I love working in social media – blogging, podcasting, video work, social networking and more. All of them give you ample opportunity to interact with others. Sometime for good, and other times you’ll find you or your organization getting blasted by a blogger, content creator or just a plain old curmudgeon.
While many people in social media, a lot of whom are incredibly knowledgeable, and many communications officers feel that your organization should “rise above” any kind of crossing swords with people online who are attacking you, I wish to disagree. There is a line in the sand where you should be willing to kill any detractors with kindness (always remember to be understanding and offer the honey-laden olive branch as much as possible) but once that line is crossed you should be able to respond factually, forcefully and passionately.
Many social media peeps, especially when looking at business social media, will tell you to keep your statements and content as even-keel as possible. You never want to engage in mud throwing or flame wars. I agree with them on this, but where we might diverge a little bit is my opinion that when your organization is being attacked, possibly unfairly, by online peeps who are unwilling to look at facts, or try to skew facts to match a caricature they created to attack your organization. Then these are the times when you will need to stand up, use the facts as your sword and shield, and call out your detractors.
This isn’t an open call to start flame wars and a rousing round of “nanny nanny boo boo.” Keep your responses slightly snarky (maybe a little more. Remember that you want to keep a little bit of a bite to them). They need to be classy, but sharp as a razor’s edge. You want to remind your opposition that if they want to misquote you, or tweak facts to match a false claim, that you are going to repeatedly respond by throwing high and inside.
Look at how various political campaigns ran their social media outlets during the 2008 and upcoming 2010 campaigns. They brought in bloggers who already had followers, but more importantly were passionate about their candidate’s stands (or, let’s be honest, became passionate about their positions once they started receiving a check) and were willing to stand up for them. In addition, Barack Obama’s campaign built online tools from scratch to help foster their community of supporters.
Balancing the Playing Field
If your organization is going to have “what it takes” to respond to online attacks this way, you need to have a CEO who has the spine to understand that for a short while, the attacks might intensify as your opposition tries to determine how far you will go before folding. In order for this to work, you have to be willing to repeatedly defend your position with this idea of “classy passion.” Again, humor is one of your best weapons here.
Look at what the Obama White House is doing right now with FOX News, they are repeatedly responding to FOX News when they believe facts are in error. For a while the peeps on FOX News were calling it the “War on Fox,” or some such thing.
There used to be a saying that you never go to war with people who buy ink by the barrel or tape by the yard. Meaning it was never in your best interest to cross swords with people who run the media, because they can come after you day after day for any perceived slight. That used to be true, but with the advances in social media, social networking (for audience building) and online communications you suddenly have the tools to create your own media outlet to respond, “balancing the playing field” more in your favor.
Being the old rugger I am, I’ll leave you with this analogy. While you want to play cleanly as much as possible, and give people the benefit of the doubt, I’ve found that one of the best ways to stop someone from throwing punches in the ruck is a good, old-fashioned cleat rake every so often.