Let’s face it; if you screw up, the people of the Internet can be pretty ruthless. It’s like the old Wild West online, with bloggers and other Web users taking matters into their own hands. Chris Sacca has vowed to take down Blue Shield and it’s entirely possible he’ll be successful in forcing change.
There are numerous examples of organic crusades across the online space to alert others of terrible customer service, often resulting in change. This online activity can be devastating for a brand or a company. Surely you’re among the millions that have seen the YouTube video about United Airlines breaking a guitar.
Make no mistake, though – it can happen to individuals, too. Probably the swiftest revenge enacted on an individual I’ve ever witnessed in real time was the Internet hazing of Kurt Greenbaum. It’s the kind of event that can be devastating to one’s career and reputation.
It’s not entirely impossible to avoid a misstep that results in this action. In fact, there are now so many people engaging in social media on behalf of their companies who aren’t aware of the rules of engagement it’s almost likely to happen to a large number of them.
I want to help people sidestep this horrifying scenario, as much as I’m able so I give you:
Five Ways to Avoid A Social Media Spanking
1. Don’t be a schmuck. The Internet loves to punish the self-righteous, the significant asshole and the overtly obnoxious. If you’re going to play that role be ready for consequences.
2. Don’t be a dumbass. There are millions of resources to help you learn how to behave online. Read books. I recommend The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott and Naked Conversations by Shel Israel and Robert Scoble. If you’re still unsure, ask someone. Ask a seasoned blogger – no doubt you know one personally. Post your question on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. Get answers before you stick your foot into a big pile you can’t get out of.
3. Be brave. I started to use the word “transparent” here but I’m not sure see-through gets my point across. If you make a mistake, own up to it. If you fail to deliver on the promises you’ve made to your customers, own it, and vow to do better. If you screw up, make it right – quickly. The bravest words you can utter online, at times, are “I’m sorry.”
4. Be aware. There’s no excuse for not knowing what’s being said about your company, your product, your industry or, if you’re the representative or the person with the online presence – yourself. There are tools for listening and you should be monitoring these (or outsourcing it to a trusted partner) daily. Know what’s being said on Twitter and Facebook and in the blogosphere in general.
5. Be the better person. OK, I’ll admit there are some awful bullies out there but the beauty of the online community is that if you’re being harassed by a bully or a whole contingent of bullies, do not get sucked into name calling and other schoolyard ridiculousness. Let your community know that this is happening to you. One of the coolest parts of the online community is that those with whom you have a good relationship will come to your defense. They will step in and argue with those who are trying to call you out and ruin your reputation. If you deserve the beating, you’ll have to take it, but rise above it, come back and be better than you were before. But don’t run away – bullies love it when you run.