April 7, 2017 By FTI Consulting
The impact of 140 characters has recently taken on a presidential-level of importance when coming from @realDonaldTrump, especially for corporate America. A Twitter mention from President Trump can have material business implications — companies such as LL Bean, Toyota, Nordstrom, Boeing and others have experienced shifts in customer and investor behavior following a Trump tweet. In this new political and social landscape, find out what steps your company should take to protect its reputation should you find yourself on the receiving end of a tweet from POTUS.
All POTUS tweets should be addressed on a case-by-case basis and evaluated on the merits of the tweet itself. Before reacting with a knee-jerk response, consider if the tweet addresses a material concern for your company if you are publicly traded, or if the tweet has a potentially longstanding impact on your company’s reputation. Often, these tweets have a shelf life of 48 hours in the media cycle before journalists move on to something else; sometimes a strong response can extend the media cycle and do more damage to your reputation than the tweet would have done on its own. Seriously consider whether laying low is the right approach. Odds are, it just might be. The more you can limit the social and traditional media cycle, the better.
If the tweet is creating or perpetuating misinformation, immediately state the correct information and make sure the media is carrying accurate facts in news reports. Use third parties to help underscore the authoritative nature of the correction. In addition to disputing any misinformation from the tweet, and depending on the nature of your business, consider focusing on and articulating key messages that support the President’s agenda. For instance, emphasize your company’s dedication to job creation, products made in the USA, and/or a local investment in infrastructure or the economy.
If your company does not already run an official corporate Twitter handle, now is the time to consider doing so. A POTUS tweet can strike, whether or not you already have an established presence on social media. Those best positioned to weather the aftermath of a tweetstorm have an established, positive pipeline of corporate information and a clearly delineated corporate handle. While the aftermath of any negative conversation on social media can be painful and damaging, if you already have a track record of engagement with online influencers, it is easier and faster to rebuild. If you are starting from scratch, you will be swimming against the current of bad and/or misinformation as you attempt to build from the ground up. An established Twitter presence will also prevent any fraudulent accounts from popping up in the midst of a POTUS mention, which could propagate inaccurate information about your company and cause journalists to mistakenly use it as a source.
They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To that end, don’t wait until you are tagged by POTUS to develop a response strategy – have messaging and statements prepared in advance. Consider how content from past press releases or presentations from your executive team could counter a potentially damaging tweet. For instance, utilize messaging from past earnings calls to emphasize your company’s long track record of creating jobs and providing value for its customers.
If they haven’t already, your communications team should prepare by engaging in a live crisis simulation exercise to address a number of potential angles that a tweet from the President could warrant, as well as how to prepare a response and address inquiries from media and investors.
Companies that have been on the receiving end of POTUS tweets since the inauguration have successfully used a “constructive engagement” approach, taking the issue off of Twitter and meeting with President Trump to discuss the matter, and following-up with a tweet or other content to sum up what was discussed.
The benefit of this strategy is that it takes the discussion offline, takes away the restraints of a 140 character limit, and allows for a more substantive response and a well thought-out Government Relations strategy, which can then be recapped (if appropriate) via Twitter.
There is no denying that the bully pulpit is a powerful weapon in the right hands. Before he became the President of the United States, candidate Donald Trump demonstrated a never-before-seen capacity to mobilize voters, capture public attention and dominate the news media, using only effective rhetoric and a smartphone. More recently, it has become clear that a POTUS tweet is not the same thing as White House policy and after just a few months in office, President Trump’s early twitter-bombs now seem like faded memories. The lesson: Always be mindful of the President’s opinion, but remember that sometimes a tweet is just a tweet.
For many companies in the US, landing on the receiving end of a President Trump tweet is a very real possibility that could have tangible business ramifications. By staying prepared, knowing when and how to engage, and sharing the right messaging, your company can strategically weather a Twitter-storm and stabilize its reputation following a POTUS mention.