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Two-Way Communication: The Good, Bad & the Ugly

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Many organizations use blogs to reach people whether it’s to provide updates on new products or services, develop better relationships with customers, or just drive traffic to their website. But it can also be the necessary tool used to reach people during a crisis by having the ability to quickly respond to customers or tell the organization’s side of the story. The public also has the opportunity to ask questions and as an organization, I believe you are obligated to respond. I unfortunately found out that while it can be a good platform for two-communication, if not handled delicately, it can lead to even more problems for the organization members, and in this case, headaches for me.

During my stint as a digital media manager at a local newspaper, we utilized blogs to share information with our readers. Not only did we use blogs, but we also allowed comments (named and anonymous) on all our website stories so we could keep the lines of communication open with our readers. We always wanted to be transparent with our readers. I’ll never forget the day I realized the reach and impact this type of communication and my response could have on our readers and on me. 

We shared a story about a person that police were searching for in connection to a crime. I don’t recall all the details, because this happened several years ago. But I do remember that the police gave us very vague details. Because the details were pretty ambiguous, I opted not to include the race of the person because I did not want to perpetuate any stereotypes by releasing that information without any other affirming details that would be helpful to locating the suspect. I was trying to do the politically correct thing. But boy did I hear it from our readers! They commented for the next couple of days, even throughout the weekend. I’ll never forget that one person called for me to be fired because of that decision. I was appalled, outraged, and hurt all at the same time. Things finally calmed down and I obviously didn’t get fired. I learned a good lesson because of  that experience. That particular comment led to a defining moment in my career. I had to live with that decision. I had to own it. That is when I realized the significance of blogs and comments that allowed that open communication we thought we wanted in our newsroom. I know that people on the Internet can be supportive and complementary but also mean and just plain rude. But that communication is needed to keep everybody honest and on our toes!

My “little” crisis pales in comparison to other PR crises I’ve recently studied. Some case studies I’ve read have left me just shaking my head. For example, during the deadly prison riots in Lucasville, Ohio back in 1993, prison officials did not hold the first media briefing until the second day of the riot and did not offer timely and frequent updates during the 11-day ordeal. Reporters were left grasping for answers and ultimately used anonymous and unreliable sources in their reports.  Access to information is essential when faced with negative media attention. 

It is imperative that an organization tell its own story, whether the news is positive but especially when it’s negative. Stating your position, backed by facts and delivered genuinely and honestly will allow you to convey a message that will be received well and ideally published as so by the media. Organizations should always strive to swiftly tell their own story through its website, blog and social media platforms, especially when faced with negative attention. There is no better way to directly connect to the people and tell your story. Everyone within the organization should remain on the same page with the message because that will deliver a message of unity that is needed when faced with a crisis.

Now that I’ve moved out of the “news” business and into a private company as a marketing manager, the company blog has taken on a new meaning for me. The information I share on the company blog sometimes will be advertising for a new service we’re offering. However, it primarily focuses on company achievements and community involvement. I use the blog as an opportunity to tell our readers about all the good things we’re doing within the company and how we’re an integral part of the community. Thank goodness there has not been a crisis that I have had to address through the company blog.

Social media is a different beast though. I try to answer any question posed to the company, whether good or bad, because I want to remain honest and transparent. Maintaining the company’s good reputation is most important to me. If people don’t trust us or know that we’re doing everything we can to provide impeccable service, then going to work everyday wouldn’t be worth it to me. I have to respond quickly, even on weekends when I’m technically not on the clock. I want our customers to know we care. Maintaining great customer relationships will keep those customers coming back. 

Because I closely monitor our social media sites, I have been able to head off impending disasters. Disgruntled customers and even former employees with an ax to grind, have taken to social media to voice their opinions. I’ve had employees get into cyberfights with other online users and invite them to come to the physical location of our company to handle it.  Former employees, who still had the company listed as their employer in their online bio, posted opinions on subjects that did not align with the company’s beliefs. Those comments were reported by another social media user who was outraged and could not believe our company would allow an employee to share such politically incorrect thoughts. I was able to respond to her within minutes with the information that the person had not worked for us in a while and if they did, they probably wouldn’t be after posting such nonsense online. The social media user was appreciative for our timely response. 

Through my studies and professional experience, I’ve learned that organizations cannot go wrong with the public when it is transparent and honest from the start. There’s no excuse for not issuing timely and thorough responses to the public because of all the tools available to organizations like blogs and social media. 


One thought on “Two-Way Communication: The Good, Bad & the Ugly

  1. I tend to wonder why people are so set on ruining other peoples’ lives with their harsh words. People don’t even understand one thing they say can affect someone’s entire life. Social media has given us a platform to feel so confident in our opinions and comments but it has not shaped us for reconsidering what we say before we do. I fear for the generations to come for how bold they are with their words. Nothing seems to phase them. I am lucky enough to have been a part of a generation that experienced no social media and then grew up with it. My perspective is way different because I appreciate the times when we did not have. We were so scared of what we posted because we didn’t want the judgment of our friends. Times are so different now and I worry for our future of communication skills.

    Liked by 1 person

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