Avoiding bad publicity

  • Good publicity and a trusted brand is everything for charities
  • Negative coverage in the media and social media can have a massive impact on fundraising
  • Charities need to plan for the unexpected – and know how to act fast in an emergency

Modern technology is a double-edged sword. Social media offers charities unprecedented opportunities to share their message directly with the world, without having to spend time and resources convincing journalists and editors to give them coverage.

But what it gives, it can take away – in a flash – and bad publicity online can very quickly overwhelm unprepared organisations, leaving their image in tatters.

Reputation is everything when it comes to fundraising and taking a hit on Twitter can have a rapid and lasting impact on your income. No-one can afford to be left playing catch-up when things go wrong, and it’s vital to prepare.

Like every other aspect of management if you don’t have your plan ready to go when problems arise, then it’s already too late. Watching your organisation trend on Twitter for all the wrong reasons and picking up the phone to reporters eager to expose any potential problems is stressful, which is why pre-planning a response is critical to safely weathering the storm.

Importance of crisis management team

As a starting point, charities need to have a crisis management team already in place, containing senior leaders and communications staff with the autonomy to act quickly – and they really must act quickly.

Your team needs to drop everything else, decide what your message is and get it out there on all channels.

It’s also important to remember that you can’t act nearly as fast as you need to if you don’t know something is happening – and the internet never sleeps.

While larger non-government organisations might have staff to monitor social media 24/7, those who don’t should set up automatic alerts to inform them when their organisation is mentioned or advertise hours that the feed is monitored.

If the allegations are untrue, you need to get the truth out there immediately, backed up by solid evidence. If you’ve made a mistake, you need to say sorry as quickly as possible and move the story on: what are you going to do about it now?

Remember to get the tone right. No-one conquers social media. Success comes from winning the argument with wit, humility and good humour, not from taking an aggressive and controlling attitude. Twitter does not have to do what you say.

Sometimes, you might hit on an unexpected positive out there, which can be great news. But think carefully before you endorse or involve yourself with a hashtag too quickly, because once you’re onboard, you’re in for the ride.

But while there certainly are risks with being active on social media, there are also endless opportunities and this is no time to be too timid.

Social interaction

The internet is no longer just about the communications you release on your web page, but how people interact with you and around your message, and for this reason social media has to be at the core of everything you do from now on.

What was once the preserve of teenagers and early adopters is now the new normal – 52% of Twitter users are over 35 – and the social media world and the real world are becoming more synonymous all the time.

In addition, social media offers you a medium for sharing everything you need to communicate – your videos, images and text – linked with a means of taking donations.

To be part of the conversation, you need to be there and bring your enthusiasm. Respond quickly, but take time to think about what you are saying before you say it – and think twice as hard about what you are going to say when things go wrong.