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How Marketers Deal With Bad PR

In 2003, Barbra Streisand sued a photographer for violation of privacy after a photo of her mansion was taken and made public. Although the intention was to maintain privacy and prevent unwanted attention, the lawsuit ended up bringing even more attention to Streisand's mansion. Thus, the Streisand Effect was coined, for those times when your attempt to hide something end up drawing even more attention it.

So what does this have to do with marketing and business? For almost every company, there will be times where a consumers leave a less-than-flattering review or a bogus comment on social media or other online platforms. In these scenarios, we need to recall the Streisand Effect, and in doing so, we can more effectively handle these awkward situations.

Interested? Keep reading to find out what you can do for your business!

The Streisand Effect, Social Media and Customer Reviews

Niamh Reed | 26 June 2019

Sometimes, the more you try to hide something, the more attention you draw to it. The thing is, this phenomenon has an impact on your organisation and its user-generated content.

Have you ever gone to great lengths to hide an embarrassing picture, only for your efforts to draw attention to it? That’s called the Streisand effect.

This phenomenon isn’t restricted to embarrassing photos, however. It has ramifications for your marketing efforts too. After all, it’s common to want to get rid of customer reviews or comments that you don’t like.

But the Streisand effect shows that hiding something can make it interesting. So, what should you do instead?

What is the Streisand effect?

The Streisand effect refers to the phenomenon in which you draw more attention to something by attempting to censor, bury or hide it.

The term, coined by Mike Masnick in 2005, earned its name after Barbra Streisand’s unsuccessful lawsuit over photos of her home. The star’s attempt to hide the photos drew more attention to them than if she had left the matter alone. 

In marketing, you might observe the Streisand effect in your user-generated content, particularly across social media and customer reviews.

The Streisand effect in marketing

Both social media posts and customer reviews are public. And, once a customer posts something you don’t like, you have three options.

  1. Ignore the post

  2. Hide the post (and address it privately

  3. Address the posts in public view

The instinct is to shy away from it — to try to hide it or pretend it’s not there. Enter the Streisand effect. If the hidden content is then reposted, found or downloaded, it could mean that you’ve drawn attention and emphasis to the things you’d sooner bury.

In other words, if you shy away from unflattering reviews and comments, people are going to wonder why. They may even think that you have something to hide — and then go looking for it.

Social media vs complaints

With social media, the most common thing you’ll want to hide is a complaint. For instance, an upset customer posts an angry comment on your Facebook page. This associates a negative experience with your brand for all to see.

Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Failing to reply demonstrates that you aren’t willing to help customers that need it. At best, it suggests you aren’t accessible. At worst, it sends a message that you don’t care about your customers.

You could hide it, then. That way, you keep your social media free of negative comments. And you can then address the complaint in a private channel — away from prying eyes. And, if you’ve solved the problem, so there’s no need for the negative comment to stay in the public eye, right?

But people will have seen that complaint. And according to the Streisand effect, trying to hide it could generate more attention on the negative, not less. Suddenly, everyone is talking about the customer voices you suppress.

Customer reviews and negativity

Negative customer reviews are another beast. In some cases, they’ll be on independent review sites, making them difficult to take down. So, hiding them becomes tricky, and if people notice you’ve tried, you risk the Streisand effect again.

The thing is, reviews are often riddled with shady practices as it is. So, people are looking for anomalous results, fake reviews and boosted percentages. So much so, that not having any negative reviews can appear unnatural. After all, we’re all humans, and mistakes happen from time to time.

What doesn’t seem unnatural, is the occasional negative review with a positive outcome. These show that a bad thing happened, as they sometimes do, but you are there ready to fix things when needed.

Missed opportunity

In each of these scenarios, you’ve done more than draw attention to comments and complaints you’d sooner hide. You’ve buried your great service experience. You’ve hidden the quality of your customer support.

All your target market see is a company hiding the negative — making your brand seem shady. What they haven’t seen is the genuine care your teams take to rectify customer problems. They haven’t seen the speed with which you reply to queries or the effort you take to find resolutions.

Meanwhile, hiding undeserved reviews means you miss out on the opportunity to give your

side of the story. You can still apologise that the customer feels upset. Then, you can explain what happened from your point of view. (Just don’t get into a public argument over it.)

Interacting in public is powerful. You’ll draw more attention to your great service and put less emphasis on negative incidents. You demonstrate that you have nothing to hide. So, you turn public negativity into positive outcomes.

Turning to the positive

Don’t sweep things under the rug and fall foul of the Streisand effect. Instead of hiding the negative, accept and address it. After all, every customer interaction presents an opportunity. Negative comments let you add a human touch, showcase your service, and (if needs be) share your side of the story.

Negativity draws attention, but it doesn’t have to be negative attention. We’re all human and humans sometimes make mistakes. It’s how you deal with it that matters.

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