How to Manage Online Blunders: A Mini Case Study of This American Life

Imagine you just posted something online that you didn’t intend to, or that you regret posting because it was mean-spirited, untrue, or just not who you are. Or maybe it just went to the wrong person! We’ve all done it. In a lot of cases, we can just hit the delete button and pretend it never happened. No harm done.

But when you are responsible for representing an organization online, it’s not that simple. You might have a PR crisis on your hands.

Most successful online communicators create and curate content that is an extension of their personality or mission or brand—however you want to label it—or at least put their unique spin on what they post. Essentially, what you post represents what you are. And you want to be able to stand by it.

So what happens when you can’t stand by it? Obviously there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and the answers will be different based on what kind of organization you represent and what exactly was posted.

As an example, I really appreciated how This American Life—consummate storytellers that they are—handled a recent slip-up. The story they aired about Mike Daisy’s visit to Foxconn, a manufacturer of iPads and other Apple products in China, turned out to contain several lies and inaccuracies. But instead of letting these fabrications damage the reputation of public radio, they aired a retraction episode. Host Ira Glass said, “We want to be completely transparent about what we got wrong, and what we now believe is the truth.”

Transparency. Admitting a mistake and then diligently separating fact from fiction. Couldn’t these practices be applied to most PR crises?

Unless there’s a (blessed) delete button.


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