Originally asked on Quora, with my reply below:
Has anyone been with a company that has had a social network used against them for negative PR purposes?
We recently had to ask a small non-profit to leave a building. They were here on a short term basis which they were aware of, yet they are using a social network campaign to make it sound like we are booting them to the curb via eviction. Any way to respond and not just open ourselves to even more criticism?
I’ve seen similar situations with some fairly large clients – the scale might be different but fundamentally the lessons and approach are pretty similar.
Broadly speaking it’s better to respond in a positive and proactive manner (*not* defensively or aggressively) than to just it back and take it. Silence allows those with the grudge to completely define and drive the story, something that if unanswered can do significant long-term harm to your organization’s brand and reputation. The issue is how you can respond, and a lot of that depends on the tools and channels you have at your disposal:
Do you have any sort of established presence across social networks? A company blog, a Twitter handle, Facebook page, etc.? It’s an old bit of advice, that if you don’t have a presence may be moot, but one of the best defenses against a negative critic campaign is to have been actively establishing a presence, a voice, and credibility. It gives you the platform to respond. It is extremely hard to spin something up only when the crisis hits – ask BP PR. You can, and should if possible, engage them and respond positively where the criticism is taking place – in the forum they posted, in their blog’s comments, on their Facebook post thread (just remember you are their guest in that situation…).
Whether you have a presence or not, by all means respond but do so in a positive, proactive manner. Take the high road. The path to ruin in social is to respond defensively, with threats or aggression, etc. In almost every case, unless the facts are obviously and dramatically on your side, the sentiment lies with the little guy (the non-profit), and a poor response from you could make the issue snowball into something very, very negative. Without knowing much about your specific situation, some quick thoughts:
- Acknowledge their concern positively, but lay out the facts to the extent that you can reasonably disclose.
- Invite them in to a face to face discussion of their concerns, and how or why their was a disconnect in terms of understanding. Make this invite publicly and repeatedly if not acknowledged, on your own blog/twitter/etc and also where they are raising a stink (comments on their FB thread…) so the community knows you are reaching out.
- If possible, assuming you are standing your ground, see if you can offer them some help or connections with other properties in the area. Show you are willing to go above and beyond to help them succeed in finding a new home.
- Overall – be as publicly and ridiculously reasonable as possible, even while holding firm in your position. Assuming you are confident the facts are on your side, your reasonable replies, if not met with a similarly reasonable response, will paint a stark contrast to their criticism and complaints.
Two news items broke across the ‘tubes in the past few weeks that graphically illustrate the idea of the flash crowdsourced fundraiser: the massive outpouring of donations for bullied bus monitor Karen Klein, and the somewhat smaller announcement that @Smokey_Robinson will be using his Twitter handle to instantly mobilize millions of followers (his and his celebrity friends’) to give in support of timely causes.
The idea – expressed by Smoky – and the reality – demonstrated by the vacation fund for Ms. Klein – are intoxicatingly powerful: Using crowdfunding sites and donation platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, causes, both worthy and merely buzzworthy, can leverage massive scale and momentum through social networks such as Twitter to raise huge sums of money in very short times. Echoing the swell in grassroots political donations that took off in the last US presidential election, these efforts will enable and rely on a very large number of people each making relatively tiny donations – $1 here, $5 there.
Amplified by mainstream news, celebrities with huge follower counts, or just plain old social spread, these “cause swarms” have the potential to be incredibly powerful tools for good. Or evil of course, once the scammers start to perfect the new model.
Kickstarter is already proving that entire companies, with significant capital needs, can get off the ground by going around the traditional funding sources and appealing directly. to future fans and customers (Pebble watch, anyone?). In those cases, people give both for the explicit “get” – the watch, the exclusive offers, etc – and the emotional thrill of supporting a great idea or someone’s amazing passion. In charitable giving you have the added benefit of self-fulfillment, the “it just makes ME feel good” effect.
Combining all those feelings with the now-proven platforms that make crowdsourced giving possible, mixed in with the massive swarm-like effect of Internet memes and rabid celebrity followers, and you have one incredibly powerful model. Whether it’s used for good or evil in the long run – and whether the inevitable examples of evil end up souring people on the overall concept – it’s going to be an interesting trend to watch in the coming months and years.
