Oh, Sh**. You’ve gone viral.
Look, we’ve all messed up on the job. Sometimes it’s behind the scenes where it can easily be covered up. Sometimes it’s in front of the attorneys at the annual retreat.
Either way, when these things happen in-house where our clients, peers and competitors are none the wiser — we hope — we have more control over the gossip.
But sometimes these things happen in front of the world. And, in a socially connected Internet, there is the distinct possibility that it can go viral. And fast.
Case in point:
As of the writing of this blog post, it appears that adidas has pulled the photos, but it was too late. The story was picked up and shared via individual Facebook posts, the morning news, national cable channels, and radio.
We’re viral, people!
When I read adidas’ official response to the Fox News story, Adidas blasted over new shackle sneaker, I couldn’t help but wonder: Did these official spokespersons read ANY of the comments, anywhere? Are these official spokespersons knowledgeable in the least about how social media and networking operates? Are they really this detached from public discourse and commentary?
Jeremy Scott is renowned as a designer whose style is quirky and lighthearted and his previous shoe designs for Adidas Originals have, for example, included panda heads and Mickey Mouse. Any suggestion that this is linked to slavery is untruthful,” she added.
Once again, Bueller?? Bueller??, we’re living in the age of the Internet. When the populace is tossing around words such as “slavery” and “convict” when describing your new product, it’s hard to dismiss that.
Senior communications professionals within a company (read: YOUR law firm) MUST be in charge of the social media strategy. (Don’t skip that word: Strategy). You cannot have your summer intern, or a junior staffer, post something to your firm’s Facebook wall, only to realize it was a mistake, try to pull it down, and then expect it to disappear.
“Media of any sort has always been very unforgiving and the persistent digital record the Internet affords should not be taken lightly. Words and images take on an aura of authority when they are published.
Organizations that don’t consider social media a form of publishing are clueless, and exposed. Everyone makes mistakes, but, inexperienced people make more.
The immediacy of social media and the menace of constantly feeding it do not afford organizations the luxury of layers of proofreading, copyediting, and fact checking. Why then would brands entrust this role to someone who is just cutting their teeth? Because they do not recognize it is publishing. If it is in print—anywhere—it is a permanent record. (Emphasis added)
I don’t know who put the sneaker photo out on the adidas Facebook page. I don’t know if this was a calculated risk, a PR ploy, or an error in judgment. Either way, deleting the post or not, the story will forever be out there.
So I did what I do best: I asked some of my esteemed legal PR colleagues how would they counsel their clients if something of theirs went viral:
Think Before You Blog.
I would never advocate for a client to post anything negative on their blog because something can go ‘viral.’ Why take a chance that a comment about a company or client would turn into a negative situation. Before I hit send, I always ask myself, how would my clients feel about my comments or opinions? You can also relate going viral to the crisis situations in law firms. There are enough bad examples to teach you how to do things right. Think before you blog. Think before you post a video that may reflect poorly on your personal or professional brand. It’s what go Charlie Sheen into trouble.
Take Advantage of Unplanned Distribution Channels.
Please consider that having your content go viral creates a distribution channel that can’t be planned but can be a strong strategic boost in reaching previously untouched audiences. It also provides a platform to reach out to prospects to demonstrate your influence, online presence, and extensive network.
For instance, we might recommend pushing the content out through additional media channels and interacting via social media with promoters of your content — publish a post on your blog about your content going viral and link to a few of the outlets that picked it up, or launch a strategic Twitter campaign to retweet mentions of your content and connect with other tweeps.
I think circling back with as many relevant promoters of yours to say thank you and to show them how you have, in turn, promoted them, is really the best use of this happy circumstance.
Of course, this strategy depends entirely on the content being positive. If the content is negative and potentially damaging for your company’s brand, we would treat the situation as a high-stakes communications crisis and be strategic and proactive in responding to the criticisms and getting our side of the story out. We all know the power of social and online media, so we’d want to protect our online reputation by getting in front of the story but being careful not to give the story more legs than it had; viral content is “hot” for short periods of time – just until the next tweet, video, or blog post goes viral – so the social media cycle works to your favor.
Control the Message. Don’t Remain Silent.
Anything that goes viral must be managed, because it’s a guaranteed you’ll get both positive and negative comments. Depending on how bad and widespread the negative becomes, it’s best to be transparent and address the issue IMMEDIATELY. Remaining quiet likely will foster additional negativity, so use social media to your advantage to shape and deliver your messages, quickly, to your direct audience.
Anticipate Your Response, Positive or Negative.
A video that goes viral can be capitalized on in many ways. It’s about anticipating response before it happens and knowing how to capitalize on all of the opportunities. For instance, if the feedback is positive, consider how you are going to share the story and maintain the momentum. If the feedback is negative, you should already have a crisis communication plan in place to fall back on and follow. If you don’t, then that’s the first line of business before you start posting videos online.
And what if going viral is a good thing, Cheryl Bame says you have to take advantage of it:
What if you blog post went viral? Here is what I would advise: Continue to write about the topic. Obviously you hit a nerve or a cord that go others interested and talking about the subject …. Then, share your posts with other influencers in and outside the legal space who would be generous enough to share it with their readers or viewers. That is the key. You don’t need to wait for people to come to you, send the post to people who you think my be influential in having other “influencers” share your ideas.
Thank you to Jayne, Cheryl, John, Vivian and Gina for always sharing your wisdom with me.
Image via Foxnews.com, “An image of the JS Roundhouse Mids was posted on Adidas’ Facebook page. The sneakers are to be released this August. (Adidas/Facebook).”