On Monday I had the distinct pleasure of speaking to a crowd of about 250 local search marketers at SEMpdx Searchfest in Portland. The audience reaction to my session, entitled “The Dark Side of Reputation Management,” highlighting a stark reality out there in the corporate trenches. While nearly every hand in the room enthusiastically shot straight up when asked if they “believed their company should be leveraging social channels,” fewer than 10 were actually engaged in social media marketing—let alone proactive reputation management.
Many were concerned with potentially negative results and cited fear of user-generated negativity as a primary factor limiting willingness to venture forth into social media channels. Some had horror stories to tell. Here are key takeaways which emerged from the session—valuable lessons for any search marketer thinking about using social media as a lever for reputation management.
Expect to make mistakes. First, any active social marketer can expect to make mistakes which cost sleep, cause angst, and alienate others—it’s the reality of the game. Subscribe to the theory that “nothing ventured is nothing gained” and forgive yourself in advance for inevitable screw-ups. Social media is just that: social. Humans tend to be unpredictable, especially in groups. Anyone who dives into social media without accepting that the results will be a mixed-bag-learning-curve risks being prematurely discouraged at inevitable rejection. Hell, several record companies said “no” to Elvis. Not everyone is going to love you.
Do not lose your cool (or, stupid is as stupid does). This can’t be stressed enough. No matter what the appropriate PR crises response turns out to be, there is seldom equity in hasty emotional comebacks. It rarely works to respond during the heat of anger, so get a grip. When rejected, it’s normal to feel hurt, anger, sadness, and even rage. Count to 350, wait until tomorrow, eat some comfort food, or find another way to chill out.
It’s true that some disasters require an immediate online response, but these instances are truly rare. There’s nearly always 5 minutes or 2 hours available to wait without impacting the ultimate outcome. Pay attention to emotional red flags and be the most mature party at the table.
Fight fire with water, not fire. When some social media twit unfairly flames your company (or you personally), it’s tempting to nuke them. Search marketers often have access to authority websites to get their retribution tactics indexed prominently in the organic SERPs. We know the forums to post to, blogs to comment in, and have a good understanding of what it might take to completely trash someone in revenge.
As human beings, we’re wired to defend the home turf by any means possible. That said, take a moment to distinguish the degree of response necessary. Fight the heat rising off the back your neck whilst your ears turn red and ask if a “high road” response will suffice in this situation.
Often we advise clients to actually thank the flamer for initiating what could become a productive dialog. There’s very little comeback for the provocateur if his or her rant is met with the response, “Thank you for the insight. We appreciate you raising your concern.” We’ve seen multiple cases where this tactic converts the provocateur to a friend. Online or off, this approach is a timeless technique for dealing with angry customers.
Don’t anger the natives. Preempt debacles by holistically participating wherever online networking takes you. Many—OK, most—passionate social community members either dislike or downright hate marketers. Their concerns are valid in many cases because average-to-bad SMO wanna-be media marketing moguls seriously abuse the privileges of membership. Be a responsible social media marketer.
Reckless or selfish SMOs dilute the neighborhood content stream, wrecking it for everybody. This common phenomenon particularly irks long term tagging and bookmarking site users. Be cognizant of the norms. Give exponentially more than you take. Respect the indigenous cultural and join in to preserve what’s best about the community. Give a hoot—don’t content pollute. Never spam.
Don’t bash the hornets’ nest (i.e., intentionally provoke). I should take my own advice about this one and will vouch for the fact that troll hunting makes for excellent sport. Don’t do it. One obvious method for avoiding a fight is not to start one. Taking the initiative to preemptively attack someone who hasn’t bothered you is an unfortunate tactic favored by losers.
Get input from others. It’s uncanny how approachable the “stars” in our business are to unknowns in need. My social media inaugural foray was to blithely attack Yahoo regarding early Panama geo-targeting application screw ups. It was very intense.
After quite a row in a SearchEngineWatch forum where Yahoo spin doctors were doing damage control at my expense, I actually approached Danny Sullivan, as I had heard him speak on this topic. He was completely unselfish and helpful in bringing the entire affair into perspective. I learned a thing or two about the mutually supportive qualities of our community.
These days, there are a number of highly qualified social media experts frequenting the halls of Sphinn. I have never met a competent SMO who was unavailable to a respectful approach seeking insight in a difficult situation. When you’re in over your head, get advice from a master.
Don’t try to save the world if the injustice does not really matter. Get over it. You’re not Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, or Muhammad. It’s not your place to solve all the injustices on this green earth. Saving the planet is a time consuming endeavor and should only be partaken in the rarest of circumstances.
True, some causes call for a good fight. I admit it that my massive personal investment in fighting StumbleTrolls was a gut reaction to being a Jewish man publicly flamed with profane, murderous, and violent Nazi hate rhetoric. That fight was a once in a lifetime event where I put public reputation on the line for something I deeply believe in. That should be the criteria for using social media and SERPs for personal or cause-related warfare.
Cast your ego aside. A savvy lawyer gave me incredibly useful advice at my wedding. He said, “When my wife and I disagree, I tell her that she ‘might’ be right.” He pointed out that responding with a non-binding statement ceding to the other’s perspective really gives nothing away at all except respect. Success and peace is what matters, not who’s right.
When you are attacked in social media and every fiber in your body wants to throttle someone because they’re so totally wrong, check your ego and take a breath. It doesn’t matter if your side “wins” if the flamers have already burnt your reputation down. It’s rather difficult to unring a bell.
Pre-plan to deal with crisis & opportunity. Ideally, it’s best to have a contingency plan in place for when things hit the fan. We teach clients to create a designated PR council, of which we’re a member. Depending on the size of your organization, this could be as basic as running the situation by your spouse or as complex as assembling the board of directors. Regardless of what’s appropriate in your situation, think ahead and have your resources lined up and ready to go.
Out there on the street, there’s a palpable fear of user-generated media. Most marketers understand that at least some component of their marketing mix may indeed be somehow rooted in social media. A commitment to preemptive and responsive tactics to deal with negativity can be essential to overcoming apprehension.
Marty Weintraub is publisher of aimClear Blog and President of aimClear Search Marketing Agency.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.