It may be a cliché in public relations terms, but turning a negative into a positive is the ultimate aim of communications activity.
While this might be the goal, there are simply times when it is impossible to turn a bad news story around.
However, the backend of social media sites such as Facebook is starting to demonstrate that handled properly the announcement of bad news can actually work for an organisation, rather than against it.
The traditional argument for such an approach has been, by announcing the bad news yourself you have the opportunity to ‘control your message,’ thereby ensuring that whatever is announced is done so on your own terms.
Failure to do so puts your organisation at significant risk as the news may leak out and you are faced with dealing with the matter in a reactive way.
The challenge with dealing with issues from a reactive point of view is that once a perception is out there, it is very difficult to convince people that what they believe is true is not the case.
A number of years ago we were asked to assist an architect develop some land, but as a petition had already been circulated with some 2,500 signatures opposing the development.
Making the situation worse, the petition was based on incorrect information as the opposition group was unable to find out the real story and so put together what they understood was likely to occur.
From a communications point of view, this reduced the chances of getting community support because regardless of what was said, the people who signed the petition believed what they had been told in the first place, no after to the fact.
If the proponent had got out on the front foot much earlier, they may have had a chance, but until the arrival of the digital generation, it has been hard to argue this and most organisations learn this lesson the hard way.
Now through the advent of the backend of Facebook things have changed and for the first time you can observe how people are responding to any announcements you are making in real time.
To demonstrate this, have a look at the graphs attached from the backend of a clients’ Facebook page.
You will see there is a significant spike in activity – in fact there was a five percent increase in Facebook ‘likes’ which all arose from a negative news announcement.
This was because not only did the client get out on the front foot with their announcement and tell the world before it leaked out, but just as importantly they were seen as acting responsibly in dealing with the problem.
The resulting activity from their 4,000 strong Facebook community was not to disown the organisation and ‘unlike’ their page, but to do the opposite, that being sharing the information with friends who in-turn appreciated being told what was going on and gave the organisation a tick by hitting the ‘like’ button.
It just goes to show, that even when it is a negative announcement, if handled properly in an open and transparent way, while you may not be able to turn a negative into a positive, you can turn it into a positive experience.