The week-long saga that gripped Southern California and perhaps the nation - the hunt for an ex-cop who issued a manifesto and apparently went on a killing spree - is one to study.
Law enforcement, which always seems to have a credibility cloud over it, was facing even more scrutiny in large part from a small, but loud and adept audience raising questions. Social media channels have enabled voices and opinions to not only be heard, but create noticeable change in discourse.
If you monitored #dorner tweets, you would see a ride range of comments, accusations, sarcasm, humor and other statements. The question for public relations professionals is how to gauge these in developing communications strategies.
Do you ignore the "crazies"?
Before social media, opposing views were shared in smaller groups. Only
rational-thinking, credentialed authors made it to the op-ed pages.
Obviously, today is much different and a few tweets can lead to a groundswell.
For law enforcement, they are now dealing with greater demands to be transparent. In the ex-cop rampage, the LA police chief agreed to re-open the ex-cop's case. An unprecedented move. But to many, this was not good enough. There were calls for independent groups or individuals to be part of the review.
Even as this case now appears over, there are hardened skeptics who cast about on social media channels a range of theories that in earlier days would have been cast aside or never heard.
What do PR professionals glean from this?
It's not that easy to ignore the radical voice. But, it's also a balancing act. If you exercise considerable attention to answer all charges, allegations and theories, you have given up the ability to direct the conversation back to the center. How often will you tell your client to get a backbone and not crumble in the face of a loud, but actually small, group that is using social media to its advantage?
Timing. PR is usually the "long game." We often win the long game by waiting it out, implement new policies that address problems, etc. Yet, serious examination now must be given to "letting the dust settle" versus determining if the heated rhetoric will have lasting impacts to reputation and credibility.