In an age when news travels faster than a speeding bullet, a few words expressed in a social media post have the power to change your life forever. For better or worse, social media and today’s 24/7 news cycle has the power to make or break reputations in seconds.

In 2018 and beyond, everyone has a public profile thanks to social media and we’re all in the public sphere. Even though you may not have millions of followers, people are exposed to your messages and thought leadership at the click of a button. Put simply: what you say matters, what you don’t say matters and how you effectively manage sticky public situations is imperative. And herein the problems (and opportunities) begin…

 

What you say matters

 

Every. Single. Word. It’s not just what you’re saying verbally that matters, it’s what you’re posting across your social media channels as well (think actual posts/tweets, any comments you’re making and so on). A couple of sentences posted in the heat of the moment that may seem harmless, could result in a public backlash if your venting session happens to go viral.

Prime example: swimmer, Stephanie Rice. Back in 2010, Rice was forced to apologise after reportedly posting a homophobic slur on Twitter. What was likely a silly mistake she didn’t put much thought into, still pops up online in 2018.

If you’re working with a PR expert who’s the right fit for your brand, you’ll have the kind of relationship where you’re comfortable seeking their advice on anything you’re unsure of. It’s impossible for your PR team to cast their eyes over every single piece of content but a process should be in place for anything deemed riskier than usual.

We all have people watching what we do each and every moment and what you’re putting out into the world either directly adds to or harms your cause in establishing your brand as the go-to in your industry.

 

What you don’t say also matters

 

Most of us will remember the Dreamworld theme park ride tragedy that occurred on the Gold Coast in 2016. The accident was always going to prove to be a tough one for Dreamworld to manage (and rightfully so, we’re talking about the loss of lives here). Unfortunately, the incident is also remembered by many as a PR disaster for the company with one of the key PR management mistakes made right at the beginning.

In the first 48 hours after the crisis, company chief executive, Deborah Thomas, failed to be seen. Instead, Dreamworld chief executive Craig Davidson acted as the spokesperson, which seriously downplayed and served to misread the seriousness of the situation at hand. This single act resulted in the media deep diving into the ins and outs of Dreamworld’s lack of management crisis and did further damage to the company’s reputation.

Moral of the story: your silence speaks volumes. The right PR expert is a trusted advisor, someone who you can speak openly with and ask them to provide you with their guidance and expert opinion in regards to the issues that might demonstrate you’re not walking your talk in terms of your branding.

 

What you say when it all goes belly up matters most

 

No PR expert is going to be able to predict what could pose problems 100% of the time. The more high profile and ‘out there’ you are with your opinions, the more likely you are to encounter issues. When responding to inflammatory news or any issue that’s gone pear-shaped, it’s incredibly important that you go in with a plan. You need to work with your PR expert to develop what your end goal is and then devise a key messaging guide to stick to as much as possible. The effective handling of a PR crises is critical – we’re all human, we all make mistakes but it’s often what we do next that defines how the story ends.

Think of Yassmin Abdel-Magied and her ANZAC Day Facebook brain-fade last year. That series of unfortunate events escalated to the point where Abdel-Magied fled to London, only to return to Channel 10’s The Project where she gave a brutally honest interview. Here’s a snippet of what she said:

“I think the nice version of saying it is (I’ve got) no sh*ts left to give…”

“It is hard. It is dating like … an abusive guy…”

That last quote was met with silence by the show’s hosts who include former ABC presenter and the much-celebrated, Waleed Aly. Anyone who tracked The Project’s social media thread on that night out of interest, knows the media interview didn’t do Abdel-Magied any favours.

Contrary to popular belief, public relations (PR) entails every activity that impacts an individual’s public image. None of us have the luxury of a rewind button to take any mistakes back but working alongside the right PR person, you’re armed with peace of mind that your PR activity is more often than not, actually helping to establish your brand as the go-to in your industry.

Sarah Cannata is the editor of This Woman Can.

Sarah Cannata

Founding editor at This Woman Can
Sarah Cannata is the founding editor of This Woman Can, the author of Willow Willpower, her debut picture book, and a Communications Strategist. She enjoys working with for-purpose businesses.
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