In today’s digital world, PR pros are offered an array of avenues to help voice their client’s message and shape public opinion.
Comment sections are among these channels, but they pose an interesting quandary. Comment sections have become the playground for “trolls,” or negative commenters. These trolls pose a risk of defaming the efforts of PR pros. So the question remains: Should PR pros engage in comment sections?
A while back, PRWeek
published a point/counterpoint piece on the topic. Both sides seemed to agree that comment sections are necessary in some circumstances, but they varied in their opinion of the degree of involvement PR pros should expend on comments sections.
Jeffrey Zack, manager of strategic communications programs for RF Binder, disagreed with engaging people in comments sections. He wrote that there are a variety of options to carry out your client’s message. Comments sections are among those options but are riddled with people just looking to rant on a subject.
Though he asserted that comment sections should be avoided, Zack did note that if information is incorrect, comment sections are a good place to set the record straight. PR pros should consider other approaches before rebutting in the comments section, though, such as requesting a correction if the information is incorrect.
The argument in favor of commenting, written by Paul Rand, Ketchum's chief digital officer, pointed out that PR pros should be allowed to clarify or correct wrong information in the comments section. Letting this incorrect information sit on the Internet would be a mistake. Rand points out that comments should be left only if it makes strategic sense.
Here to stay
Comment sections are bound to endure, so PR pros and other communicators should use them to spread their message when appropriate. When commenting on something in relation to a client, it may be a wise call to disclose that you assist with PR for the company.
By being upfront about the situation, you minimize the risk that a commenter would lash back once the truth was discovered.
Forming responses to comments should be done cautiously. It is vitally important to not get worked up over irrational, negative, and sometimes even violent comments. You cannot stoop to the troll’s level, because what might be a witty comment back could risk your image and or the image of your client. Giving trolls more fuel will
Some companies have tried to remedy this backlash by removing comments sections. This might be a mistake, though, because comments sections show the public that you care about their opinion. Negative comments are bound to happen, but handling these situations with poise and a clear head will ensure a smooth message and delivery.
Maddie Beck works at public relations and strategic communications firm Communiqué PR. A version of this story originally appeared on the company's blog.