My Three Cents
MakovskyThursday, February 13, 2014
This month, the media have been reporting lots of bad news from Sochi and it is taking a toll on the country’s reputation. It began with scrutiny over security concerns and negative press over free speech issues. Then other stories — about how the funds to build the infrastructure needed to host the Olympics were mismanaged — started to gain traction.
Last week, the world’s journalists descended on the city and a new hashtag is trending on Twitter: #SochiProblems.
Upon arrival, the media were greeted by non-existent guest services and unfinished hotel rooms. Many of the hotels that are complete have been constructed using shoddy methods and materials. Some even have yellow water; other rooms, we are told, are set up for spying on journalists.
On Friday, came more #SochiProblems. During the opening ceremony one of the rings in a major lighting display malfunctioned. Twitter is full of commentary.
Using Brandwatch, a social media monitoring and analytics tool, we were able to find 394,000 mentions of #SochiProblems since Tuesday, February 4th.
Social media is transparent; we cannot control what anyone says. Ultimately people are going to express their feelings and opinions online — whether they’re about poor service at a restaurant or an entire city’s efforts to host one of the biggest events in the world. Whether the remarks are justified or not, they can still damage reputations.
How can you avoid this? My advice to the Sochi Organizing Committee and the International Olympic Committee also applies to all the sponsors of the Winter Games: it might be easier said than done, but do whatever is in your power to anticipate and solve potential problems before they go viral. Aim to provide the best possible experience, so that when someone does hop on Twitter, they only have good things to say about you.
When problems do surface, fix them and communicate speedily about your actions. Avoid a defensive posture and snarky remarks. Post Q&As on your website and ensure that your course of action and point-of-view are coherent and a key element of your dialogue with opinion makers (as was clearly not the case with official reports regarding the fate of the stray dogs of Sochi).
In reality, Russia’s #SochiProblems are extremely similar to those faced by any business facing reputation issues. Online problems can quickly spin out of control and a socially savvy communications pro could be your first line of defense.