PR firms are in the business of persuasion. Through traditional media, social media, stakeholder outreach, and political lobbying, a PR firm will seek to convince the public, or a stratum of it, about the value of your organisation or personal brand. That’s positive PR.

There’s another layer of PR based around managing a crisis. This type of scenario arises when someone has transgressed the values of an organisation, or perhaps some calamitous oversight has occurred (such as faulty airbags in a car). In that type of scenario, we enact what’s called a crisis media plan that seeks to reassure the public around the value and trustworthiness of your brand.

But sometimes a situation is so severe there’s nothing to be gained from making public appeals. In fact the more in the public eye you are, the more likely you are to fan the flames of anger and discontent. In that scenario, the best strategy is to not only withdraw from the public sphere but to bury any bad publicity that is out there.

And no, that doesn’t involve trying to buy up every copy of every newspaper running a story and set a match to it. Once a story is in print, it’s out there, but thankfully only for a couple of days before it becomes newspaper wrapping.

The more long lasting problem is the digital and social realms. Newspaper and magazine articles, social media platforms, blogs, chat-rooms, forums: these are the myriad ways a negative story can continue to stay afloat and cause you damage.

The internet can serve as an enormous library of record, but there are ways to get your name out of circulation and pushed down the order of search rankings. We briefly discuss below five main ways to manage your reputation in the digital and social world.

Wipe your footprint – do an audit of your own social and digital media accounts and make sure you delete anything negative you or your organisation has personally posted in relation to the topic at hand.

Friendly requests – a friend or well-disposed colleague may unknowingly have posted something online that could damage your reputation. Make a cordial request to have that post removed.

Google requests – you may be entitled to lodge a Google Takedown Request for a post that is damaging your reputation. Check the criteria and lodge a submission. If the party that has posted is a government agency you may be able to tighten up around privacy. If it’s a media outlet, you may be adding fuel to the fire.

Take it offline – you may wish to consider making a request to admins or individuals within a forum to have a discussion offline about the topic at hand. It might be best to have this request come through a third party whose name is not associated with your brand and to consider whether this is likely to assist. If the discussion or comments are defamatory and without foundation, you are on more secure footing when approaching admins with a request. You may also make legal requests to desist.

Bury the story – negative search terms can be bid for on Google Ads by third parties, helping bury a negative story to the bottom of page 1 of Google and beyond. This might be useful when a story is likely to be short-lived but depending on the magnitude of the story this approach can be expensive and short-term.

As always in PR and brand management, it’s much easier to help people and organisations when they commit to doing the right thing and learning from mistakes. But in the short-term, torpedoing a negative story online can help you weather the storm.

Tony Nicholls

Tony Nicholls

Founder and Director of Good Talent Media

Tony Nicholls is an accomplished journalist who has held roles for more than ten years with the ABC, SBS and Network Ten, covering thousands of news stories across Victoria, Australia and in the international media.

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