March 29, 2007
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Weblog Emergency

How can you best respond to a weblog crisis?

This week has seen at least two (1 2 is offline at the moment) dramatic weblog storms in which well-known people and firms have been plausibly accused of involvement in bad actions. Suppose it happened to you? Not as victim: suppose you woke up one morning and the whole blogosphere was abuzz over your misdeed?

Perhaps its all lies. Perhaps someone hacked into your computer and stole your identity. Perhaps you lost your head and did something you shouldn't have done, and now it's being shouted from the rooftops and plown way out of proportion. Perhaps one of your employees did something reprehensible. Perhaps it's your evil twin. Doesn't matter: it's just hypothetical.

What do you do now?

I think this is a huge question for pro bloggers and a key concern for the modern PR industry. I’m not convinced we have any compelling positive case studies (though we have plenty of blunders to learn from).

It seems to me that you need to be seen to be very open — as open as your lawyer can possibly let you be. You need to be energetic: you need to spend (and to be seen to spend) time and money quickly to make things right.

Or, you need to attack with brio, you need to set the record straight.

What you can't do, successfully, is hunker down and say as little as possible. This could work in old media: you'd take a pounding in one or two stories, and then it would pass. You'd alienate a couple of reporters, but they'll pass, too. In the weblog world, though, you'll have dozens or hundreds of people writing negative stories about you; the stories will still pass, they'll be fish wrap in a few days just as they always have, but you'll have dozens or hundreds of people with a stake in being right about how wrong you are.

Now, you can persuade a reporter to give you a second chance. You can persuade a blogger, too -- but it might be harder, because a reporter is a professional, and giving you a second chance might be unpleasant but part of the job. A blogger isn't professional, and they don't have a Wise Old Editor to tell them how to do their job. So, persuading those bloggers that you might be an acceptable or a reformed person is going to be a long, slow, arduous process.