Responding to negative social media comments

social media

In keeping with the current theme of social media, I sat down with Principals’ David and Marilyn Shank to further examine the issue of responding to negative social media comments. This blog will follow a Q&A format.

Q: When should you respond to negative social media comments and is there ever a time you shouldn’t respond?

M: “If there is misinformation given in a negative comment, you need to politely correct the information. You also want to respond when a customer asks for help regarding a product or service. In those two instances, there is not a decision to be made, you need to respond. If you correct misinformation or deal with a complaint, you’ve taken it off the table. You should not respond when it’s a person whose opinions you are not likely to change and when the person or persons commenting are not your target audience”.

D: “It depends on the medium. You have to be careful about how you address someone; you never want to sound too corporate, or condescending. And as a writer, you need to convey empathy and sometimes even a good sense of humor can help lighten the mood, or even solve the problem. But, humor can be tricky. It has to be in good taste and not appear to demean or diminish the issue”.

Q: So how do you craft a lighthearted sincere response?

M: “Social media expects you to be human, so if you are too corporate sounding or say something that doesn’t resonate with audiences, people will pick up on it. There’s also a tendency to be lighthearted or sarcastic and you do have to be careful not to go too far, especially if you are representing a company. You never want to insult someone’s intelligence by asking if they’ve plugged in since their nonfunctioning washing machine or computer. You might ask a question or two, to see if you are dealing with someone who is starting from ground zero or someone whose product truly isn’t working”.

Q: Throughout your career, how have you formulated key messages to assist with complaints and that provide insight to your companies overall mission?

D: “You want messages that resonate with people. Take Walmart, their basic philosophy “low prices, live better,” resonates with people and reinforcing this key message is important when appropriate. But there could be times when key messages can sound like cookie cutter phrases”.

M: “We had a client selected for a project that got a lot media coverage. On the comments section of prominent publication, a person who interviewed with the company but didn’t get the job continually bad mouthed the company and our client was livid. I advised them to wait before responding, and shortly thereafter other people defended the company and their reputation”.

That wraps up our second edition of The Principals’ Office. Hopefully I’ve provided some insight to crafting key messages and responding to company bad mouthing. For more information on what we do at Shank Public Relations Counselors, Inc., follow us on Twitter @Shank_PR, like us on Facebook and check out our website at The topic for our next installment is how much is too much: When does your companies posting & tweeting become annoying?


Edgy vs. Cautious: Knowing your clients’ risk tolerance

We were up against the deadline for a client’s e-newsletter a few weeks ago.  The copy for a highly technical article had been reviewed by the client and one attorney, but we had not heard back from two other experts we’d asked to review.

“What do you think we should do?” the client asked.

It was a flattering question, because it mattered to him what I thought.  But I had to supply the right answer for him, not me. As I thought about my response, the experience “tape” running through my brain reminded me this is one of the most cautious, risk-averse clients with whom I work.  In their business, they should be cautious and risk-averse.

What is most important to them?  Being first to the market with important information?  Or holding the information a little longer and knowing they have every detail right?

I immediately had my answer: We can’t run the article until we hear back from all four experts and have every detail confirmed.  Being excruciatingly correct matters more than being on schedule in this case.

Risk is a funny thing. 

When developing creative concepts for clients, we should give them at least one idea that’s beyond their comfort zone. Why would they ask for new concepts if all they wanted was predictable “been there, done that” thinking?  We always include a few “comfortable” plans that are perfectly good options.

A productive, meaningful conversation usually arises when we discuss the “out there” options, even if one isn’t selected:  “What’s the downside of this?  And then, what’s the upside? that we’d get noticed? that we’d be perceived as a creative leader in our industry?”

Some clients want to be edgy.  My “out there” recommendations for them would be different than for the risk-averse client.

Likewise, my decision might have been different if my risk-averse client was facing the 6 p.m. TV news: make the deadline, but pare down your message to the facts we’re sure of.

We’re fortunate to have long experience with many of our clients – in fact, sometimes we have more institutional knowledge of the company than our client-contact person!

That experience allows us to inherently know each client’s values along the way, understand how they make decisions, and apply their success metrics.  Knowing who’s edgy and who’s cautious is a tremendous asset for high stakes decisions.

By Marilyn Shank, Vice President

Transitions: Student to Intern

The transition from college student to intern isn’t easy. I should know, I made the switch three weeks ago. It’s an adjustment, to say the least, but it is doable. Here are a few things I’ve come to realize that have helped me adjust:

My first few weeks as an intern were exhausting. Until this point most of my jobs have been pretty mindless. An eight hour work day where you are required to use your brain and knowledge will be tiring after jobs where you don’t. I learned the hard way that midnight is not an appropriate bedtime anymore. Give yourself a break and go to bed a little earlier. It will help you work harder and feel less mentally exhausted at the end of the day.

