Estimates indicate that by 2021, there will be more than three billion social media users in the world, representing almost one-third of the global population. For businesses (and governments, as well), that means that social media is now the best way to reach their core audiences and propagate their messages far and wide.
Sometimes, though, it’s necessary to utilize social media channels for a more pressing and mission-critical task – reputation management. Companies and individuals now take to platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others to address negative press, respond to controversies, and spell out official positions on a variety of important topics. The unprecedented reach of global social media has now also made it possible to overcome negative media coverage through specific, targeted outreach campaigns. For businesses facing reputation challenges, here’s an example of one such effort that may serve as a guide.
An Ambitious Plan Gone Awry
In 2009, the Australian government began what was to become the most ambitious infrastructure project in the nation’s history, the National Broadband Network (NBN). The plan was as significant as it was simple: build a fiber-optic internet network that reached 93% of Australian homes and businesses by 2020, with the rest covered by a fixed-wireless and satellite system. When the initial rollout encountered delays, however, media coverage of the project turned sour.
For months, and then years, the negative stories piled up, threatening the very survival of the project. The underlying reality, however, proved to be far different from the media narrative. A survey revealed that most Australians remained positive about the NBN, despite the deluge of negative coverage. That’s when the NBN’s media relations team got to work on social media to speak directly to consumers about what was really happening with the rollout and to prevent the negative coverage from becoming negative public sentiment.
Bypassing Traditional Media
The NBN Co., the corporation formed to manage the infrastructure project, began by analyzing where the majority of the negative press was coming from. They found out that many of the negative stories were focused on rising customer complaints about the NBN’s service. There was just one problem. As a public/private partnership, the NBN is delivered to customers via NBN plans sold by private ISPs. The data revealed that less than 5% of the complaints had anything to do with the actual NBN network, with the rest relating to issues with the third-party providers.
To paint a more accurate picture for the public at large, the NBN created a monthly performance metrics website and promoted it heavily via their official Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. They didn’t stop there, though. Next, the NBN media relations team created a series of videos for YouTube that highlighted all of the amazing things that real people were using their new NBN connection to do. From telemedicine to supporting the creation of smart farms to forming a virtual band – the NBN went all in on selling the promise and potential of the nationwide network.
Today, although the media continues its drumbeat of negative stories about the NBN, the network is growing nearer to completion every day. After the early difficulties, NBN Co. expects to meet their initial target for full deployment and even found time to double the network’s capacity. At the same time, usage data indicates that Australians from coast to coast are taking to the NBN, with download rates soaring for those on the network.
Using social media as a reputation management tool bought the NBN the time and public support it needed to overcome its challenges to finally begin fulfilling its promise. Without it, the negative coverage might have poisoned public sentiment and spelled the end of the project altogether. The experience speaks to the power of social media as a valuable, unfiltered connection to customers and an object lesson in using the medium to overcome business challenges. In a difficult moment, social media helped the NBN come out on top – and will continue to do so for countless businesses around the world that follow their example.