Organized Tree Hugging

Every company has critics, however these critics are now able organize a coordinated global attack using social media tools.

‘Facebook fan page brand-jacking is the new form of tree hugging. As movements form, the organized groups can stage mass attacks on brand Facebook fan pages, overrunning it with negative messages.  Like sitting in trees with banners to slow down clear cutting and spray painting messages on buildings, this is simply the digital form of real-world protest’[1]

This is one of the reasons many are hesitant to jump in and start a blog or facebook page. Anyone embarking on social media, especially companies in health, should have guidelines or an escalation plan about what to do when things go wrong, protecting themselves (and their employees). Guidelines should describe those comments which require an immediate response, what the response will be, from whom, and indicate what to do if negative comments escalate.

Without such a plan you run the risk of being forced to shut your site down or take extreme remedial action (higher profile cases of organisations who got caught out include Nestlé, Sanofi Aventis, Elsevier). Whatever the case, it may not be possible to talk about specific adverse events but let readers know that they have been heard, that communication is open and that their comments have been taken seriously. Sometimes there may be instances where ‘top management’ are visible and active.

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Although these guidelines were made for the ‘corporate’ world, they also apply to individuals, especially within the area of health and research where a comment taken out of context can harm not just reputations but also have clinical implications. The thing not to do is to ignore or block someone out of hand (unless they are a troll), this can lead to an escalation of the problem – a very public example of this was a mistake made by Nestlé in trying to ban a Greenpeace video on YouTube – it simply added fuel to the fire (see ‘Censored Greenpeace video gets helping hand from Nestlé).

Crisis communications is not necessarily about fixing the problem but putting forward the human face of a company and letting people know they have been heard. Addressing an issue will go a long way to building trust (whether that trust is warranted of course is another matter entirely).


[1] Jeremiah Owyang: Crisis Planning: Prepare Your Company For Social Media Attacks