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3 Easy Steps for Dealing with Social Media Hecklers

One of the most frequent concerns I hear expressed when speaking to people about social media is the fear of being attacked. Business people are worried they will ruin their reputation or inflict brand damage simply by being out and about on the `net. Social media provides the perfect veil of anonymity encouraging some people to behave in a way they wouldn't in person. While harassment does happen from time to time, it's not really a problem if you have a plan on how to handle the social media hecklers.

My two golden rules of social media are:

1) It's "social" so you should be focused on building relationships.

2) You are representing your brand or your company brand. At all times you must maintain a professional tone and attitude.

For the purposes of this discussion, we need to keep the second item firmly in mind. You will encounter angry and disgruntled people who have no compunction about voicing their displeasure and feel no allegiance to constructive criticism. Believe me, they're easy to spot.

The Barkeeper's Secret
My sister has worked in pubs and bars in the USA almost her entire life. She's very good at what she does and owns a wildly popular bar/restaurant in the city where she lives. She's dealt with her fair share of unreasonable people often fuelled by alcohol. My sister advises,

"The only way to deal with drunks is not to".

It's worth considering that the person attacking you in a social network could very well be under the influence. Regardless of the sobriety factor, I apply my sister's advice when I find myself on the receiving end of an unhappy character.

3 Steps to Neutralising the Angry Masses
The goal with any attack is damage control. The quicker you can neutralise the situation, the sooner you can put it behind you. It's critically important not to respond in anger but keep your tone neutral or even friendly. From the school of hard knocks, here is what I've learned about managing a social media attack.

  • Acknowledge the Person Lodging the Complaint
  • The worst thing you can do is ignore an attack and hope it goes away. It won't. In fact, ignoring the situation can often make it worse because an assumption is made that the allegations must be true. A simple, "Wow, you're really upset" is a signal that you've heard the complaint and are listening.

  • Show Empathy You don't have to agree with them. In many cases you probably shouldn't. It never hurts to show compassion. I will always say something like,
  • "I'm really sorry that happened to you" or "That must have been so difficult for you." Again, you don't have to take responsibility but angry, drunk, or even crazy people feel like no one cares.

  • Give Them Something to Do A call to action is a classic marketing technique that I put to use in these situations. I talk a lot about aged care and often garner negative comments about the industry. I always ask them to help by sending them to a website where they can generate a letter to their government minister, give them the name of someone who can handle their complaint, suggest they put a tag on their online comments to direct the conversation to the right group, i.e. #agedcare, #education, etc. or even ask them to distribute an article or a press release. I always tell them we, the aged care industry, need all the help we can get.

My experience is that most people want to complain and blow off steam. If you don't engage in combat, there's nothing to fight. It's pretty hard to continue punching someone who is being nice to you. Giving them something to do is nearly always a sure fire cure for their ailments. If they decide to take the action you suggested, everyone is a winner.

If all else fails, walk away. An irrational person won't be won over no matter what you do. You might be surprised to find your network and even total strangers will take up the fight on your behalf leaving you an elegant getaway.

Making Lemonade
The way you interact with detractors on social media can leave a good impression about you and your company. Remember, you will have an interested audience that could easily number in the thousands. Like a fight on the playground, harsh words and body hits even virtual ones have a habit of drawing a crowd. If you behave in a reasonable way and don't start throwing punches yourself, you've got a very good chance of coming out of a social media attack with a lot more supporters than you had before.

Have you ever been under attack in a social media setting? How did you handle it?
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*Image courtesy of Jan Tik, on Flickr