“The edge of chaos. Where a frozen order and an ethereal disorder meet in a fluid equilibrium. Where life is in endless flux. Where a system is so adaptive that it is only a breath away from spinning out of control.”
This quote was used over a decade ago to describe the Linux development community (Linux: A Bazaar at the Edge of Chaos). Because it paints such a vivid, even gripping mental image, it’s a line I’ve been enamored with for over a decade* and used in countless presentations.
The term “edge of chaos,” and this quote in particular, beautifully and perfectly describes the world I work in: that chaotic realm where traditional marketing intersects with the social media and online communities. It’s where traditional corporate messaging norms centered on control and proscription run headlong into the wild, free-thinking, uncontrollable and unpredictable whims of the massive online community made up of all types of customers, employees, fans and foes.
For anyone working in social media marketing, the edge of chaos likely describes your daily existence, and possibly conjures up something negative: A world where well-crafted campaigns or perfectly “on strategy” posts routinely get lampooned or even slaughtered. Where a single dumb tweet or a community manager in a sarcastic mood can trigger a massive firestorm of protests that does real and lasting damage to your company, in time measured in minutes and hours rather than the weeks or even months of just a few years ago.
However it also describes a remarkably positive and inspiring side of chaos: A highly fluid, radically adaptive reality that can see a few simple seeds (of an idea, a comment, a campaign) quickly grow and evolve in amazing and unpredictable new directions.
To survive in the former and thrive in the latter requires a mindset – and a skill set and organization – that is highly adaptive itself and sees fit to embrace the loss of control it requires. Unfortunately so much of the social media management industry (the term itself a false promise, really) is focused on trying to control that chaos, to restore a semblance of order to a community that naturally resists or even actively defies it.
As people and brands of all kind have discovered, often the hard way, is that operating on the edge of chaos – which all companies now do regardless of whether they think they are “doing” social media or not – requires a active willingness to embrace the chaos and its crazy, organic, uncontrollable community-driven creative process.
It’s an exciting time to be in this business, doing everything we all can to focus on the opportunity inherent in the chaos – however uncontrollable and unpredictable – without running in terror from the risk.
“Where a system is so adaptive that it is only a breath away from spinning out of control.”
Photo via CC License by Cory Doctorow
This is a repost from the archives of my old SeattleDuck blog (RIP), which suffered a no-backup database death a few years back. Fortunately it seems I was auto-reposting my blog feed to Facebook at the time (2006), and thanks to the joys of Facebook Timeline I was able to recover the text of one of my favorite blog posts ever.
Originally posted Fall 2006, when I was still at Microsoft. Reposted today as I still think this applies to any project I might be working on and I’m looking for a bit of inspiration (note the Blackberry reference…old school):
We had a meeting today where we debated some of the key goals for an upcoming community initiative, including the usual suspects:
Reducing support costs
Boosting net satisfaction
Acquiring new users
Ken Levy was there – he cut through that and locked on to the real manna: “We’re trying to build passion.” Wistful thoughts of Kathy Sierra immediately passed around my head. [2012 update: Kathy later blogged about this post here]
But that got me thinking – what does “passion” boil down to? Where do you begin? Kathy and Dan have many more eloquent and well constructed thoughts on this on this, so I figured I would bring it down a notch on the maturity level, away from any hint of intellectual discourse towards a raw, gut feeling:
That’s where passion begins. Those are the words I want every user of my product to utter. Ideally followed up by something like:
Dude, you have to check this out. It’s so f**king cool!
I don’t want their reaction to be a measured, rational, dispassionate analysis of why the product is better than the alternatives, how the cost is more reasonable, feature set more complete, UI more AJAXified. I don’t want them to pause to study the boring feature comparison chart on the back of the box.
I want f**king cool! Period.
I want that pure sense of wonder, that kid-at-airshow-seeing-an-F16-on-afterburners-rip-by-so-close-it-makes-your-soul-shake reaction, that caress-the-new-Blackberry-until-your-friends-start-to-question-your-sanity experience. I want an irrational level of sheer, unfiltered, borderline delusional joy. [2012 update: I'd like to think I predicted here the emotional reactions that Apple would inspire from 2007 onward…The iPhone after all was just a few months in the future]
That is where passion for a product starts. Yes, it only gets you so far, and then actual product quality, support, stickiness, strong community, etc come into play. But true passion begins with the two most wonderful words a marketer can hear a customer say: