What happens when the president of a very public company confirms his support of a less-than-popular view point?
The internet explodes, just as it did last week when the president of fast food chain Chick-Fil-A spoke publicly on his, and his company’s, support of “the biblical definition of the family unit”. The public backlash from his statement was bad enough, but then the company made several huge public relations mistakes, all of which were immediately noticed by the online community. While Chick-Fil-A is still trying to clean up its mess, the rest of us can learn from their mistakes.
Getting beyond the controversy of the Chick-Fil-A mess, if you’re going to do or say something unpopular, you need to understand that it could sweep across the internet in a matter of minutes. Don’t underestimate that. This was Chick-Fil-A’s first big mistake. The president’s anti-gay remarks were said during an interview with a baptist radio station. Within hours, everyone knew about it. This isn’t just a concern for big business; it doesn’t matter if you’re the president of a major national food chain or a small-time blogger working full-time at the local 7-11. Once it’s on the internet, it’s public, and there’s no way of knowing what news is going to spread like wildfire and what news is going to be mostly ignored.
If you have any sort of online presence, you should have a plan in place for PR disasters. Do some research; learn what to do (and what not to do) in the case of negative internet attention. Don’t think that you can wait to figure all of this out when you really need it; stress leads to poor decision making skills. For starters, maintain integrity. If you’re standing by your opinion and/or actions, fine, but creating a fake profile to defend yourself on your own Facebook page (ala Chick-Fil-A, supposedly) or otherwise turning to deceit to solve the problem will only backfire. Someone will see through the charade, and then things will only get worse.
Accept responsibility and don’t point fingers to direct the attention away from yourself. Or, don’t try to discredit others to make yourself look better. It’s better to let things quiet down by themselves, and the more you do to attract attention (even by trying to aim that attention to someone else), the longer you’ll be in the public eye. If things are bad, hire a good PR company and let them help you find a solution.
Chick-Fil-A may have faired better if they’d had a better plan in place before the president took to the airwaves with his support of ‘biblical marriage’. Everything will die down within a week or two, and the internet will move on to some other PR disaster by some other company. Even if everything on the internet is forever, most people using it have the notably short attention spans.
Does it surprise you that so many big businesses continue to make online PR errors? What would you have done differently in this case?