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What to do if the most-followed entrepreneur on social media slams your brand

Recently tech billionaire Elon Musk took to Twitter to slam Mark Zuckerberg’s WhatsApp platform, sharing a Tweet from the director of engineering at Twitter that called the messaging platform out for recording users whilst they slept.

As onlookers hope for a clash of the Titans online, one which let’s be honest would be limp if played out in real life, we wanted to ask how has just one Tweet impacted the reputation of WhatsApp and what should Zuckerberg do next?

First of all, get the facts straight

You’d hope that with a business as politically and socially turbulent as WhatsApp, it has its house in order. This consists of working with reputation specialists to develop not only detailed risk mitigation strategies and scenario plans, but a clear understanding of the potential threats facing business operations, to futureproof the brand from similar allegations.

Consider how to respond

The strategy and how to communicate your response to media or an individual must be created with a clear understanding of what will happen next, as well as its impact. What benefit would it be to WhatsApp and Zuckerberg if he were to respond publicly on the platform? Whilst it would surely attain the reach in audience and social stir we’re all hoping for, playing into the hands of the engineer of Twitter, one with a trigger on its algorithms, may not be the smartest of moves. Similarly, for brands and individuals, ensuring you use the correct vehicle to communicate your message should always be considered. It is always advisable to attain empathy through a personable approach when a key spokesperson is responding to an issue. Are they media trained and confident to take this situation live on air or is a written response in a leading industry title or national newspaper a safer move? Advice from experts in media strategy and specifically crisis planning should be sought to ensure you don’t compound the negatives.

Timing is everything

At the time of Musk’s Tweet, the landscape of the audience immediately questioned the so-called reliable and encrypted messaging platform - “Is it safe?” a question no one wants to be asked about their brand or service. In this instance, Zuckerberg needs to come clean with the facts promptly, rather than let this one linger. And whilst there’s no control in what and when Musk might have shared in a follow up Tweet which would stoke the fire, timing as always is everything. Taking a temperature reading of the responses from your audience is one of the first ports of call as well as quantifying the reach of any negative press. Once you have a clearer understanding of the situation you can then advise a suitable timeframe for a response. As social media has accelerated the speed of public reaction from 24 hours to milliseconds, it can be tempting to respond immediately without consideration, deliberation, or advice from specialists; but always remember a reputation takes years to build and seconds to destroy.

Whilst Meta has since shared a response regarding the issue stating a bug caused the glitch and maintained that its end-to-end encryption is still in place, has it really done enough to settle concerns with one short response to a problem, that’s already reached millions?

Written by Alex Andrew, senior account director, crisis and reputation at PR consultancy The PHA Group

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