Even a Fake PR Crisis Needs Management!

August 8th, 2011

You might have see recent news reports that a firm called “AptiQuant” issued research findings that showed Microsoft Internet Explorer users had lower IQs than people who used other web browsers.  This is the kind of brand damage that keeps crisis PR counselors up at night.  Anyone who’s suffered through the horrors of Vista (disclaimer: that includes us) and blue screens of death surely has negative feelings toward Microsoft, and no doubt saw the IQ story as validation of their own consumer struggles with the company’s products.

That’s why the AptiQuant study should have shaken Microsoft’s PR operation into immediate action.  Except … well, it turned out the entire story was a hoax.  Even though many media outlets gleefully took the bait, the reality was no such research existed, and AptiQuant‘s site confirmed it was all a stunt.

For those who argue that the media often skip due diligence, they’ve got a great exhibit in their corner as storied outlets like CNN, NPR, CNET, Forbes, and BBC all presented the fake report’s “real” findings.

But aside from media criticism, Microsoft missed a golden opportunity to manage this PR crisis into positive attention for itself.  You’ll search unsuccessfully for any follow-up story with Microsoft’s position on the incident.  Sure, sometimes in crisis management, the last thing you want to do is draw more attention to the burning fire.

But in this case, the story built on the default media narrative that Microsoft software is outdated, obsolete, etc.  That’s why even a fake report like this must be quickly addressed, lest that narrative be reinforced.  Some Microsoft products are, in reality, extremely cutting edge, and tinkered with by people whose IQs surely surpass the average computer user.  With those credentials, Microsoft should have mustered some response, instead of assuming a fake story wouldn’t hurt the company’s image.

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