Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Web Secret #71: Online Snark Attacks

When I present on the use of social media for professional purposes, many participants seethe over the lack of accountability on the web. They ask:

"Where is the law?"
"Where are the guidelines?"
"Where are the codes of ethics?"

The quick answer is, (for the most part), nowhere - yet. Professional associations are in the beginning stages of crafting codes of ethics and practice guidelines that cover social media. MANY corporations don't even have a social media policy for their employees. And the law...well that's lagging about a decade (in my estimation) behind practice. The analogy would be that social media is moving at warp speed, and regulation of any kind - that's following in a Model T Ford.

So if we are in the wild west stage of our online history, how do you protect yourself, your brand, or your organization from online snark attacks?

I use StepRep to keep track of my online reputation. My HootSuite account also lets me monitor anytime my Twitter account is mentioned. You should too. It's your first line of defense.

HootSuite and StepRep help you find out when after you:
  • uploaded a blog post
  • tweeted
  • wrote on your wall in Facebook,
  • or performed some other online publication function
someone responded:
  • With a critical comment
  • A scathing tweet
  • A nasty message.
That's because on the Internet, a small, but vocal minority get a kick out of pinpointing flaws in your thinking, sometimes in the meanest, mean girls in the middle school fashion possible. And it's online for everyone to see.

Now what do you do?

You may be able to delete the offensive remark - and if you can - that's usually your second line of defense.

Otherwise, you need to think long and hard about responding. Defending yourself — even correcting a factual error — can prolong or aggravate your turn under the collective Internet microscope.

Opinions diverge. Speak up or shut up when you, your idea, or your product get a bad rap online? Be forwarned: anger, defensiveness and denial will almost certainly set off a feeding frenzy. Some experts favor correcting factual errors and countering negative opinions — but only to a point. No more than a short, simple clarification.

Some, including many corporations, forbid response of ANY kind except in extreme cases.

What's an extreme case? Two Domino’s Pizza employees were fired after they posted a video on YouTube showing one of them sticking pizza ingredients up his nose and sneezing on food. Even after the two were fired, the CEO of Domino's felt the need to post his own video reassuring the public that none of the food pictured in the original video was served to customers. (Duh.) Of course the CEO's statement was reported in the news causing tens of thousands of additional people to view the prank video.

My position is that unless something is egregiously incorrect, it’s almost better to let it die, because if you comment on it, it takes on a life of its own. If you react, the thread will move up to the top of the list again, and the more you respond, the more other people are going to respond.

Further thoughts.
What happens online usually stays online — forever — but the influence on viewers and readers is unclear. Some critical comments may be valid and you may want to heed them.

Or maybe not.

Final thought.
As a last resort, you can hire an online professional reputation cleaner like Reputation Management Consultants. Among other techniques, they will post until the negative comment falls off of page 1.

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