If you are in the business of communications you will understand the need to ensure that your content is relevant and timely for your readers, viewers and listeners. This is a topic I cover when I discuss content marketing and editorial calendars in my workshops and with clients.
It is a tactic that works for exampes one of my clients recently increased their online visibility and was noticed by their target high profile potential customer by creating content that related to a main stream news series being broadcast and marketing as close to ‘real time’ as possible.
But for many organisations this is just not in their marketing mindset and the idea of ‘real time’ marketing to capitalise on visibility for their product or service is not something they have considered.
This becomes even more of a challenge if your business is associated with issues that others could see as a personal, national or international disaster or tragedy.
We have seen a number of organisations come under fire and suffer an online reputation crisis for what is often referred to as ‘hijacking’ a news story for their own personal gain.
A recent case was that of Edelman, the international PR firm, who last week shared a blog post with tips for organisations in the field of mental health, explaining how the death of a celebrity as a result of suicide could be used to raise national awareness (in the US) for the issue of depression.
You can see the Tweet they posted about the article here and you will see that even a week later that the intial Tweet received just a few favourites and re-Tweets though the initial blog post was shared extensively on Facebook and Twitter as you can see from the screen shot above.
However their article came under fire and resulted in negative comments on the bog post and a number of online articles being published about the fact some people saw the article was in bad taste – you can find a link to the original article and the feedback about it here.
Edelman responded by updating their original article and publishing an apology, sharing the apology in a Tweet.
I should add that I personally respect the work of Edelman and do in fact refer people to them as an agency to work with. I also follow a number of their people through social media and have been invited into their organisation for events and to teach digital communications and social media workshops.
So was Edelman wrong for sharing this article?
It is always challenging to make a public comment through social media when you are representing an organisation and the issue in hand is a tragedy or a disaster. The tone of your communications including the implied and perceived reasons for your published content will not always be read with the intent that you meant.
According to Business Insider, the article Edelman published originated an internal memo:
This actually did begin as an internal memo – we do this quite regularly on all kinds of topics related to media relations on a wide variety of topics. We believed it was worth surfacing more broadly given how the news cycle was progressing.
In my personal opinion the article published on the Edelman blog had some useful pointers to help organisations who are in an authority position to talk about depression and suicide and how this loss of life of someone that was loved by many could be used to highlight the issues related to mental health.
The problem with the article I believe came about as a result of some of the copy, for example where they comment:
At Edelman, we are in the business of helping our clients create or join public conversations. We know that appropriate organizations can elevate a public conversation to help those in need. We and our clients can learn from this situation.
If this article had been written as a practical guide on how to approach the media for organisations who are equipped to do so and therefore be of help to the public this might have received less backlash. I also wonder about whether they should have used the hashtag for Robin Williams in their original Tweet.
Let’s be clear, traditional media channels are profitting from this tragic loss of life with traffic to their site and page views. An online search for Robin Williams where ever you are in the globe will result in trending news topics by major publications covering everything from his famous quotes, references to past interviews and favourite films he appeared in. Some even look to position their ‘story’ as why social media helps us mourn but the article and video from a US news station does nothing to truly cover this subject.
Another piggybacks on the story and hosts an online poll asking their readers if Edelman should have apologised for it’s blog post.
One blog post even included an internal memo from the New York Daily News where the deputy managing editor provides the journalists guidance on how to optimise their articles for the news story.
What did Edelman do right that we can learn from?
I do not personally believe that Edelman were using the article to look for more business. If you have a position of expertise at the time of a disaster or tragedy then publishing content that can be of assistance to people searching for this type of information can help your important content be found online – and yes journalists and news channel researchers do search for subject matter experts.
Edelmans intentions I believe were positive – they did not look to immediately profit from this tragic event and there was no call to action to book a consultation with them.
As a result of negative feedback, they added an apology and have left the original blog article up for people to read and you can see the comments.
What other actions might Edelman take?
If you were in a situation where your online reputation was being negatively impacted as a result of what you meant to be positive intent they you may also make yourself available to the media and publications talking about you to share your rationale.
You could create and publish an FAQ about the situation and you could also publish and article outlining your intent what you learnt from the situation and your apology.
In the case of Edelman’s article having read the Tweets from the member of staff who penned the post it seems they may have had a personal interest in the story – perhaps they were a fan of Robin Williams or perhaps they are interested in mental health as a subject? If that was the case in your situation then making that known could also help people’s understanding of your intent behind your content.
What other actions would you take if your positive intent resulted in an issue for your organisations online reputation?
Three final tips:
1. If your business is equipped to handle situations where there is a disaster or tragedy you should use every opportunity online and offline to share your wisdom and expertise with the word. But do so in a sensitive way so it is not seen that you are overtly profiting from someone elses misfortune
2. Use the times where there is no disaster or tragedy to publish content online that will help you be found for people searching for your services
3. Use online monitoring tools to listen for feedback about your content and if your positive intent is misunderstood be prepare to make a public apology.