Lucky for me, I’m not required to wear a suit everyday. I know it can be hard to feel comfortable in work clothes when you’ve been so used to maxi skirts and Birkenstocks throughout college. Look for things that can double as work and play clothes with an open mind, and you may be surprised to find you already have a lot of items that will work for both. Consider the clothes you do have to buy as a professional investment.

It’s true what they say; nothing prepares you for the real world like living in the real world. What we’ve been learning in class is relevant, but you can’t become a rock star at media pitches until you actually start pitching to the media. Appreciate your time as an intern, because it could very well be the most valuable tool you have to prepare yourself for a career.

Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions. This is your opportunity to work with professionals while still wearing the “newbie” hat that allows for a few mistakes here and there. A good supervisor will want to help hone your skills. If you don’t ask questions then a) you might not be meeting your supervisor’s expectations and b) you’re not learning anything. Isn’t that the point?

If all else fails, remember: an internship isn’t permanent. It can be viewed as an experiment, if you will. If you love what you’re doing and where you’re working like me, you’ll have proven your hypothesis that, indeed, public relations is the right field for you.

By Noelle Pickler, Intern

A Good Public Relations Person Pt.3

Well here you have it, the remaining seven (plus one) things that make a great public relations person. May you be challenged by the 21 items and cultivate your skills! Find the full list on our website.

  1. Be confident but not arrogant – speak your mind when your opinion is supported by facts or experience.  As baseball Hall of Famer and broadcaster Dizzy Dean once said – “It ain’t braggin’ if you done it.”
  2. Be a problem solver:  We are by definition problem solvers not just communicators:  How do I introduce this product or service?  How do I protect the company reputation?  How do I get this new technology to work for my client or organization?  How do I get the package to that city in the next 45 minutes when the elevators just shut off (this comes from a real world public relations experience)?
  3. Be accountable and dependable.
  4. Get out of the cubicle and off the X-Box 360 or PS2 and experience life and real people of all kinds.
  5. Understand news media in all of its various forms – know what is news and what is not; understand the continuing 24-second news cycle; understand deadlines and how newsrooms around the world work.  Know how journalists think, work, act, write.  Be able to speak like a reporter – know what a cop-shop is, and how to use B-roll, for example.
  6. Have fun.
  7. Be good to yourself and to those you love.

7+1.  You don’t have to “like people.”

By David L. Shank, President/CEO

What Makes a Good Public Relations Person

Not just anyone is cut out to be a good public relations person. David Shank has a pretty idea of what works and what doesn’t. Here is part one of a three part series on what really makes a good public relations person. Enjoy!

  1. Integrity and ethical grounding – know what’s right and what to do if you’re asked to do something else.
  2. READ – anything and everything you can get your hands on. Read real books, magazines and newspapers.  Read beyond your own present interests.  Go to the library and grab a book randomly off the shelves and finish it.
  3. Have the ability to think through difficult issues and to be able to see around the corner at what may be coming at you; and see forward weeks and months and years at what may be expected in the future.
  4. Understand how people think and respond to the culture and world around them.
  5. Be versed in numerous disciplines – psychology, sociology, history, government, current affairs, art, science, BUSINESS!
  6. Be a GOOD WRITER – who is easily understood, can comprehend difficult topics and simplify them to the level that Aunt Norma at the Beauty Shop can understand it.  On the other hand you must be able to write at more sophisticated levels for white papers, speeches, articles, presentations, etc.
  7. Be able to write in numerous formats and to switch gears instantly.  How you write a Tweet, isn’t the same as writing an op-ed for the New York Times; writing a blog isn’t the same as writing a technical article for a business magazine.

By David L. Shank, President/CEO

Summer 2012 Intern: Noelle Pickler

Our Summer 2012 intern, Noelle Pickler, of Ball State University.

If you’ve ever applied for a public relations internship before, you know the drill: insanely early deadlines, late nights at Kinko’s and stress induced hair loss by the second month of your search.

Public relations students persevere because a) perseverance is laced in the DNA of any great PR professional and b) good luck finding a job if you haven’t had at least one internship.

I, too, was one of the PR students camping outside of the university printing department and pulling out my first gray hairs before I landed an internship at Shank Public Relations Counselors, Inc.

Take my word for it, finally receiving and accepting an internship offer is well worth the hard work. Nothing beats it, except maybe the free bagels and the bragging rights you garner from being given your own office.

I’m no internship expert, but with a clear, semi-stress free mind I can look back at my long search with perspective, both the things I did right and the ones I did not. Allow me to elaborate:

1. Make sure your writing samples are strong: Before I chose public relations as my area of study, I fancied myself as something of a reporter. Writing has always been something I enjoy doing, and luckily I’m decent at it. When it came time to put my portfolio together I included tons of writing samples, bordering on too many, but I knew they were strong. Writing is a major part of what an intern is responsible for, so don’t neglect to show your strengths in your portfolio. Even a short news release written for class can boost your portfolio, because if it’s good it’s good, right?

