Organizations in 2017 have found a new problem to solve, a fight generated by fake and exaggerated news on social media spread by celebrities. When that falsity is spread by the President of the United States, an organization must defend itself from enormous publicity. PR Week explored the attacks that President Trump has made against organizations through his Twitter account and how those organizations responded1. Just as individual people do, organizations have a “fight or flight” response to the event, and choosing the right option comes down to how the organization has prepared for it. Organizations must have public relations crisis plans for digital media situations, such as when they are the subject of an exaggerated or fake news story that gains traction on broad social media.
Social Media Attacks
President Trump has attacked a number of businesses through social media, most recently the high-end retailer Nordstrom, and the organization used its resources to answer back. Forbes reported that President Trump had tweeted about his daughter being unfairly treated by Nordstrom after they canceled orders for her clothing line3. Nordstrom defended itself against the accusation, explaining that Nordstrom and Ivanka Trump had already been having discussions in the previous year, and that it was not a personal decision3. The battle in the social media arena was fought publicly by the celebrity against the organization, and highlights the importance of how organizations react in the modern age of social media attacks.
The Bandwagon and the Celebrity
When celebrities such as President Trump attack an organization, it becomes much larger than simply one person attacking a larger entity. Trump has over 24 million followers on Twitter1, and as a celebrity, Trump is able to use his fame to persuade his audience, and even those outside it, to manipulate the truth through social media. Three persuasive techniques fit Trump perfectly6: card stacking, transfer, and bandwagon. With card stacking, celebrities like Trump use only part of the information to build their case, while hiding other facts6. When Trump complained to his Twitter followers that Nordstrom was treating his daughter unfairly, he kept out the information that Nordstrom had been in discussions with her team long before the present moment.
Trump’s accusation also showed the techniques of both bandwagon support and the transfer of association, if in a negative way. Bandwagons imply that everyone wants a particular service, and that transfer is the concept of connecting a celebrity with credibility6. Trump send out a critical tweet, using his credibility as the President, to attempt to get his followers to harass or ban Nordstrom, shown by the temporary negative effect on Nordstrom’s stock3. Nordstrom’s stock quickly recovered, but the effect that a celebrity could have was apparent.
Trump’s celebrity, and his ability to offer a narrative style, captures a large audience that attempts to align themselves with him. With a large audience, the way he writes his posts on Twitter is clearly influential to some, and that narrative could explain why his followers would then attack another organization. In discussing crime and journalism, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly examined how news events in a narrative form gave readers the feeling of being a “mediated witness” (p. 581) instead of a passive reader5. Mediated witnesses do not experience events personally, but vicariously, and the narrative evokes the emotions of the reader to find the passages more persona5. Trump’s narratives work in the same way, by using persuasive, narrative speech he moves those who follow him more readily than the organizations he attacks. Without a plan in place, an organization would have a tough time defending itself.
Organizations that are not ready for such an attack could find a financial backlash, especially when social media users come out in force to attack an organization. Nordstrom’s stock fell, but recovered quickly3, and other organizations might not end up so lucky. Celebrities can amplify messages against an organization, resulting in collaborative brand attacks that get strong quickly4. Especially when an organization is seen as acting in an unfair manner, social media users can attack an organization in an attempt to harm it4. In Trump’s attack on Nordstrom he clearly calls them unfair, and using his celebrity allowed him to quickly amplify that message to his millions of followers.
Planning for the Worst
Social media attacks, especially with very popular brands or from well-known celebrities, are difficult at best to fight, and executing a well-considered plan ahead of time can lessen the damage from an attack. The best plan starts with observation, that organizations that understand their target audience ahead of time are able to work out messages that retain the most followers2. By understanding their base, organizations are able to rally both followers and their friends to support the organization, possibly deflecting any damage an attack would cause2. While keeping a sharp eye on social media helps to mitigate damage, being an active part of the community especially during a crisis is important. Being responsive and respectful to comments was vital, and by controlling cyberbullies and making sure to include followers in social media strategy, helps during crises4. By having the plan ahead of time, and executing it before, during, and after the crisis, an organization can escape any real damage.
Organizations must have public relations crisis plans for digital media situations, such as when they are the subject of an exaggerated or fake news story that gains traction on broad social media. In the modern social media age, organizations have to fight fake and exaggerated news on social media spread by celebrities. When that falsity is spread by a President, an organization must defend itself from publicity and attacks by others. Choosing the right options before and during an attack comes down to how the organization has prepared for it, and will mean the difference between a slight drop in the markets and financial disaster.
- Daniels, C., (2017, Feb. 10). Engage or walk away? Brands’ dilemma after a Trump twitter attack. PR Week. Retieved from http://www.prweek.com/article/1423990/engage-walk-away-brands-dilemma-trump-twitter-attack
- Kinsky, E. S., Drumheller, K., & Gerlich, R. N. (2014). Weathering the storm: Best practices for nonprofits in crisis. International Journal Of Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Marketing, 19(4), 277-285. doi:10.1002/nvsm.1502
- McGrath, M. (2017, Feb. 8). Nordstrom draws Trump’s ire after dropping Ivanka’s products. Forbes.Com. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/maggiemcgrath/ 2017/02/08/after-dropping-ivanka-trump-products-nordstrom-finds-itself-in-the-middle-of-a-presidential-twitter-storm/#3821cad5772e
- Rauschnabel, P. A., Kammerlander, N., & Ivens, B. S. (2016). Collaborative brand attacks in social media: Exploring the antecedents, characteristics, and consequences of a new form of brand crises. Journal Of Marketing Theory & Practice, 24(4), 381-410. doi:10.1080/10696679.2016.1205452
- van Krieken, K., Hoeken, H., & Sanders, J. (2015). From reader to mediated witness: The engaging effects of journalistic crime narratives. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 92(3), 580-596.
- Wilcox, D. L., & Reber, B. H. (2013). Public relations writing and media techniques. Boston: Pearson Education.