In Part I, “Why ‘Managing the Message’ Doesn’t,” we discussed the dangers of trying to ‘manage the message’ in a Social Media world. Part II looks at the techniques used by organizations to manage the message and why they fail.
Organizations that adopt a manage the message policy for Public Relations (PR) assume that they are the controllers and manipulators of the public image of their organization, which demotes the public to the role of a mindless zombie. If that doesn’t sound stupid enough, let’s look at the methods that organizations use to manage the message.¹
[¹ I realize that I've used the words Manage the Message five times in the first two paragraphs; however, "insulting PR techniques" isn't quite specific enough as there are so many of them. ]
The subtle use of anti-listening techniques is one strategy used by organizations who seek to manage the message. The concept is simple: an organization can’t be held accountable for issues that don’t exist. By not listening an organization can effectively deny existence of an issue because they can claim ignorance, therefore can deny accountability.
One example is the use of formalized procedures for communication from the stakeholders, including the public. An organization might ignore or restrict communication on their Facebook page, requiring complaints and comments to be made through a process that is more complex or requires greater risk to complainer.
EXAMPLE: From the Facebook page for a Parent/Teacher group of an Elementary School after parents discussed concerns about major changes in the school calendar:
“Please remember that this page is used for the PTC to share PTC sponsored fundraising events and activities. If anyone has comments/complaints about the school they need to be addressed with the administration.”
(From the School’s Marketing Director)
The strategy of denying open discussion of issues allows an organization to divide and conquer people who may object or have a strong reaction to negative events or significant changes. By restricting public comment on their website or Social Media formats such as Facebook, an organization can prevent all but the most committed people from voicing their opinion or concern. For those that do comment, the organization can hide dissent and concerns behind a veil that only they have access to, so the true scope of the issue is hidden from public.
The problem with this technique is that issues or concerns do not go away by ignoring or hiding them. Whether expressed or not the reaction exists and it impacts the public image of the organization. A divide and conquer strategy increases the reaction once people discover that others share their concerns. In the Social Media world, the truth will eventually come out through a disgruntled customer, employee, or other source. Once the full scope of the deception is exposed the organization will lose all credibility and once the organization loses credibility the public image is also lost.
In January of 2012, the Susan G. Komen Foundation was receiving massive condemnation for a politically charged decision to defund Planned Parenthood. Rather than accepting that the public voice was valid, CEO Nancy Brinker attempted to double down on their position by claiming a bogus conservative-initiated Congressional investigation was reason to deny the grant requests by Planned Parenthood. Her efforts to paint an obvious conservative-motivated action as justified left her and the organization looking like right-wing wackos who had no clue that the organization depended on the perceived goodwill of the public.
By the time they tried to back peddle and fix the problem it was too late. Race For the Cure events in 2012 lost as much as one-third of the participation from the previous year and many donors question the use of their money by the Foundation. The irony is that Nancy Brinker had founded the organization thirty years earlier in her sister’s memory and now the Susan G. Komen name is not so much a symbol of fighting breast cancer as it is a reminder of conservative attempts to use backdoor methods to inflict their religious beliefs on everyone else.
MONDAY: The Dark Side of PR: Distraction and Deception Or ‘Armstronging’ the Public. When ethics are not a consideration, an organization is headed into a downward spiral that will almost always end with a public image that can be fatal.