The famous chalkboard cartoon showing a respectable citizen + internet anonymity = a foul-mouthed dweeb may no longer universally apply across social networks. Unlike forums where anyone can hide behind a self-selected handle, social network participants are commenting in full view of their social cliques. This new type of social accountability has changed the tone of internet rage against online marketers from the nihilistic “your company sucks, you suck, everyone you know sucks” to a form of effective petition-driven pressure campaigns that can even progress to full-blown boycotts.
Brands Can Get Barraged by Thousands of Negative Comments
The expletives may have subsided to a degree but social networking rage is a much more dangerous path for online marketers to tread, as instead of facing a handful of tweens feigning bravado, companies who are seen to be “in the wrong” can be subjected to online movements that can and do have measurable negative effects on their bottom line. When Netflix recently posted a link on their Facebook page to a blog announcing a price hike they were barraged with over 80,000 negative comments and in short order lost 8% of their stock price. Companies such as Versace had to halt protest commenting about sandblasted jeans operations that have killed workers; and Chrysler took to deleting derogatory social media comments for their more controversial activities, such as taking billions of dollars from American taxpayers and plowing millions into a “Thank you America” television commercial campaign.
Try to Turn It into a Positive… If You Can
If someone punches you in the nose, conventional wisdom tells you to strike back, but that segue is not necessarily the best strategy in the social networking age. When Rupert Murdoch recently closed the scandal-ridden News of The World tabloid, which had been the UK’s largest selling newspaper, staffers who found themselves suddenly out of work engaged in highly vociferous social media battles with celebrities, former readers and the outraged general public. Twitter has become a battleground for many debates that should have best been kept out of the public eye, such as the recent feud between The Village Voice and Ashton Kutcher over the newspaper’s stand on prostitution. Although these types of high profile hostilities can boost follower numbers by orders of magnitude, they may be of the curious car-wreck gawker type who relishes the enmity rather than the sort of positive customer that your brand is trying to attract.
Beware the Issue Page
Since anyone is free to do anything they want on the internet as long as it’s even remotely legal, issue pages have become a standard on Facebook and are already appearing on Google+, even though it’s still in limited beta. These pages become online hubs for rage against a brand, which can cause considerable damage. 50,000 participants in a protest page against your company are just as bad as 50,000 negative comments on your social networking presence page.
Dos & Don’ts
If your company should be among the unlucky few to face a wave of protest, there are various tactics to adopt and many more to shun.
- Apologize immediately while showing profound penitence, then proceed to evidentially prove that it was an honest mistake and you are taking active steps to fix the problem.
- Get your best customer relations people to discuss the issue in a non-confrontational manner with everyone who participates… even though this number may be in the tens or even hundreds of thousands.
- Provide generous “make-good” incentives to back up your contrition. Send your opponents and all of your email newsletter subscribers offers of free samples and deep discounts or produce VIP events. Do anything necessary to help diminish the negativity in the minds of the protesting consumers.
- Fight back, as you will lose 100% of the time.
- Try to justify what you did wrong or attempt to pass the buck.
- Take it personally… it’s only business, so keep it on an even keel and don’t get emotionally involved in the fray.
Time heals all wounds, but the actions you take when you’re slammed will have an impact on how quickly it all subsides!