In the Crosshairs of a Critic? Take These 3 Key Steps

Not long ago, I provided counsel to an organization subjected to what they believed was a social-media smear campaign.

In a nutshell, a former organizational member—terminated about 18 months earlier due to various professional shortcomings—began making allegations that the organization felt consisted of half-truths, distorted depictions, and outright falsehoods.

There was a distinctly racial tinge to this (biracial) person’s proclamations. The critic had some influence in the local media as well as in the organization’s industry. The potential for this problem to fester, and even worsen, was very real.

What to do in response?

Illustration, courtesy of Bulldog Reporter (where this piece was originally published, Oct. 14, 2020)

After gathering enough background to get a lay of the crisis-ridden land, I recommended my client take three crucial steps. These actions apply not only to organizations that are being wrongfully dragged through the muck, but those that have fallen short of the mark in one or more ways.

Much is at stake, particularly because the effects of prolonged crisis can be debilitating. At minimum, they result in distraction. In some extreme cases, they can set in motion a series of events that end in organizational destruction.

Note: this list is a baseline of how to respond and is hardly exhaustive. Surely, there are other actions that this client should take—and same goes for any other organization finding themselves in the crosshairs of a public campaign to discredit them.

  • Get proactive.

Develop internal and external statements, for potential use on the org’s website, to share with strategic partners and other stakeholders, to distribute internally, and to share with anyone who comes across the detractor’s claims.

Although you may need to create nuanced variations, deriving from your distinct relationship with each partner and stakeholder, these statements should be consistent and emphasize the same major points.

At least initially, these would all have “potential” for deployment—but not automatically so. This measured approach seeks to avoid fanning the flames of contention until and unless such a public outreach is deemed necessary.

In my client’s case, there was a (relatively slim) chance that the smear campaign had already reached its apex and would fade away. Thus, practicing restraint would avoid needlessly triggering the critic further.

On the other hand, the moment it became clear that the organization would need to issue the statement(s), then it should be prepared to do so.

Regardless of whether further criticisms would ensue, the criticism already leveled would live on indefinitely on social media platforms and wherever the critic had left a trail.

That represents a longer-term issue to address—hence, the creation of a responsive statement (or statements) available to individual inquiries, and, potentially, to broader audiences in different contexts.

  • Make a statement.

With any statement that comes under some shadow of controversy, there is great temptation to lash out. This is particularly the case when an organization and some of its individuals feel they have been unfairly maligned.

It is essential to know where to “pick your battles.” For example, my client had ample evidence—and was tempted to go public with it—that their detractor was spreading falsehoods. However, publicly calling out the detractor would have escalated the conflict and prolonged the crisis. So long as those distortions were not extremely damaging, I advised restraint. My client highly valued moving forward, which would have been hindered by back-and-forth engagement.

Words ought to be chosen skillfully and brim with compassion, conviction, and restraint. Stick to facts that dispel falsehoods. Be brief, resisting the tug of a point-by-point refutation. Shift the focus toward the future, rather than getting drawn into a re-hash of the past.

This is not merely the “high road”—it’s the smart road. It becomes a highly visible opportunity for the organization to “walk the walk” of its mission, vision and character—while also demonstrating that it is moving onward and in a better direction.

  • Emphasize discipline within the organization

The ability to weather these PR / reputational storms hinges in large part on across-the-board discipline. Anyone who chooses their words unwisely, in any context, could undermine the entire organizational effort.

A flippant text, an off-the-cuff unkind remark, a foolish social media post…these are only a few of the many avenues of communication (and potential missteps). Couple those platforms with an undisciplined, or non-existent, filter and you have the makings of a protracted PR nightmare.

Even a minor moment of poor judgment may represent the “weak link” in an otherwise solid chain, with the critic seizing on that one shred of “evidence” as proof of the entire organization’s “guilt” in some regard.

To avoid this scenario, it is imperative to tell all within the organization that there is no room for slip-ups. For example, if someone in your org is asked about the situation, they should know to direct inquiries to the organizational statement(s) that have already been carefully and thoughtfully crafted. Along those lines, all media inquiries should be directed to the Marketing and Public Relations team.

In conclusion, for any organization facing crises from A to Z, the key is to keep your eye on the prize: an end to the saga, with renewed focus on a stronger future that revolves around your core mission.

