The Prita Mulyasari case has touched a raw nerve among Indonesian netizens. A mother of two very young children, Prita sent an email highly critical of her healthcare provider’s services to a circle of friends, which then spread to others. The hospital, citing defamation, eventually filed charges leading to the email author’s incarceration for nearly a month. After massive public uproar and criticisms from various government agencies, Prita was finally released but remains under city arrest.
What can be learnt from this ongoing case? News and gossip, both accurate and erroneous, can spread through the internet like wildfire. How people write to friends via email may be vastly different than if they write a letter to the editor. And the internet can be a hotbed for support to those who have been deemed to be “wronged”.
Just take a look at the Facebook groups that sprung up for Prita’s defense. Over 30,000 supporters in one group alone. 30,000 intelligent, opinionated, wired and angry people. In short, any business’ potential customers.
It should be remembered that Indonesia has one of the most independent media within the region and its readers are getting used to such freedoms. The ability to voice opinions is becoming engrained, both online and off, and is vital for the development of the nation. No one wants to go back to the days of repression. Any perception of taking away such freedoms will be met with fierce resistance.
So what can businesses do if they are at the receiving end of a negative communications campaign online?
Engage the conversation. Learn the issues, find out from your side the exact details of the case and respond as appropriate. As some companies have media monitoring for print media, it is becoming equally important to have an online monitoring component to learn what the internet is saying about their business. It would be easier to douse a small flame than allow it to fester and become a full fledged three alarm fire because your side remained quiet.
Be Transparent. Like any business that depends on customers, resolve the issue. If mistakes were made, rectifying the situation would be in order. If the writer is in the wrong, posting the business’ side of the situation would allow the online readership to judge for themselves who is in the wrong and who is being unreasonable (make no mistake, netizens don’t like to be fooled and used)
Use the same medium. There are many ways to communicate on the internet such as using email, message boards, social networks or blog posts. Engaging them on these mediums allows future users, who may bump into this case, to also find your side of the story, quickly resolving any potential repeat flare ups. It can also be indexed by search engines and be close on hand when people are searching your business online.
Treat others as you wish to be treated. The golden rule of Isadore Sharp, Founder and CEO of the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Hotel Chain. Legal court cases should be the absolute last venue (according to this Public Relations consultant) and only after deciding the merits of the case (Is it winnable? Is it worth the publicity?). Once in court, it all becomes public record: the cause of conflict, escalation and the attempt for mediation (if any).
Have all attempts been made for mediation? Is the writer really unreasonable? Is going to court something shareholders or future investors would support?
For online issues, with both sides of the arguments in the open, logic usually prevails. Attempts for mediation in good faith would always be appreciated as many Indonesians still believe in resolving things secara kekeluargaan (within the family). But if you believe your brand continues to be under assault, then by all means defend it, not just in the courts, but also in the realm of public opinion, to explain your side of the story.
Once all the facts are in, people can easily decide for themselves who to believe and support. In this era of the internet, transparency trumps all else as now everyone can easily search for the truth. And you don’t want to anger the internet Gods, for they are not infallible yet can be swift and brutal to your brand.