Using Twitter to diffuse a PR bomb

imagine my dismay when I found a blog accusing our former commissioner of making birth control non-mandatory and sending the “costs through the roof.”

Guest post by Michelle Phipps-Evans, Supervisory Public Affairs Specialist at the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking

When our District government agency began using Twitter as an additional communications tool in its arsenal in April 2009, I could not have imagined we would have to use it to correct some misinformation that could have really snowballed.

I work for the regulator of the District’s financial-services industry as a supervisory public affairs specialist. My job is to ensure that our stakeholders are given the right information they need at the right time, using as many communications tools as we need. It can be a challenging but rewarding experience. So, imagine my dismay when I found a blog accusing our former commissioner of making birth control non-mandatory and sending the “costs through the roof.” The blogger also started a Twitter petition to mandate birth control coverage for all insurance plans. Ironically, it was a blog called Reality Check, and the “facts” on Reality Check were untrue. While we were crafting a response that contraceptives are not a mandatory coverage in the District, but are dictated by law, a reporter/blogger from the local City Paper picked up on it and published it. Within the same time, yet another local blogger from DCist called about the blog and wanted to get the facts. I gave her our statement, which she proceeded to put on her site,

Before contacting the original blogger, I visited the Twitter petition, and responded with the statement that specified that “mandated coverages for insurance are not at the discretion of the insurance commissioner, but rather mandated coverages are those that are required by DC law.”  The original poster had to do an update and correction with some hits to her credibility as I saw in some comments by some readers here; and the City Paper also had to retract the story. The reporter was not too happy for being misled.

As of today, there are some 1,945 followers for this Twitter petition. This could have gone viral, especially since two media outlets picked up the original blog within a very short space of time. Part of our communications strategy was to ensure that we responded to the bloggers quickly, and I am thankful that I had this social media tool at my disposal to ensure we could manage the messaging. I would not like to imagine if our agency did not have a Twitter account at its disposal how this story could have been taken to another level. It is the little things such as these that can really prevent your agency, company or firm from building its credibility, or from defining itself when misinformation threatens to redefine who you are. These tools help in framing the reality, and with communicating it. 

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Besides her duties with the District government, Michelle Phipps-Evans is an avid social media user. She manages four Twitter accounts, two Facebook accounts, two blogs and a Linked In account. Also, she is the communications chair for her civic association and she free-lances for East of the River newspaper. Phipps-Evans, who holds a master’s in journalism from Columbia University, believes in the power of social media to change the conversations people are having and to effect change. Phipps-Evans lives in Ward 7 in the District of Columbia, and is married with three children. You can follow her at @MPhippsEvans and read her blogs On Turning 40 and Vickey’s Kitchen.