What If People Say Bad Things About You?

Steve Rubel did a great Q&A session at last night’s Third Tuesday Toronto meetup. I often find myself disagreeing with Rubel, but I thought most of his answers were right on the money yesterday.

I could write a week’s worth of blog posts on the various issues raised by the session, but I’ll quickly focus on one instead.

My colleague Michael O’Connor Clarke raised an interesting and important question towards the end of the session (which was moderated by Jeremy Wright of B5 Media), and I think Steve missed an opportunity when answering it.

Michael asked:

What’s your response to the people who say, “you’re telling us we should get involved in social media, but what if people start to say bad things about us?”

My response to this (any real-time screw-ups aside):

They already are; you just can’t hear them.

To paraphrase one of Steve’s earlier answers in last night’s session, social media is unlikely to create new issues for your brand (setting screw-ups and over-reactions aside); however it can speed-up existing issues.

If there’s a problem with your brand, people are already saying bad things about you. If you’re not online, they’re just not saying them to you…  because you aren’t listening.

Is the “head in the sand” approach really better?

16 Responses toWhat If People Say Bad Things About You?

  • Great response and one that should be used with any business procrastinating about getting into social media. Although I’m loathe to harp on about it, the Motrin case is a prime example, with the company saying it taught them to listen to what’s being said online. Pardon? You mean you weren’t already?

    Social media offers an instant impact and the potential for long-term damage – anyone that doesn’t get why they need to be involved possibly deserves any bad reactions they get.

  • Good points Dave. The one area I think should be explored though is that not everything negative needs a response; sometimes things just need to play out. People vent. Sometimes with reason, sometimes without. We don’t jump into every convo offline & react, and we don’t need to jump into every convo online and “manage” it. I dread the day when every brand starts sticking its nose & crisis management into every online interaction. Not everything said is made to stick imo.

    Part of the beauty (and peril) of social media is that we are all unique individuals & even though the squeaky wheel sometimes gets the grease, they are not an entirely representative sample of the populations sentiments at large.

    It reminds me of the efforts in the late 80s to control music & TV programming – 2 or 3 letters from “concerned citizens” could dictate what the rest of us watched or listened to. It’s a balancing act and one that requires a long-view vs. a narrow “must react now” one.

  • Danny – that’s a good way of putting it.

    Tamera – I agree. I think it helps to ‘triage’ posts – those that require a response; those that you should just flag internally and monitor; and those that you can just continue to monitor without any action.

  • Yes, absolutely. I was surprised too – the whole point of my nice little lay up was to offer an easy slam dunk for Steve.

    This continues to be one of the objections to social media projects I hear most often – a fear fuelled by two many Motrin Moms/Wal*Mart/Sony PSP nightmares. Whenever one of these stories gets trotted out, I feel the need to point out two things:

    1. What you and Danny have said above. People are already out there talking about you; the wonderful thing is that now you can hear them. If you listen carefully, respond respectfully, and engage on their terms, wonderful things can happen.

    2. The Wal*Mart, Sony PSP and other oft-cited examples became major PR issues not because they were social media projects, but because they were plain dumb ideas.

    They got a lot of negative attention faster than ill-conceived, poorly planned dumb ideas used to in the days before the read-write web simply because the people formerly known as the audience are empowered now. Social media acts as sunlight to stupid.

  • Exactly. People are going to talk about you whether you are active in social media or not. At least if you’re there, you can respond and potentially generate some positivity surrounding your brand.

  • KateNonymous
    ago12 years

    This is something we’re trying to teach people in our institution. The criticism is out there–social media gives people another place to express it, but it also gives us a place to respond to it.

  • Of course listening is one thing… knowing what to do about what you hear, is another. I don’t think that it is realistic to a) be able to hear every conversation and b) react to every one that is potentially negative – at least not at the point of origin.

  • A long time ago a read some research that indicated that for every person that complains there are 10 who are just as unhappy but don’t say anything. They just go somewhere else. Social Networking is an avenue for them to complain with out going through the cumbersome or non responsive complaint system. In return the company gets a more accurate picture of how they are percieved by the public at large. The really smart companies will act on that knowledge.

  • Yeah, I was going to make that point, but Steve’s other thoughts were worth pursuing on that question.

    I’ve always made the point that social media doesn’t MAKE people talk about your product in a more negative way. You’re just more AWARE of it going on.

  • Being involved in social media is essential for any company. They could get into it when their brand comes under fire (Motin, for example), or they can get into it actively and engage with their consumers (Comcast, example).

    Either way you slice it – people are talking about brands, both positively and negatively. But before a brand engages with their audience, they need to have their issues resolved. Otherwise, they simply amplify issues that already exist.

    So if your customer service sucks, and you get into social media to mitigate your customer service, you will fall flat on your face.

    But if your customer service is top notch, and your customers are raving fans, and then you into social media … you’ll do really well.

    We are at the industrial revolution of marketing, media and communication. Some companies will continue to ignore and deafen themselves from the reality of social media. Those companies will fail, and fail slow and hard. By comparison, companies who listen to their consumers and truly care about their consumers’ needs, they will succeed and land on top of the revolution. The revolution is to stop fu**ing people over.

    Social media is more than branding, it’s more than business, it’s more than marketing. It’s people. It’s being yourself. It’s being accessible to people who actually give a sh*t about your brand (even if they say bad things).

    Good entry. So good, it got me fired up.


  • Dave,

    Thank goodness I’m included in the “aside” portion. 🙂

    More importantly, I agree with you. I told attendees at G2E (a global gaming expo) the same. The question isn’t “what if they say bad things about your property?”, but rather “do you want to be part of the conversation when they do?”

    Social media doesn’t attract negativity. Actions do. So most companies would want to steer clear of communication that skews in that direction.

    As someone who enters controversial or emotional topics for educational purposes, I anticipate a certain amount of negativity from time to time, even though I work at remaining reasonably objective and avoid name calling (shame the action, not the people). So it does happen.

    In those cases, it’s just like the world outside of social media. How one handles negative comments makes all the difference — and several times, I’ve made new friends out of people who disagreed with me on the front end, whether on my blog or off my blog.

    All my best,

  • An area of this thread that I am wondering about not so much about customers or the general public, but investors. Is there some sense of fear about what they will read into your message? I agree with being a part of the dialogue, just wondering what insight you may have in this particular area. Investors tend be some of the harshest critics. I would like to be part of the discussion with them to convey the real story and learn what they are thinking.

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