Digital PR business lessons thanks to Donald Trump
Monday, January 16th, 2017
on behalf of Holyrood Partnership
Can you say what you want online and get away with it? Our Digital PR experts investigate.
ACCORDING to an old Scottish saying, carelessly spoken people who utter whatever comes into their heads are guilty of “opening their mouth and letting their belly rumble”.
As a phrase it sums up the annoying background noise created when people talk out loud without first engaging their brains, checking their facts or considering the effect on others.
We’ve all been guilty of it at some time. However, the rise of social media means we now deal with a deluge of empty chatter. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, the only thing between speaking to yourself and reaching a potentially massive audience is a phone screen or a keyboard.
While most of this is harmless bordering on vacuous, it doesn’t take much for such unfiltered, unguarded and unvarnished tongue wagging to tiptoe into the realms of ugly, harmful or hateful. Indeed, a tiny minority actually set out to be as offensive as possible online.
Social media as we know it now is only around 10 years old, which means some of the rules are still being written – or in the case of Donald Trump, being rewritten. His shoot-from-the-lip, warts-and-all style seems to allow him to say whatever he wants, while remaining ‘Teflon’.
A major worry for many people in business is how this might affect you?
For example, it’s hard to think of a success greater than Trump’s stunning Presidential victory against incredible odds. So does that mean that anyone wanting to emulate his success should start to shoot from the lip in the same way that he does?
Likewise, if it’s good enough for the 45th President of the US to speak his mind without fear or favour – whether on global TV or reaching millions via social media – then what does it mean for a business when its employees follow his example?
1 – YOUR BUSINESS VOICE ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Is it ok to take the man in the White House as a role model when it comes to communications? Certainly it seems to have worked for him – so following his lead on social media must be fine, right?
Actually, no. For your business on social media the objective at the very minimum is to not upset people. In fact, you want to entertain, inform or improve someone’s day using your social media accounts.
Somewhat surprisingly, there are businesses which are beginning to engage in “roasting” behaviour on social media, where they communicate with customers while using edgy humour that could easily be considered insulting, degrading or argumentative by the person at the other end – or anyone else watching the exchanges play out in public.
This post – https://twitter.com/tescomobile/status/749542835066658816 – from the Tesco Mobile verified Twitter account is a case in point. While most people will see the jibe as relatively harmless and tongue in cheek, others could easily be offended.
Would it really be worth the risk in your business to insult a customer’s mother – even in jest? Certainly businesses need to be careful. Not all of them have the products or services, or have taken the time developing their brand voice, to get away with this.
It’s not just Tesco that are doing this. Recently the restaurant chain Wendy’s hit the headlines with this sassy response to a customer query – https://twitter.com/Wendys/status/814975590474207232?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
Most of us would sympathise and smile wryly with the snarky tone taken by the Wendy’s staffer when dealing with a customer who, rather frustratingly, doesn’t seem to grasp that refrigerating a product does not involve freezing it. But could your business take that risk?
It’s fine for these massive brands to take this approach, especially if they’ve built up that tone of response and post on their channels. But always remember that social media is a fickle devil and it can turn on a brand in an instant.
The social media landscape is littered with the burnt out wrecks of business reputations, where an ill-considered comment brought down the online equivalent of a disapproving mob waving torches and pitchforks.
Our advice? Keep things positive, attempt to help your customer solve their query and if you want to engage in these “sick burns” then make sure your tone is like this 99% of the time – but be prepared to take the risk that come with wanting to be one of the cool kids on the social media block.
2 – YOUR STAFF ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Smart brands have already given at least some thought to how they will deal with customer queries or enquiries via social media. Increasingly important since so many people in Scotland, the UK and beyond are now active on Facebook, Twitter or other platforms.
Some of these people have controversial, ignorant or offensive views. Some of these people may work for you.
What’s fine for them to say within their inner circle or “joke” about in a social setting of their pals may not be at all acceptable for your business. Certainly the kind of commentary that Trump employs wouldn’t be welcomed by your business, your staff or your customers.
So, whilst it’s fine for Trump to do what he wants, it’s not for your employees. In fact, some could even find offence if your employees share tweets from Trump himself – are you ready for that backlash?
How do I deal with this?
You can’t decide what views an employee holds – nor should you be able to. However, you can take reasonable steps to protect your business from how and when that individual shares that opinion.
Insuring your business in this way is relatively straightforward through the rollout and this is something you can do with a social media policy. You may already have such a police courtesy of your legal and HR support experts.
But it still deserves to be robustly tested for practicality’s purpose by the people who are on the front line of communications with staff, clients and customers – public relations experts.
In the mid-noughties when businesses were first wrestling with the dilemmas posed by social media, social media policies were all the rage and very much front of mind. Now they are less visible, often being absorbed into staff handbooks or general employee contracts.
So with Trump shaking things up again, it pays for both staff and employers to take time to revisit such policies and be sure of the ground underfoot. Typically they will cover issues such as:
- Requiring employees not to bring a business into ‘disrepute’ by engaging in offensive or controversial behaviour online (if they identify on their accounts as working for you).
- Banning employees from sharing photos/videos from the workplace
- Requesting that employees do not identify themselves as a member of staff if they want to share their political opinions.
- Asking that staff members who leave update LinkedIn accounts so that if they do engage in any negative behaviour after leaving the business that you aren’t affected by it.
The bottom line is that social media is as deep and wide and tall as you can imagine and the challenge for businesses is to be prepared for any number of eventualities.
Don’t forget to check out the other insightful posts which are part of our Trump Survival Guide, on the PR lessons that savvy businesses can take from the new President
Highly effective public relations helps with all aspects of your communication – including making the most of social media platforms
All it takes is one rogue tweet or Facebook post and your business could suffer significant problems.
Donald Trump has reframed what constitutes as acceptable or unacceptable conduct and behaviour online. So this would be an ideal time to re-examine how your business communicates across all media, including social platforms.
If you want to the best possible positive messages but also be prepared for the worst possible outcomes, our team of public relations experts would be delighted to provide help and guidance.
You can call us on 0131 561 2244 to arrange a consultation, or take a few seconds to fill out the simple form, below and we’ll get back to you as quickly as possible:
Private: Kenny Murray
Kenny Murray is part of the expert PR team at Holyrood Partnership, an award-winnning Scottish public relations agency, which offers media relations, social media, photography, video, crisis management and PR in Edinburgh.View Private:'s Profile
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