Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay and the time will come that you have to deal with social media bullies. When that time comes, you have three choices, make it your marketing strategy, bury your head in the sand and hope it goes away, or deal with the problem. Surprisingly, all three options can work. Which one works best depends on your corporate culture, the people you serve, and the event that triggered the rising of the bullies.
I often wonder what it is about social media that makes people anti-social. Perhaps the empty dialogue box creates a discomfort similar to silence in a crowded room. Maybe it is the need for instant gratification and peer recognition that comes from outing a company’s poor service. Or, it could be that the Internet provides a safe venue for bullies to vent with minimal repercussions. Whatever the reason, people talking badly about companies create a lot of drama and headaches for corporate leaders.
Kenneth Cole purposely creates controversial posts that ignite firestorms. In 2011 he was chastised by the self-appointed Twitter police squad for his Cairo tweet that read, “Millions are in an uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo -KC.” Shortly after the Twitter feed went wild with protests and the company’s Facebook page was hijacked by disapproving people, he issued an apology.
According to his interview with Huffington Post, the company hired a crisis management firm to deal with the fallout. After the smoke cleared from the drama, Cole realize that his tweet had been read by billions of people, ecommerce and store business improved, the company stock went up, and he picked up a few thousand Twitter followers. What began as a bad online experience turned into a marketing strategy.
In September, he did it again with a “boots on the ground” tweet promoting his shoe line. The terminology emulated President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s commentary about the conflict in Syria. This time, there was a video explanation instead of an apology. There is no reason to apologize if the act is intentional and part of your strategy. The lack of authenticity would do more damage than the original message.
Choosing controversy as a marketing strategy is too risky for most companies. It could backfire and do serious damage to the corporate reputation. Burying your head in the sand can also have ramifications. If people perceive your company as being unresponsive to real issues, you have a public relations nightmare that will hurt your business.
Ideally, responding to the problem in a positive, solution oriented manner would be the best approach. In the real world, things are different. Social media bullies respond to the oddest things. A solution oriented response can add fuel to the fire escalating the problem. When Kenneth Cole apologized for the Cairo tweet, Twitter and the blogosphere lit up with people condemning the apology. The added drama expanded the reach which turned out to be a good thing for the company. Your business may not fare so well.
Staying out of the social media channel doesn’t protect your company from social media bullies. A local dealership in Asheville found itself represented poorly on Twitter without having an account. An unhappy customer set up a Twitter page in the company’s name and filled it with tweets promoting great deals. All of the links were directed to bad reviews the customer had written all over the Internet. Twitter closed the account after being notified that it was a fake.
Bloggers love to share their bad experiences, no matter how small the slight. A delayed flight can launch a thousand tweets about the unresponsiveness of the airline. A misspelled word is fodder for a Facebook judgment session. Some do it to vent. Others use bad experiences to improve social activity. They know that beating up on companies generates commentary that improves their Klout scores. It is a win-win situation for them.
Once the story is on the Internet, no one can control it (not even the bully.) It is open for all to participate. Here are some tips that will minimize the power of social media bullies:
Have a plan – Even if your company isn’t participating on the social channel, have a plan of action to deal with social media bullies.
Monitor activity – Watch for company mentions across the Internet so you can respond when appropriate.
Think before responding – Many of the people who bully companies online don’t have anyone listening to their rant. There is little or no fallout without an audience.
Research the issue – If there is a real issue and your company has been unresponsive, you aren’t dealing with a bully. You have a frustrated customer that needs help.
Take it offline – When dealing with a frustrated customer, ask the person to communicate privately. Most people do not want to discuss issues publically.
Don’t get pulled in – Some frustrated customers are also online bullies. They think that because they have a forum, they have a right to demand more. Don’t play their game.
Always take the high road – That perfect take down retort is best left unsaid. If you remain calm and reasonable, the bully will lose.
Walk away when there is nothing left to do – Sometimes walking away is best done before the battle begins. If you have a plan in place, you’ll know when to let the rants go.
Direct questions about creating a plan of action for social media bullies to Debra at firstname.lastname@example.org.