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June 11, 2012

Social Media: Handling Negativity


The direct and instant connection that social media creates to put users in touch with your business means, people will voice their opinions and they won't always sound sweet. Time and again, many companies fail to understand the importance of addressing this negativity and these mishandled situations end up creating PR nightmares. In case of a small business, any badly handled situation can leave irreparable damages, there by stressing the need to develop a protocol, that will enable your team in addressing and managing the situation effectively.

Key points to remember

Separate personal and professional:
US Representative Anthony Weiner's scandal is a good reminder of why public and private shouldn't mix! He ended up tweeting a sexually suggestive image of himself via his official account. Clearly no amount of apologies could have worked in his situation and he had to resign.

Same time last year, 2K Games' Duke Nukem Forever ran into a PR disaster created by their then PR guy Jim Redner of The Redner Group who expressed his frustration via a tweet on the company's page.
2K Games was quick to distance themselves from this situation by firing the PR company.

These examples all suggest one thing--Keep your personal opinions to yourself and nomatter how strongly you feel about these issues, don't drag it onto your public profile!

This of-course doesn't mean your employees shouldn't be allowed to have their own personal/private presence on social networks but they should be advised to not make comments that could harm your brand in anyway. Also, if you have two public profiles, a good practice is to state on top of the page whether it is your public or personal profile.

Be prepared:
Diablo III recently bumped into what can only be constituted as a PR disaster. Last launched in 2000, Diablo II ended up in the Guinness Records as the fastest computer game ever sold therefore it was known from the start that 'public anticipation' for their long awaited Diablo III would be an integral part of their new launch. What the game maker Blizzard didn't consider is, their strategy in the rare event that something would go wrong and the mess went viral! This is exactly what happened.

Diablo III is meant to be played online only. Surrounding the buzz, too many people ended up buying the game on the launch day, causing a server crash and resulting in the twitter hashtag #Error37. This quickly went viral and Error 37 memes were created by Blizzard's very loyal and highly disappointed fans.

This case goes onto show that even your most loyal fans will turn on you. In the quick digital world of communication, it is more important than ever to concentrate on the quality you provide and always have a contingency plan.

Speak up:
Stonewalling does not work in online media.

Virgin America invented social media before it was cool! Yet somehow this massively intelligent company found itself in what can be classified as one of the most notorious social media disasters. A switch in Virgin's reservation system caused a domino effect where the flight crew were given the wrong schedule and turned up at different times, leading to flights being canceled/delayed. Lack of communication between staff caused even greater stress when the people in position to give answers, didn't have any answers.

When the entire thing went viral on Twitter, there was no response from the company. Emails were not being responded to either. To make matters even worse than they already were, VP of Corporate Communications announced that there had been a smooth transition into the new system and customers were happy! Saying this while Twitter went crazy with angry tweets was a sign of horrible management.

Lesson to be learnt here is that, you should never give your customer the silent treatment. Every negative comment is an unhappy/disappointed customer. Angry comments are the way they make their feelings known. It is all psychology at the end of the day and a good communicator is the one who can negotiate without letting their personal emotions/ego get hurt. The moment you stop answering, start deleting their negative comments, you have set a bad PR ball in motion.

From my personal experience, I have one good example from Nestle to share, who were quick to apologize when I expressed my frustration over them ignoring my messages. I even received an email from them explaining they regretted the way my situation was handled. At the end of the day, I just wanted them to notice and hear my voice. On the other hand, Yorkshire's Wymetro addressed my issue at first and told me their customer care would get in touch with me. Despite multiple follow up tweets, I received no apology from their side and ended up blogging my frustration.

This is how most disappointed people react!

Lessons to learn:

1. Don't delete their negative comments unless it is absolutely necessary. Respond, try to build a relationship, ask them for their email address, enquire why they are unhappy and convince them that you will get to the end of this issue.

2. Don't be insincere. If you say you are going to get back to them, you better get back to them.

3. Don't be unprofessional and never joke about the issue.

4. Take responsibility. Don't try to shrug the blame off or hide key facts.

5. Don't be insensitive. One way or another, you will have to Accept the blame. Paypal has a good experience of what web's wrath feels like after their Regretsy scandal where they froze the charity's funds during Christmas. For rest of the story, check out Mashable. It is interesting to note how Paypal's insensitivity made them the Grinch! Another such case comes from one of my favourite retailers, H&M. I remember following this case on their facebook account. The story started when they produced items with artwork that had been stolen. When someone pointed out that they had stolen this piece of artwork, they refused to acknowledge it. Then went on to say they were unaware of this particular artist's work but when the issue blew up and went viral on their Facebook and Twitter, they had to change their statement and tell people that they were looking into this issue now and getting in touch with the original artist! You can read up on this hilarious exchange on Regretsy.

To sum this post up, I found a brilliant quote on Tom Fishburne's website which is originally from Jason Fried's (37Signals CEO) interview at

"People don't judge you on the basis of your mistakes—they judge you on the manner in which you own up to them. In my experience, most companies do a terrible job of taking blame. They lob press releases. Or they apologize for the inconvenience. Resist that temptation and say you're sorry like you're apologizing to a friend. Be good—and your customers will be good right back to you."

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