Mighty tech giants are stumbling. Facebook’s value recently took a $130 billion plunge on the heels of fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Twitter’s stock took a nosedive the same week amid slow growth and waning public trust. Uber is still picking up the pieces after paying a hacker in a supposed effort to conceal a severe data breach.

The list of tech companies taking hits for betraying user trust, be it real or perceived, seemingly grows by the day. And this “techlash” doesn’t just threaten the juggernauts. Any company, no matter the size, that mingles technology with personal data is susceptible to the crippling vitriol of the masses.

This trend got RH Strategic thinking about how, from a communications perspective, companies can prevent and prepare for techlash.

Do the Right Thing

Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, and communicate that. It sounds simple enough, but many organizations give the perception they are focused on technology, innovation and profits over people.

The tech companies we advise have the greater good in mind, and we believe that most others do too. But perception is reality, so if you aren’t proactively giving the public a reason to believe you are doing right by them, they could easily assume the opposite.

Your efforts must be more than lip service. Take actions that back up your values.

Be proud of the work you do to protect your users and handle their data with the utmost care. Then make some noise about it.

Be Informed

It turns out many organizations don’t fully understand the breadth of the data they hold or the details of where that data is being stored. This poses a severe risk, no matter the size of your organization.

Dig deep to truly understand the data you hold, how your organization manages and protects that data, and what your role is in safeguarding it.

Internal policies should be communicated to anyone in the organization who touches data, which is likely everyone (data breaches aren’t just tech problems, they’re people problems, too). Share the policies on your organization’s website and revisit them often. Iterate to improve their effectiveness.

Airing your policies and the work you do to improve them will build goodwill among your users.

And don’t forget to research the data- and privacy-related regulations that your organization is beholden to. Governments around the world are rolling out regulations that could significantly impact your organization.

Take Facebook for example. On the day the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect, Mark Zuckerberg’s social media giant was slapped with lawsuits seeking fines totaling more than $4.5 billion, accusing the platform of coercing users into sharing personal data.

Mishandling users’ personal information can hurt more than a reputation.

Consider Unintended Consequences

Your organization has a vision of how it will positively impact the world, but have you thought deeply about the unintended consequences of your work? Facebook didn’t. In fact, Zuckerberg admitted to making a “huge mistake” in failing to consider how bad actors could misuse the world’s largest social media platform.

Think like a bad guy. How could your product, service and data be used for nefarious purposes? Pose this question to your organization and consider how to prevent the possible malevolence. Then build a crisis communications strategy that can be leveraged in the event these worst case scenarios-come-true. Brace for a potential PR nightmare by preparing a drawer statement you can quickly publish if you find your integrity being questioned.

No organization is immune from techlash. The outrage culture that permeates social media is quick to react and accost, whether or not it’s warranted.

Do right by your organization by doing right by the people you serve. And make sure you are communicating strategically and proactively every step of the way.


RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm providing strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, public sector and healthcare markets.