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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY | Contributed Content, Singapore
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How do you respond to online bashing?

In the Era of Social Media, organizations will inevitability find their names mentioned in some blog or internet forum. While positive mentions are good publicity and should be encouraged, the question facing PR Professionals is how to deal with negative mentions.

One framework which PR Professionals can use to assess, analyse and then decide how to respond to the mention is the SCAER Framework. An abbreviation for Source, Content, Audience, Effect and Response, I developed the SCAER framework as a deliberate process to guide the PR Professional's assessment of an online mention. Performed sequentially, the Framework will guide the PR Professional to the most logical response to the mention.

Source. The aim of this factor is to determine the credibility of the source. Under this factor, the PR Professional will assess where the mention is found, the type of website, its viewership, the profile of the viewers and the reputation of the blogger. Determining credibility is important as it will determine how likely the target audience will believe the content.

Content. Next, once the credibility has been determined, the PR Professional will then assess the content of the mention. The aim of this factor is to determine the mention's objective and intent behind the mention. For example, the PR Professional must determine if the mention is aimed at discrediting the organization, urging customers to switch brands, or is it a personal vendetta against the CEO of the organization. Ultimately, understanding the intent and objective of the mention will allow the organization's response to address the root of the issue.

Audience. When a mention is put online, there are generally four target audiences which the PR Professional must consider - apparent, ultimate, intermediate and unintended. The apparent target audience is the direct recipient of the message; the ultimate target audience is the actual target of the mention; the intermediate target audience is the conduit to get the mention to the ultimate target audience; and the unintended target audience is anybody that may come across the mention. Identifying the ultimate target audience of the mention is crucial as it will then allow the PR Professional to more accurately assess the mention's impact and select the appropriate response to the correct target audience.

Effect. This final factor is the cumulation of the previous 3 factors. Based on the findings of (a) the source's credibility; (b) the intent of the mention; and (c) the ultimate target audience, the PR Professional then draws a conclusion on the effect of the mention. As a guide, the PR Professional will make an assessment based on the impact to the organization and the probability that stakeholders will believe the mention. The PR Professional uses a standard 2x2 matrix (shown below) to determine whether the organization should respond to the mention, and if so, the approach to take.

Response. In general, there are 4 possible responses that an organization adopt towards a negative mention – they are direct refutation, indirect refutation, forestalling and silence.

Quadrant A. For mentions that have a high probability of being believed and once believed, is likely to have a high impact on the organization, PR Professionals should directly refute the mention. In this response, the organization goes on the “offensive” and actively disputes the mention. For example, to address a customer complaint of poor service, the organization will dispute the customer's story point by point.

Quadrant B. In this scenario where the mention is assessed to have a low impact on the organization but likely to be believed by the stakeholders, the appropriate response is an indirect refutation. Using the above example of poor service, in the indirect approach, the organization will issue a response (on the same platform) citing third party endorsement of its good customer service. Essentially, the organization addresses the mention by playing up facts that contradicts the mention.

Quadrant C. In this third quadrant, the assessment is that the impact is likely to be high but unlikely to be believed by the stakeholders. Here, the organisation's best approach to forestall. In this approach, the organisation does nothing to address the mention, but monitors it and take precautionary measures to mitigate a crisis. News releases, third-party endorsements and a preliminary crisis management plan are readied for immediate implementation in the event the mention evolves into a crisis.

Quadrant D. In this fourth quadrant, the assessment is that the mention is unlikely to be believed and even if it is, the impact on the organization is low. As such, the appropriate approach for the organization in this scenario is one of silence where the organization chooses to ignore the mention and carry on with operations as per normal.

The use of the above SCAER Framework provides PR Professionals with an objective approach to assess negative online mentions in blogs and forums. Used correctly, the Framework will allow any organization the ability to do so quickly and, if necessary, deal with the countless mentions in cyber-space. 

Justin Fong, Principal Consultant/ Trainer, CW Fong & Associates

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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