Monday, November 2, 2009

Hazards of Social Media, Part 1: The Anti-Guy

Clearly, I am a huge advocate of Social Media for research, for communication, for promotion and for fun. I have built a global organization through Social Media platforms (long before Facebook and Twitter) and have administrated, moderated and owned dozens of online communities in one form or another.

I don't want to say "I've seen it all," but I have seen a lot. And so, while I unabashedly support and promote Social Media as the way to go for any business, I think that it is important to talk about the darker side of the Social Media equation:

Using Social Media means you're in the public eye.

This can lead to complications, for both business and individuals. There any number of ways you can damage your business with Social Media - from mixing business and pleasure to being rude to anyone for any reason anywhere.

This post is going to look at one of the downsides to Social Media, something I call the "Anti-Guy." In a companion post this week, we'll be getting some feedback from Christine Pilch of Grow My Company on another key piece of Social Media risk - reputation management.

Let's start at the Beginning. You have a product or service. You build a website to promote it. Maybe you start to blog, or build a Facebook or MySpace page, or Twitter about it. Maybe you wander the smaller spaces of the Internet, the forums and discussion boards, the mailing lists. In every case, you are out there promoting your product, your service...yourself.

One day, you get a *very* angry response/comment/email from someone who is *very* angry with you. This person may be angry at an opinion you posted, or with a detail of your service or product. You reply as mollifyingly as you can, without selling yourself out. And suddenly...the deluge starts. This person is not satisfied. You *upset* them. A *lot*. Any justification on your part just makes them angrier. And any offer to resend/fix/change the service or product is met with increasing mania.

It doesn't stop there. That person not only fills your blog comments or email box with righteous indignation, but hunts you down on any public platform you post on. Worse, s/he maligns you in spaces you don't have any presence in. You have just met the Anti-Guy.

What do you do to counter the Anti-Guy?

Obviously, at first you must calmly reply. Offer a reasonable refund or replacement - or even an apology. Be real, be upfront, be honest. Then stop.

If the Anti-Guy is typical, this will not be enough. S/he is not just angry now - you've made an enemy for life. The Anti-Guy has seemingly limitless time and energy. The fire of righteousness drives them to rant endlessly on what you said or did or didn't say or didn't do. And it seems like it will never stop.

Do NOT reply to the Anti-Guy. Everything you say will be misconstrued or parsed for insult or other delusional behavior. All you will be doing at this point is to feed the fire.

If you have a good reputation, people will come to your defense. Sadly, this will not actually help, as the Anti-Guy is now lost in a maze of cognitive dissonance. S/he will actually convince themselves that you acted (did not act) out of malice towards *them* and will often, at this point, insult you personally. You can't change that. There is only one thing you can do.

Don't listen to it.

Don't follow the forum, read the opinion letter in the newspaper or let your friends tell you the story of the online rant. It won't provide you with any constructive criticism and you'll lose confidence in yourself and your business. Work to your strengths for a while and solicit positive - and loud - feedback from satisfied customers. After a while the good will drown out the bad.

That positive, calm, reasonable reply will stand as *your* response to what will become an increasingly unstable rant. People will look at it and think, "I don't get the problem - you offered a refund...what's this person complaining about?"

And then the Anti-Guy will move on. S/he will, because it's not fun to play with boring toys. And by then you will have long moved on and not even noticed whether the Anti-Guy was still around.

The ironic thing about the Anti-Guy is that his/her outrage will have provided you with a lot of publicity. And sure, some of those people came to your site ready to be angry, but if you really do your best to engage and communicate, more than a few of them will become your allies.

Keep your cool, stand your ground, then turn away and let the Anti-Guy beat his/her head on a wall of their own making. You've got way more important stuff to do than dealing with the Anti-Guy.
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