Public relation is an idea that all levels of enterprise must address. From online reviews to satisfying consumers, business personnel is involved in the public relations business if they run a company dealing with the public. Part of the public relations deals effectively with negative business news and events (Kim & Park, 2017). Sometimes there are accidents and emerging issues. Businesses cannot always be secure from potentially harmful occurrences that can affect customer links. But what is essential is to understand how to handle these problems after occurring so that business owners can avoid harm and be sure their companies avoid public relations trouble.
A public relations disaster occurs when an adverse event related to the public sphere is becoming increasingly important for your business. It can be linked to an insufficient work exercise, a client accident at the site, or a problem with employees. Public relations calamities are critical as they can distort the image of small businesses and damage the organization’s relationship with its customers (Mahmood & Yasin, 2019). More importantly, entrepreneurs cannot understand what they have to do about the PR crisis. While they can use some strategies to mitigate damage, their business will need to roll up the doors and do all it can if the information is available. Most companies sometimes face a public relations crisis. An adverse occurrence can substantially affect the organization’s reputation, from a range of inadequate assessments to a severe executive scandal. Nobody expects business owners to be excellent, but they need to anticipate and demonstrate how they deal with such cases. The one largest American company, Cambridge Analytica, provides an example of a PR crisis.
The main PR issue in the Cambridge Analytica scandal was Cambridge Analytica obtaining data of millions of American Facebook users to use it for political advertising without their consent. The app is said to have paid a university researcher Aleksandr Kogan who built a personality questions app that facilitated the personality traits of millions of Facebook users who eventually downloaded the app and completed the questions. The app was guilty of obtaining data of up to 87 million Facebook profiles for American users, which would help them gain a political advantage in Ted Cruz’s campaigns (Heawood, 2018). Cambridge used the same information on Donald Trump’s advertising and campaigns on Facebook. The media unleashed the scandal in 2018, and it reportedly became enormous data harvesting and the most significant data breach in history. Following the Cambridge Analytica PR scandal, several PR issues were evident.
The first issue was a poor PR response. After the media brought the scandal to public notice, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s first response involved an argument in defense. He said that there was no data breach since all people who downloaded the app did it knowingly, and there was no infiltration of the systems (Heawood, 2018). He centered his defense purely on semantics, which was a poor response. Another issue that arose was that even though the matter was already in public notice and needed an immediate answer, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the chief operating officer remained silent. Even though they were publishing individual Facebook posts on the current issues, they did not talk about the Cambridge scandal until the fourth day when Zuckerberg responded by stating a press release and posting on his Facebook wall concerning the matter.
Besides, the Facebook response needed to be proactive rather than reactive. They remained quiet until there were articles all over the media, thus when they suspended Cambridge Analytica. As the CEO of the company, the critical decision was to respond promptly concerning the issue and stop Cambridge Analytica from damaging the reputation and image of the company (Mahmood & Yasin, 2019). This scandal led to many Facebook users leaving the platform, which led to enormous losses for the company.
The situational analysis of this scandal shows that immediately after the issue came to public notice, Facebook secured an agreement with Cambridge Analytica to ensure they deleted all the harvested data and did not use it for presidential campaigns. However, concerning the issues of PR, Facebook could have done more. Instead of keeping quiet and responding when the case was all over the media, they could have acted proactively instead of reactive. Their biggest strength was to call for audits on all Cambridge machines and ensure they have deleted the data as per the agreement (Heawood, 2018). Since Facebook reserves the right to audit all the apps, this was the best opportunity they had to maintain their image and brand name.
However, they didn’t do the audit. The reasons they gave for avoiding audits were that machines could not get rid of the data entirely, and hard drives could stick some information. Besides, they argued that audits would require a court order despite the developer contracts allowing for one and would be more time-consuming. Facebook was also afraid they might be accused of political biases. Some senior Facebook staff argued that they feared they would be letting politics seep into their platform. Whatever the reason might have made them not conduct the audits, they chose to trust the agreement document they signed with Cambridge Analytica, which became their biggest shortcoming.
The story seemed to disappear for some time. After Donald Trump won the presidential election, the public interest advocated had many questions which forced them to investigate Cambridge Analytica data practices. Facebook never thought of double-checking if Cambridge Analytica had deleted the data until they started receiving calls from reporters (Heawood, 2018). This was when they began contemplating suing Cambridge and revoking their rights.
