Social media platforms open a wide door, allowing you to reach new audiences with new types of messages. But that door opens both ways, leaving you vulnerable to criticism, slanderous comments, or downright insults designed to either trash your business or start a social media war.
Twitter has been especially notorious for its capacity to damage a company or individual’s reputation. One perfectly worded tweet could go viral and either dramatically improve your reputation or damage your public standing; some insulting tweets have cost individuals millions of dollars in fees. So what happens if someone posts something terrible about you or your company and it starts getting serious attention?
Negative content is almost inevitable when managing a social media campaign, but the way you respond to it means everything.
The Destructive Potential of Negative Content
Negative content can take a variety of forms. It could be something as simple as an unsatisfied customer complaining about your product or service, or as complex as a broad legal allegation. Many damaging comments go relatively unnoticed; the opinions of a person based on a single bad experience tend not to attract much attention. But when a comment or idea strikes a resonance in the hearts of a group or organization, it can spread like wildfire.
The more people who see the negative content, the more destructive it will be. New publications and videos sprout and spread all over the web, while even small comments can start a trend of negative feedback and spiral into a dramatically harmed reputation.
How To Know When You’re Being Talked About
Sometimes you may come under attack and not even know about it. Luckily, Google offers a free tool called Google Alerts that can help you monitor the web for mentions of your brand. The tool tracks everything from blog comments to forum posts and will allow you to see almost instantly where and when your brand is being talked about online.
The downside to Google Alerts is that it only works on pages of the Internet that are indexable by Google. Without getting too technical, here are some examples of pages that are not indexable by Google:
- Any content that requires a login to see (Google can’t log in)
- Some content on Facebook
- Words in an image file
- Content blocked by a website’s <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”> tag
- Some content blocked by a website’s robots.txt file
Effective Response: Why Scrambling Isn’t Effective
Companies facing a wave of negative content might feel a sense of urgency to remove or eliminate all instances of negativity. After all, that negativity could spread and cause damage to your brand. But scrambling around in an effort to silence your critics on the web is not an effective strategy. Instead, it tends to make the situation worse.
Take the example of Greenpeace and their social media war with food company Nestle:
Greenpeace started with allegations of deforestation and environmental damage in the form of a video, attempting to spread information about Nestle’s perceived corporate irresponsibility. Nestle made efforts to delete and censor instances of the video around the Internet, prompting the organization to flood Nestle’s Facebook team. Nestle responded in a panic by deleting and removing as many comments as possible.
Some companies, such as Apple, have even implemented a strict policy in an attempt to prevent negative feedback from ever appearing. Apple has been known to delete posts on its forums that negatively showcase its products.
In a more recent example, Applebees endured a social media meltdown in early February, during which thousands of unhappy users took to their Facebook timeline, only to have their comments later deleted by Applebees. As seen in a small sample below, this only fueled the users’ rage.
Trying desperately to remove all negative mentions of your company on the web is simply ineffective, and will likely only incite more anger and hostility. It is better to allow the negative comments to exist, and respond to them with counter-evidence, humor, or simple acceptance of responsibility.
Anticipation and Acknowledgement
Rather than simply reacting to situations as they arise, the best way to manage negativity on the web is to prevent it from happening. Take the world of social media seriously, and pay attention to what’s going on with it. If there’s something negative about your company that social media followers could take advantage of, be proactive and admit to it. Make light of it or simply circulate the factual information so nobody can surprise you later.
Never try to delete, censor, avoid, or otherwise hide the content from other users. Negative content is like a wildfire and avoidance will only make more people want to spread it. Instead, you have to let it burn out. Rebut the claims if you need to, or accept responsibility if you can’t. This will prevent the message from spreading further. Instead circulate the truth, and you will gain more respect for your company.
The Bottom Line
Negative content is a reality of the social media world, but dealing with it proactively and calmly is far superior than trying to eliminate it. Responding to negative content with censorship or aggression will only bring more negativity to your company. The better way to respond is with acknowledgement and honesty, and maybe a twist of humor if your brand allows it. This will preserve your reputation and weaken even your angriest critics.