possible, some remotely possible, some that would fall in to the “there’s no way” category, and some that would cause us to look at each other and shake our heads in disbelief.

Now we’re making progress!

Why? Because we’re talking about it.  We’re sitting around a table, on Skype, in a Google+ Hangout, or on the phone, planning strategy for what you should do if any of these happen to your firm.

Yesterday, my friend, Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich, a talented PR and Social Media strategist, wrote an excellent blog post titled Is All Publicity Good? on her Spin Sucks blog.  You really should take a few minutes to read it.

Gini’s bottom line, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is:

“Not all publicity is good for you, for your business, or for your community.”

One of the most important points Gini makes is this:

“Sure, not all news will be good news. Even the best companies will have some negative things written about them, but it’s in how you respond that makes, or breaks, the game.”

Another friend, Bill Dorman, Principal with insurance and risk management firm, Lanier Upshaw, asked how one should handle the kind of negative publicity that can ultimately take them under, and acknowledged that hindsight is much clearer than foresight.

I added my two, okay maybe four, cents to the discussion by adding:

“You can’t necessarily control it [the firestorm of bad publicity], but you can be smarter in the first place by thinking through what is being said in your firm, by training everyone about what has the potential to cause damage, come up with solutions, then train again and again and again, and then ten times more.”

Because of Social Media, positive and negative messages have the ability to spread like wildfire.

We are all vulnerable, but we can’t avoid it by ignoring Social Media.  As long as others have these communication tools at their disposal, we have no choice but to join them, and make good use of them.

It’s time to prepare.

It’s time to talk strategy with your Marketing, Social Media and Public Relations advisors.

It’s time to deal with all the what-ifs, even if you never need to employ the tactics suggested.

Then it’s time to continuously train those people who have any responsibility for dealing with human beings, then train them again, and again, and again.


Thanks Gini Dietrich and Bill Dorman for contributing to this post!

Thanks to Victor1558 for use of his photo under Creative Commons license.


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  • We are considered a ‘conservative’ agency, prides itself on integrity and credibility and have been around locally owned since 1941. This is our culture, doing what’s best for the customer and doing the ‘right’ thing. However, with the advent of social it could take just one little slip-up and undo all the good you have established. 
    We’ve had two ‘close calls’ but fortunately LUI was not associated with the story. We had a personal lines service person who was having an affair. She was at the hotel w/ this guy when the wife shows up and starts shooting a gun through the door. Arrests were made and names were mentioned in the newspaper article. Our person, who went by her ‘middle’ name was essentially unrecognizable when they published her first name in the paper. Whew….
    Second story was an agent who changed classifications on an application, signed the app himself but as the insured, and had one of our people notarize the signature. As it turns out, this insured was under investigation for insurance fraud, and the agent was arrested as well. The article did say local insurance agent arrested, but someway, somehow, Lanier was never mentioned. He was terminated that day……..
    It happens, so be prepared, right? We preach disaster recovery in all forms to our insureds; the ‘what if’ scenarios. A PR disaster can be just as devastating and should be prepared for as well. 
    Thanks so much for the mention, hope you are well. 

  •  @bdorman264 Oh my….close calls on both counts, but lessons for all of us because this could happen to anyone or any firm.  It is amazing how the lack of common sense creeps in to haunt entire firms, doesn’t it?  Thanks for stopping by, and for contributing to this post! 

  • Sorry I’m late to the game (vacation)! The reason we created Spin Sucks is to fight this perception of the PR industry and, with it, comes the idea that any publicity is good. I appreciate your willingness to showcase examples of how publicity can hurt you if not done appropriately or without strategy. Miss you!

  •  @ginidietrich Hi there! Thanks for stopping by when I know you have a gazillion things to do upon reentry from vacation. You and Spin Sucks do an outstanding job correcting this perception, and giving all of us a lot to think about.  Negative publicity has the potential to be more damaging today than it ever has been, so organizations have no choice but to pay attention to it.  Miss you, too!  I’m coming to Chicago the last week of September. 🙂 

  •  @NancyMyrland Ohhh! Let me know when you’re here. I finish traveling October 24, but hopefully I’ll be here at least a day that you’re in town!

  •  @ginidietrich Hmmm…wonder why I wasn’t alerted that you sent this reply…must look in to livefyre.  I will be there the last week of September for 3 days, so it looks like I might miss you this time, but hope to be back soon!