2. Don’t be afraid to be innovative: You’ll hear a lot of opinions when it comes to designing your resume, portfolio, branding yourself, etc. It’s hard to say what is correct when the experts can’t even pick one way to do things, so don’t forget that your opinion matters. You and I may not be experts yet, but I knew how I wanted to present myself to potential employers. I designed my resume to be unique, representative of me and memorable. With some agencies, it might have been too far from status quo, but it obviously worked out for me in the end. Be confident in who you are, because someone will appreciate it.

3. Don’t settle for a position beneath you: That’s right; it’s my opinion that there are some positions beneath even an intern on the public relations food chain. You know, the internships where you spend more time fetching coffee and shredding papers than anything else? It’s true that internships may not always be glamorous, but your time is still valuable. Chances are you’re good at what you do, and the right internship will respect your strengths, helping you hone them as you go. An internship is one of the best educations you’ll receive and learning how to make double sided copies is, let’s face it, elementary.

I can say with confidence I’ll leave Shank Public Relations Counselors having learned immensely and enjoyed thoroughly. I’ve already been given two large writing assignments, had the opportunity to attend an event for one of our larger clients and I definitely can’t complain about my mentors here. I’m so glad I waited for this opportunity, plus did I mention the bagels?

By Noelle Pickler, Intern

Same Game, New Rules, New Tools

The word public in public relations is finally, well…public!

According to David Meerman Scott, author of, The New Rules of Marketing & PR, the thanks go out to the Internet. In his book Scott states, “After years of almost exclusive focus on media […] blogs, online video, news release, and other forms of Web content let organizations communicate directly with buys,” (Page 11).

That my blog reading friends, requires a new rule of public relations. Public relations was once a profession that relied heavily (and almost exclusively) on the media to tell their story.

Hence the old rule: Buyers only heard about your company if the media wrote about it.

Now, we shall introduce the new rule: You can talk to your customers yourself.

Scott claims in his book that “if you do a good job telling your story directly, the media will find out. And then they will write about you!” (Page 10).

Despite the fact public relations pros are all really excited about the new rules, it is important to consider keeping the old rules on radar. I consider today a transition period in which there is a wide range of professionals. Some professionals would still prefer receiving a news release via email while other social media friendly would prefer you pitch a story via Twitter. While some day the public relations profession may completely throw out the old rules, for now, it seems in our best interest to be aware of both sets of rules. The key is to KNOW who you are talking to and their preference and niche.

So for now…go talk to your publics!

By Julie Stutzman, Account Associate


Thank You, Mike Wallace

Thousand of public relations professionals and crisis managers owe Mike a huge debt of gratitude. We have created a meaningful and purposeful industry of helping business and institutions work through crisis management with the single opening question:

“Are you prepared for the day when Mike Wallace walks through your door?”

Wallace, a mainstay of the CBS News program “60 Minutes”, died April 7 at age 93.

That’s never a real threat in most cases but just the thought of Wallace’s aggressive and credible investigative journalism was enough to turn normal steel-nerved business people into glassy-eyed, undulating gelatinous blobs like Jabba the Hut, brain fried and medically unresponsive.  And these were the leaders who were innocent.

His fellow “60 Minutes” reporter Morley Safer described him: “Wallace took to heart the old reporter’s pledge to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” as reported by Adam Benstein in the Washington Post.

Wallace was old-school journalism.  He was the guy Woodward and Bernstein looked up to before Watergate-reporting was cool.  He was of the Walter Cronkite and Eric Severeid generation.  Reporters first, make-up wearers second.  More than if it bleeds, it leads.

There is a lot to be learned from Wallace and his take no crap attitude:

  1. Do the right thing – If you and our enterprise are doing the right thing you shouldn’t have to worry about this and the next generation’s Mike Wallace crashing through the door.
  2. Be prepared.  Wallace’s scathing interviews were based on hours of research, confirmation, witnesses, testimony.  He knew when the truth was stretched and would hit you with his classic “Oh, come on…”  You need to be equally prepared.
  3. You need to know how to react to the crusading reporter as they come at you.  You have rights as a subject.

Wallace tormented his subjects, but his objectivity, honesty and credibility could never be challenged.  He wasn’t perfect, He fought his own devils. But he also demonstrated hard-hitting, investigative reporting of the highest quality could pull real audiences in prime time.

In his own way he made a better world, if for no other reason than forcing us to ask our clients: “Are you prepared for the day when Mike Wallace walks through your door?”

By David L. Shank, CEO/President