Vladimir Putin’s campaign Web site for the upcoming Russian presidential election, which takes place on Mar. 4, has provided a good reminder for PR pros on the dangers of trying to control the conversation around your brand.
Within hours of being launched on Jan. 12, handlers of the prime minister’s Web site, which allows visitors to post suggestions, started deleting negative comments directed at Putin and his candidacy, according to the New York Times. However, an enterprising blogger discovered a way to access submitted comments that were not selected to be published on the site. When questioned, Putin’s press secretary said in an interview with online news channel Dozhd that only “obscene” comments were being deleted, and indicated that the large volume of submissions was freezing the site, reports the Times.
While this is of course an extreme example, the issue highlights a common issue brands and communicators face while navigating the online social media landscape—the lack of control one faces when fostering open dialogue on the Web. An open forum means the opportunity for someone to say something bad about your company.
However, as Putin’s presidential campaign site demonstrated, the worst thing a brand can do is try and silence dissenting opinions online. Inevitably, people will find out, and more often than not, it will make the situation worse—unless, of course, you are the most powerful man in Russia.