Has social networking made controversy a good thing?

Businesses that heavily utilize social media risk losing control of their messaging.  There are ways to keep control; block comments on blogs, screen who links to your business on a social media sites but the more content gets out on the web, the more likely it is that something will get into the hands of someone who makes an unflattering comment. 

How should a business respond?  The initial tendency is to make the negative publicity go away, to ignore it in the hopes that no one will notice.  In many situations this might be the best approach but I do think the business should think about ways it can turn the negative around by going public and riding the wave of the publicity.   This is certainly risky but in the new world of social networking, risk is inherent in the medium and getting ahead of the story by quickly and agressively responding allows potential clients and customers to hear about how the controversy was handled before they hear about the controversy itself. 

For example, say a business gets touted as a top ten place to work by a trade journal.  The marketing department makes sure that story is published on several industry blogs.  The information could be posted only to blogs that didn’t allow comments or that monitored them but what if dissemination isn’t restricted to such sites and as a result a few anonymous posters dispute its claim to being a great place to work? 

Say the company responds by giving employees an open forum to discuss these issues.  The company then follows-up by acknowledging the complaint and details the positive ways it responded.   This controvery might result in far greater awareness that the company was praised as a great place to work and has now backed up the claim by positively responding to criticism.  If it had done nothing the press releases wouldn’t have received any play, having been considered just a standard puff piece.

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