Before You Hit Reply by Evan Sutton

By at January 17, 2014 | 3:16 pm | Print

Before You Hit Reply by Evan Sutton

Evan Sutton

When you’re in the public eye, sometimes people will tell a story that’s bad for you. The natural urge is to jump in immediately when the narrative goes awry, especially if you see your news mentions or social media blow up. But messaging emergencies are just like real life emergencies — if you act before you have a clear understanding of the situation, you’re more likely to exacerbate the problem.

When a narrative shifts and you find yourself in a bad frame, here are some things to consider before responding:

  • Who’s telling the story? Things can spread from social media to the nightly news quickly, but it’s important to have a sense of who’s actually talking about you. Sometimes the problem seems big, but isn’t.

  • How credible is the story? Credibility is key. Is it being told in a way that’s obviously misleading, for example? Are there clear holes or untruths that can help you discredit it?

  • How credible is the storyteller? There’s a big difference in how you need to respond if the outlet breaking news is an angry person on Twitter, or The Daily Caller, or the New York Times.

  • How likely is it to spread? Virality is a hard thing to predict, but take an honest look and ask if it’s likely to go big or die on the vine. In addition to the above factors, think about timeliness, salaciousness of the content (like it or not, this is important), the zeitgeist…

  • Does responding make it bigger? If you respond, you can make a story that would have gone away into a real thing. Don’t follow the John Kerry 2004 approach and ignore a story that’s clearly got legs even if it is a lie, but sometimes the best approach is to wait and see.

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Evan Sutton, Communications Manager, New Organizing Institute (NOI).  Evan oversees NOI’s online content.  NOI trains organizers to build and manage effective movements by integrating tried-and-true community organizing, cutting-edge digital strategy, and data-driven decision making. NOI provide free access to revolutionary tools, technologies, and research to help campaigns reach the next level.

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