When crisis communications requires silence, not action

It’s hard to keep silent. But sometimes, it’s the only choice.

Meghan Tisinger is vice president of Leidar, a global strategic communications firm.

The myth that “all press is good press” is the reason that too many companies engage with the media haphazardly. Not every interview is worth doing, and always providing a comment can create more problems for your organization than solutions. This is especially true when a company is facing public backlash in the media.

When under attack, our natural instinct is to react and rebut falsehoods and outright lies. But that’s not always the right strategy. There is a distinct difference between correcting inaccurate information to prevent false statements from becoming part of a mainstream narrative and walking into a winless fight.

So how does a company defend and protect its reputation from libelous and slanderous statements while not opening the floodgates for social media attacks? The first rule when it comes to responding to negative press should be “do no harm.”  There are two key indicators we look for when recommending our clients hold fire and not respond in real-time:

  1. When the majority of readers and followers of the publication, outlet or social media account are ideologically inclined to disagree with your position automatically.
  2. When commenting would give more oxygen to a story that is gaining limited traction — encouraging follow-up engagement by readers/listeners or a second wave of coverage.

During these types of attacks, the authors and consumers of this content may feel validated by your response and be encouraged to continue posting misinformation and negative opinions.  Every time you offer a rebuttal or correction, that’s more ammunition they can use to distort facts and keep the topic current.

The same goes for social media. Before responding, organizations need to evaluate how many people are engaging with the post and the tenor of the commentary. If there is low engagement, responding may have the adverse effect of boosting the post’s visibility which could invite attention and further drive an unwanted conversation.

The goal of any response should be to avoid throwing your institutional weight into a fight that may boost what would otherwise be an ephemeral story. Yes, you need to stand up for your company but that does not mean joining every fight, responding to every false allegation and going blow-by-blow with critics out in the open.

On the other side, companies need a policy and process in place to respond when necessary. One example is when a false narrative originates in the ideological media from a critic and is either covered or repeated by a mainstream outlet. This is most likely when a credible third party (e.g. members of Congress or other officials) repeats the false statement and it is picked up in ongoing coverage.

Once a false statement appears in a mainstream news outlet or has extensive online engagement, a response is needed. The response should be posted directly as a comment on the mainstream outlet pages, or on the social account of the credible source who is sharing the false statement. Doing so avoids the ideological echo chamber and goes directly to the audience.

The other situation in which a response is needed is when a post or news article is egregiously wrong or harmful but has the potential to be easily misconstrued and believed by a wider, more pragmatic audience.

The easiest way to determine if a response would do more harm than good is to assess the situation as a whole. For example, we use the Leidar Vetting Checklist:


  • Do any of the false statements include facts taken out of context?
  • Is there a blatant misrepresentation of the company’s position or action?
  • Did the statements or actions attributed to the company occur?
  • Are there third parties referenced that are more credible than the source?
  • Do we have strong countervailing facts?
  • Are there credible third parties we can get to actively support our position?


  • Is this a high-authority news outlet or social account?
  • What is the size of the audience/following?
  • How much engagement is there with the story/post?
  • What is the balance of engagement between critical/supportive of the company?


  • Is this the right time and right outlet to address this topic?
  • Is this currently a polarizing topic for the general public?
  • Is there new information I want to publicize enough to change public opinion and move the story forward?
  • Is this an opportunity to position the company as a thought leader on a new topic?

When it comes to communications, the priority should always be to affirm your company’s mission and the core values that shape your culture and work. Being judicious when responding to statements in news media and by those who criticize or disparage your company on ideological grounds provides you the opportunity to control your narrative and avoid losing the trust of your stakeholders.

Learn more about today’s media landscape during PR Daily’s Media Relations Conference, June 5-6 in Washington, D.C.


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