A few weeks back an interesting story started to brew and circulate throughout social media. The headlines varied slightly but mostly consisted of “Nicki Minaj and Will.I.Am Invest in Bullying App.” This clearly caught the attention of many people, myself included. Being somewhat of a fan of these artists, I immediately clicked on the articles to learn why they would be connected to an app that the media was describing as “a new outlet for bullies.”
After reading a few articles, it became clear that Minaj and Will.I.Am, among many other big names, were actually investors in Shellanoo Group Ltd., the company behind the app Blindspot. Blindspot aims to provide teens with a new method of communication, but with a twist. All messages are sent directly to individual recipients, but the sender remains anonymous. The app currently has over half a million downloads, but with that has come a spike in complaints of sexual harassment and even death threats, quickly creating a crisis not only for the company, but also for its investors.
As the story unfolded for millions of readers around the world, two errors became obvious throughout the communications process:
- It was evident that a solid communications strategy was not put in place to handle potential criticism. While the company responded directly to complaints from users about the app with the generic, “Blindspot has a zero-tolerance policy for bullying…” statement, the group did not seem to have a strong response for the media.
A spokesperson was even quoted by multiple outlets saying that anonymity online is “simply an evolution, whether people like it or not” and that Blindspot is “just the platform.” He then, in multiple interviews, proceeded to compare this issue to other outrageous situations such as buying a knife at Ikea to harm someone, stating “Any rational person wouldn’t blame Ikea.”
- Another interesting aspect to the story is that it seems Adam Shafir, a reporter on a technology show in Israel, possibly spearheaded a wider conversation around the issues with the app. He’s noted in almost, if not all, the top stories on the matter in outlets such as The Daily Mail and Engadget. It’s unclear whether Blindspot reached out to have a conversation with Shafir in advance of or following these issues, but had the company done so it could have clearly communicated their messaging and reasoning behind the app’s creation. That’s not to say Shafir wouldn’t have still raised these concerns with the public, but Blindspot would have at least been a part of the conversation.
So how could these issues have been prevented?
First, as public relations professionals, part of our job is to anticipate any possible outcome that could result from an announcement. It’s vital that we think five steps ahead and consider every reaction, no matter how “irrational” it may seem at the time. We need to poke, prod and play devil’s advocate to ensure a company is ready for any situation because in the end it’s better to be overly prepared than underprepared.
Second, strong public relations professionals will hopefully already have relationships with key industry media, such as Shafir. The importance of having strong existing relationships with the media and ongoing conversations with them can potentially give a company a leg up when positioning itself in light of stories like these. Though the story will come out regardless, it benefits the company to be proactively involved and strategically positioned in the conversation.
Overall, though it may seem unnecessary at the time, preparing and being trained for the worst can help your company become its best.
Photo courtesy of Flickr