This post was originally published in the October 14, 2020 edition of Bulldog Reporter. My prior Bulldog Reporter contributions include “Crisis PR Isn’t Black and White” (May 2008) and “Sticking Up for the Client, Sticking Up for the Story.” (October 2013). Through workshops, webinars and columns, I have trained thousands of reporters and PR professionals how to tell stories more effectively.

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Be a person, not a bot: don’t cheapen your social media network with garbage-like invites

“Feel like a number
Feel like a stranger
A stranger in this land

I feel like a number
I’m not a number
I’m not a number

Dammit I’m a man
I said I’m a man.”
-Bob Seger

Those lyrics come at the end of “Feel Like A Number,” from the 1978 album, Stranger in Town. It chronicles the alienation that comes from being just another “spoke in the wheel” of some monolithic entity.

Don’t add garbage to someone’s in-box — it’s already overflowing with unwanted stuff

However, with disturbing frequency, it is the feeling that arises at least once a week when I receive a LinkedIn invitation from someone. The pattern isn’t slowing down, either, even though a growing number of people have had more time to adjust to this social media space and come to their senses.

It’s time, then, to issue another plea for common interpersonal sense. If you are prone to inviting people to link-in with you, based solely on words on a screen and not any real-life flesh-and-blood interaction, then this is especially intended for you: stop cheapening your social network by inviting every Tom, Dick and Harry who has some remote tie-in to you (such as the fact that you both reside on planet Earth.)

Each time you issue an impersonal, shot-in-the-dark LinkedIn invitation, you are contributing to the overflow of garbage in the world. You are also revealing some damaging details about yourself. It’s lazy, it’s presumptuous and it positions you as a LinkedIn lemming–a follower (of all the others committing this sloppiness) and not a leader.

When you meet someone, preferably in person but possibly otherwise, that’s the time when you should consider connecting on LinkedIn. As you do so, give context and briefly state how you see such a connection serving both parties. Consider writing a recommendation shortly later, to cement the relationship and add value.

If you find yourself with hundreds of connections, but hardly anyone for whom you could write a recommendation, then that’s a red flag.

Conversely, being able–and willing–to craft recommendations results in value that flows not only to the people you recommend, but yourself. After all, your connections’ networks are more apt to read the relatively tiny number of recommendations your common connections have received than wading through the long list of connections they have amassed.

So, a parting public relations and marketing tip for you as you consider your own version of You, Inc.: when you remember to treat people like individuals, not another spoke in some expanding wheel of superficial contacts, you build up the quality of your relationships.

And in a world where it doesn’t take much to have quantity on the surface, it’s the depth of your quality relationships that will serve you much more in the long run.

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Overcome Your Social Media Misconceptions & Apprehensions: Three Truths

Contrary to popular belief, social media has been around for millennia.

For as long as there have been people, there has been a social component to life. On that same thread, as long as there have been people, there have been ways in which we have communicated with one another—whether on cave walls, through ancient precursors to “charades” or otherwise.

(Ever wonder how our ancestors conveyed the life-and-death news of “woolly mammoth coming our way!”?)

When I meet people in business, then, and the subject turns to social media, I frequently ask what they are doing in the social-media space.

As you might expect, the older that people are the more likely they discuss social media as something in a far-off land, light years beyond their grasp.

Their tone can range from wistful to dismissive, but the practical effect is the same. In the words of a woman who is at least in her 70s, whom I met today at a business-networking event: “That’s not me.”

At the same time, she expressed frustration that her company’s website was not attracting nearly as many visitors as she would like. Like so many others, she has yet to see the connection between social-media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and drawing prospective clients to her website.

So the next time you encounter that “not me” plea from someone, whether a prospective client, an existing client or any old (or young) person you encounter, remember these three truths to counteract their social media misconceptions and apprehensions:

Don’t Confuse The Process with The Goal

The goal is not to get thousands of Facebook fans or dozens of “likes” or even a bevy of comments on your latest social media post. It’s essential to view those as helpful parts in a process of raising your profile. Get your profile up high, where more people can see it, and then you get more people who trust you, who respect you and, ultimately, who retain your services or purchase your products–now that is the goal.

