Last week the Sun newspaper chose to print pictures of Prince Harry in his Las Vegas hotel suite playing naked billiards with a few girls he and a group of friends had met in a casino. I’m not going to the morality of the story, it didn’t concern me, Prince Harry is single and doing what single young guys do in Vegas. What was interesting to me in this story was the reason the Sun gave for breaking the press embargo on pictures of the Princes, in the “public interest.” The front page of the paper featured one picture and the badge “Souvenir printed edition.”

The Sun newspaper gave this reason for publishing the pictures:

“The images were first published on the web three days ago. But the Palace’s lawyers, via the Press Complaints Commission, warned the UK’s newspapers against printing them, claiming they would breach Harry’s privacy and the PCC Code.

Since then the entire UK media — print, online and TV — has reported on them and told readers and viewers how to find them on TMZ.com, the website that first published them, and on countless other sites that followed suit.

That coverage put those pictures a mouse-click away from anyone in the 77 per cent of British households with internet access.”

Read more here:

The interesting thing for me was that this reads like an acknowledgment by the main stream media that news breaks first on the internet, and they can do little to change this other than curate what is appearing on line.It also shows that whoever you are, you can’t kill a story.If you want the news uncensored and as it happens then you need to move to the internet and put down the paper.

When bad news breaks, it is going to go viral quickly, and as a business, you need tobe getting on top of story’s as they break in order to respond in the quickest possible way. no end of social media policies will prevent negative comments from spreading, perhaps not at the pace of the Prince Harry story, but certainly with a great momentum.

As an employer that means that you need to be aware of any story’s as they break that might impact on your employer reputation. This means setting up your monitoring systems to pick up mentions of your brand anywhere on the web. There are plenty of paid for tools you can use like Radian6 (very effective though pricey) or options like Google alerts, Social Mention or Board Tracker that is built to monitor forums. (Board trackers is being rebuilt but is worth watching.)The last 3 are all free options.

The next question is how you are going to manage it to neutralise a story or present your side of a story. I have heard of companies who have placed SEO tagged posts to move a negative story down in the rankings. This is a drastic and expensive step, but can be an option when a negative story is hanging around at the top of Google page one searches. Better to have your own strategy to join the conversation as the news breaks.If you are in it. you can influence it, and no end of effort or legal threat will make a negative story to go away.

Being in the conversation means you can add some balance to the story and access to what you have to say. It is also your opportunity to enter in to discussion with some of the people in the conversation on and off-line, Entering in to dialogue is much more likely to succeed than confrontation, and being over defensive will only accelerate social media attention, and attract the rubber neckers who enjoy nothing more  than pouring gasoline on the flames of a good argument. Anticipate that from time to time things are going to happen from time to time. People might do or say things they are going to regret in the cold light of day. The key is having a plan when  bad news breaks and be ready to enter in to what may be a painful conversation requiring broad shoulders and tact. If you try to block negative comments on your social places like your Fan page then it is only going to move elsewhere. If a firm like the royal family are not able to block it, then you are not going to be able to. Listen and engage!

Bill