Getting the correct message out is more important than ever in the digital era, where every disgruntled customer or offended passer-by has the potential to publish for a mass audience within seconds.
BBC news, along with several other print and online news sources reported on a story involving Eastland Homes and their attempt to engage with their customers over the subject of financial management. Residents were quick to vent their anger on social media sites, ensuring their feelings of dissatisfaction became a national news story.
The company had clearly identified a potential problem for their 8,000 tenants with the introduction of the so-called bedroom tax and sent this out to inform people about the new changes to the welfare system which take effect this April. The advertisement, which appeared in their newsletter Streets Ahead, was intended to highlight their opposition to the tax and inform readers of the help and advise they would provide.
But within minutes a public backlash ensued, followed by an apology on their website which read: ‘We’re sorry if our article offended you.
‘We’ve lobbied continuously against the government cuts which threaten the quality of life for many of our customers.
‘We’ve increased the range of support and advice for anyone struggling in the face of these cuts as you will see from our newsletter.
‘We know there will be stark choices – our message is that we are here to help wherever possible and we’re sorry if we worded that clumsily.’
Surely, their key message was that they were offering an advice service. Good. Caring. Empathetic. However, their actual message, which as we know, is created in the eye of the beholder, was read as stereotyping, patronising, and degrading. Bad. Presumptuous. Detached.
and the Ugly
Clumsy is an understatement. The residents took to the social media to announce their negative response at what they alleged as stereotyping, deeply patronising and contemptible.
This alerted journalists who published the story to a wider audience showing the power of online communications.
Companies of all types need to get the PR right in every communication they make. If they don’t there is nothing they can do about the whole world learning how people feel about it. Of course, the story may have been reported in the local paper then picked up by a national (maybe), but the story would have been unlikely to gain so great a reach in so short time in a pre-digital media landscape.