Last month, we talked about the best way to respond to negative criticism online. However, that post was all about the reactive – about turning around negative publicity and knowing how to respond.

This week we’ll talk about the importance of preparing ahead of time so your responses are ready to go.

Audit your organization

It might be uncomfortable, but the first thing you want to do is conduct an audit of what issues your organization may be criticised on. This can be done internally, but having an outside agency do it can help round it out and ensure it is more complete (and that you don’t cross anything off the list that you don’t deem “important” enough).

Once you have identified the topics that leave you more vulnerable for online backlash, develop a “Dirty 30.” Simply put, this document should list the 30 negative questions you would most likely be asked to comment on or criticized for.

When developing this list, be sure to involve each aspect of your organization where questions may come from. If you worry about a question regarding employment issues, include someone from the HR side in the discussion. If you conduct research, bring a researcher on board.

Don’t operate solely from the communications office, branch out and gain feedback from all points of your organization to be sure the document is as comprehensive and complete as possible.

Responses in the bag

Now that you’ve identified possible trouble areas, it’s time to develop responses. Fewer things look worse on an organization than a negative comment sitting up on your Facebook page, unanswered.

It screams one of two things – either that you ignore dissenting opinions, or that you are huddled in a group meeting trying to come up with a proper PR response. Either one of these perceptions helps to validate the commenter’s criticism, so better to get those responses pre-planned and make them appear more organic.

Again, involve as many aspects of your organization affected, and create talking points on how you will answer any criticism on a specific issue. These can (and should!) be developed for media responses, as well, but be sure to come up with a condensed version that’s tweetable in 140 characters.

The “Bat Phone”

Trolls

Finally, in case you receive a question that is outside of your prepped materials, have an individual from each sector of your organization designated as an “emergency contact” for a response.

Too often comments on social media are written off as unimportant, and colleagues outside of the communications team will push it to the back burner until they have time. Of course, we know the opposite is true, so ensure you have a so-called “bat phone” that allows you to get in touch with someone and get an answer out onto social media right away.

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