Kindly Ask What ‘Isn’t Them’

Is using a computer the deal-breaker for those who steer clear of social media? Do they have difficulty knowing how to navigate the online world? Or is their worry that they will become ensnared in trivial dialogues that diminish their overall work product?

These are all legitimate stumbling blocks. But overcoming them is readily achievable through the simple act of being teachable and opening yourself up to training from those who know how to deliver effective social media communications.

Emphasize the Existence of ‘Smart’ Social Media

There are plenty of social-media pages that traffic in “mind candy”—distracting, sometimes amusing fodder that dilutes your marketing message. Or, worse, there are those pages that detract from a brand by being sloppy (such as rampant misspellings) or offensive (such as crude language).

But there are good and bad examples all around us, in all areas of life, and that’s likewise the case with social media.

The leading social-media pages offer illumination about a topic or topics that demonstrate a brand’s expertise, empower its followers through inspirational content, and build constructive conversations with their audience. In the end, education, empowerment and engagement are a potent combination for any organization’s public relations and marketing effort.

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Facebook Shift to ‘Boost Post’ Inspires Bevy of Tongue-in-Cheek Ideas

Not long ago, I began seeing “Boost Post” instead of “Promote Post” on the various Facebook pages that I administer.

Whether it was the Five Seasons Family Sports Clubs in Northbrook and Burr Ridge, McAdam Landscaping in Forest Park, the Kenosha Area Business Alliance, my own Inside Edge PR page, or any of the others, “boost” became an everyday presence in my professional online travels.

At first sight of this semantic shift, I had to chuckle. It’s apparent that Facebook is tinkering with different words or phrases to see if they can boost their success in this realm of revenue creation. Or maybe “promote” is a better word?

As this Inside Facebook post indicates, another term that has popped up for people is “get more reach.” And if there are not any other variations aleady, it is undoubtedly only a matter of time before Facebook tweaks their approach even more.

Having employed words extensively to make a living for more than 25 years, I respect and appreciate what Facebook is striving to do. That’s why in this piece, we will offer a little (tongue-in-cheek) assistance to the not-quite-10-year-old social-media phenomenon.

Let’s have some fun and start by imagining Facebook could tailor its words and phrases based on certain traits of any given individual. Oh, yeah, they already do that in myriad ways, don’t they? But in terms of the whole “boost”/”promote” thing, try these on for size:

For publicists/marketers (gotta poke fun at me and my colleagues first): Spin This Up Good.

For take-charge, big-ego types: Disseminate at Will As You Dominate All Discussion.

For shy, reserved types: Psst…Perhaps Let a Few Others Know?

For the paranoid: They Are All Watching, Waiting & Wondering Why You Haven’t Shared This Yet!

For narcissists: Everyone Deserves to Know What You Have to Say–And To See Your Gorgeous Face Too.

For politicians: It’s Never Too Early to Start Campaigning for Your Next Election.

For Nike fans: Just Share It.

For NSA top-secret information leakers: Go To Hong Kong, Then Spill the Beans.

What are some other categories and accompanying phrases that you would add? Drop me a line at and we will add the best suggestions to this post in the future. Of course, we will ‘boost’ your name by including it as credit.

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Mancini’s Shows Small Business Need Not Fall Victim to `5 Stages of Facebook Grief’

Over the past three months, Mancini’s Pizza Pasta Cafe has nearly doubled its Facebook fan following, to 130. But even more important than that statistic is the qualitative change that’s occurred on the Oak Park restaurant’s Facebook page.

On that platform, the Downtown Oak Park mainstay is engaging its fans, providing visuals, running a weekly contest and exploring new ways to improve fans’ experience. In short, owner Al Mancini has taken my counsel, found someone in-house to get the ball rolling and given her the freedom to be creative.

Alas, the restaurant’s efforts remain an exception, as I noted today in my Chicago Marketing & PR Column at

A screenshot from today’s Facebook page for Mancini’s Pizza Pasta Cafe.

Over time, there have been ongoing wrinkles on sites like Facebook, but one thing hasn’t changed: the sense of dread that Facebook and its social-networking brethren routinely strike in the hearts of many business owners that I encounter.

This need not be so. For more details, check out the column, which is my updated version of “5 Stages of Facebook Grief.”

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