Responding To Negative Media Posts: Rules of Engagement

As public relations professionals, part of our job is to interact with journalists; most of the time that means pitching stories and scheduling interviews by phone or email. But increasingly it can also involve connecting with reporters via social media. Normally, there’s nothing too controversial about giving feedback to general posts or comments, but on occasion, the interaction might involve responding to criticism or inaccurate reporting. That’s when we have to start considering the social media rules of engagement when it comes to connecting with reporters.

The first question we should ask ourselves is whether it’s ever a good idea to become involved in a disagreement with the press on any type of social media. The simple answer is yes—but the answer really isn’t simple. There may, in fact, be times when a company feels the need to defend its product or service.

Before you make the decision to respond to a harsh critique, decide whether or not your reply will “advance your communications mission,” according to an article on PRNews.com. The PRNews article states that “Some PR pros say you should always respond, in a timely manner, in your chosen forum, but that it’s best to have a ‘champion’ do that for your company.” In other words, find other news sources or a third party that will back up your view of the story. When negative comments appear, counter them with positive, or leave the post open-ended and give people a chance to offer supportive feedback.
A few other things to keep in mind, some of which are based on advice from the PRNews article:

• Be consistent. If you intend to respond to criticism, make sure to monitor all social media accounts, forums and blog posts so that you can react quickly.
• Be clear, consistent and thoughtful in your comments. Don’t answer right away. Take time to compose an answer that is calm and reasoned – one that doesn’t sound like an attack. (Remember, journalists are people, too.)

Also keep this in mind: You can’t prevent negative comments. When you give people an open forum on which to offer reviews, you have to expect that they’ll take advantage of it – whether they choose to give praise or criticism. Sometimes people need to vent.