As the Trump administration gets underway, brands must prepare for presidential attention, both positive and negative.
But the question is: How should you respond when the Trump administration mentions your brand on Twitter?
Karen Alaimo, an assistant professor of public relations at Hofstra University, captures the essence of what’s at stake for companies around the world.She quoted Chris Nelson, crisis lead for the Americas at the global corporate communications firm FleishmanHillard:
Trump’s tweets represent a form of political pressure. While companies have long faced criticism from activists, only now do they face the prospect of sharp, direct attacks from the highest office in the land. “We’ve never had a person with so much political power be so willing to single out corporate actors on a regular basis,” Nelson said. “He can deliver a lot more pressure in one tweet than any activist or advocacy group can in a whole campaign.”
Knowing how much power these tweets carry has many companies on edge. PR and crisis management experts are bracing themselves for an unpredictable President who relies on Twitter to express his ever-changing opinions.
How should companies respond to a negative Trump tweet? There are a number of approaches that can work, depending on the industry and the situation.
Companies such as General Motors, Hyundai, Wal-Mart, Bayer, Amazon, Ford and Sprint have taken to recycling old news of job creation plans to avoid the President’s online wrath. After the recent Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, many companies promptly announced that they would be adding U.S. jobs right after the Inauguration.
According to NBC News:
Put down automaker GM for 1,500. Add 10,000 from Wal-Mart. “Thousands” for Hyundai. And Bayer said it would keep 9,000 jobs and add 3,000. That is, if the government gives it the regulatory approval to merge with Monsanto.
While these announcements may be new, the plans are not. (Decisions about expansion and capital expenditures take years to come to fruition.) But these re-announcements could provide excellent insulation from a Trump tweet, so companies are only too happy to trot out old news.
Gentle and Friendly
Concern about unwanted attention expands beyond Trump’s Twitter account – even tweets from his administration are a problem. After Twitter users discovered several negative tweets about Dippin’ Dots ice cream on Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s Twitter account, going back to 2011, the ice cream company responded with an open hand of friendship:
“We’ve seen your tweets and would like to be friends rather than foes,” wrote Scott Fischer, the company’s chief executive. “After all, we believe in connecting the dots.”
— Dippin’ Dots (@DippinDots) January 24, 2017
Mr. Fischer also offered to send the White House free Dippin’ Dots, saying the company could “afford to treat the White House and press corps to an ice cream social” and promising that all their favorite flavors could be amply provided.
There are companies that simply stand up to Trump’s bullying – and will even go so far as to actively bait him. This was Vanity Fair’s tactic in December 2016, when the magazine published a scathing review of one of the then-President-Elect’s restaurants. Naturally, the negative review elicited the expected retaliatory Trump tweet that stated that Vanity Fair’s circulation numbers were in “big trouble, dead!” He added that Graydon Carter, the publication’s longtime editor, has “no talent” and “will be out!”
— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) December 15, 2016
In this case, a tweet war only raised the magazine’s profile and boosted circulation numbers. Keep in mind, the heated exchange between the magazine and Trump was just another salvo in a decades-long war between the magazine’s editor, Graydon Carter and the President. Such an approach, should be taken only in careful consultation with PR and online crisis management experts.