Based on the situation, Facebook could have applied alternative strategies to cope with the crisis. First, they could have done monitoring and analysis. After the scandal came into the limelight, Facebook needed to do preliminary damage control following their internal evaluation factors stipulated in their crisis management plan. This could have resulted in a thorough plan to control the risk factors that were affecting the company. They could have maintained communication leadership while excessing control of the information that people are publishing. The critical thing is to communicate immediately to avoid speculations and to define the direction of conversations. The main advantage of prompt communication is letting people know you are controlling the situation. However, on the other hand, it exposes you before anything is known.
Secondly, Facebook needs to rebuild its story. They need to establish their story based on their values. Considering they are the source of the crisis by connecting Cambridge Analytica to harvest the data, they need to rebuild their story to regain the credibility and trust they have lost from people. Though it is too late, it could still build bridges and gain confidence once more. Thirdly, they needed to communicate as fast as possible. Being silent and waiting until everything has exploded is not the solution. Communication will turn a situation that is bad in a positive direction. Considering everything means something, including silence, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO, ought to have communicated quickly and knowledgeably. Keeping quiet is the catalyst for mistrust and rumors. More often, silence means acknowledgment of guilt. Though Mark Zukerberg decided to publish some issues on the Facebook wall and granted an interview to CNN, it was too late. He had to explain, apologize, take questions from more than one journalist and offer possible solutions on how he would fix the situation (Kim & Park, 2017). If he had communicated promptly, he could have saved himself from all the struggles.
Another possible strategy mark Zuckerberg needs to consider is continuous monitoring, re-evaluating, and redefining his strategy. Now that the scandal is already on public notice, Facebook has a tough battle that needs a clever strategy to contain such a crisis. From both the political and financial standpoint, there is a significant risk involved; therefore, it needs to adjust its strategy and tactics continuously. They can only say they have contained the crisis after ensuring the damage done to their reputation and brand name is not increasing (Kim & Park, 2017). To achieve this, they need to be vigilant in monitoring, evaluating, and redefining their strategies. They also need to keep watch on the way issues evolve since many problems are happening daily, and if one of them goes out of their control, the fire will be re-ignited.
Given the crisis and the Course of action, I would recommend Facebook adopt the strategy of continuous monitoring, re-evaluating, and redefining its strategy. Redefining their strategies would mean coming up with measures such as ensuring turning off apps for users who haven’t used them for more than three months and alerting people who previously had their information misused. Re-definition of strategy would also mean reviewing all the apps suspected to have suspicious activities and those with access to a large amount of data. This strategy can also help them change people’s login data so the app can only show the profile photo, user name, and email address not unless they take the app through a different review process.
The marketing team can implement this recommendation by reorienting the platform and redefining the offered changes in their forum. This will reengage the users, improve the overall experience and regain their credibility and trust of the users. Given such a crisis, businesses should be proactive in their disaster recovery plans and include social and traditional media responses. Since social media usually sets the story and quickly becomes a significant player in the information space, ignoring it would be detrimental.
In conclusion, it is worth emphasizing that business organizations are costly and subject to unpredictable events that can potentially be harmful to their customer links. Public relations calamities are critical because they might not only damage the corporate image of an organization of any form and size but also compromise the organization’s relationship with its customers. As depicted in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the data security breach exposed Facebook to widespread public criticism, which led to considerable damage to its reputation. The key issue in this PR crisis is Cambridge Analytica obtained data of millions of American Facebook users to use it for political advertising without their consent. As depicted in Facebook’s response to this event, there is a strong need for PR managers to understand how to handle these problems after occurring so that business owners can avoid harm and be sure their companies avoid public relations trouble. In this case, Facebook should embrace a culture of continuous monitoring, re-evaluating, and redefining its PR strategy and redefining its measures to enhance information security and privacy.
Heawood, J. (2018). Pseudo-public political speech: Democratic implications of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Information Polity, 23(4), 429-434. Web.
Kim, Y., & Park, H. (2017). Is there still a PR problem online? Exploring the effects of different sources and crisis response strategies in online crisis communication via social media. Corporate Reputation Review, 20(1), 76-104. Web.
Mahmood, F., & Yasin, Z. (2019). Using Facebook for government public relations campaigns: relationship between information seeking attitude and effectiveness of public relations outcomes for Facebook. Journal of Media Studies, 34(1). Web.