OK, so JPMorgan decides to do a Q&A on Twitter. The problem with that? is that there is some anger out there towards this company. Hostility. And sure enough, they found this out the hard way.
The public was invited to post questions for a company executive to answer. You can see some of the responses. My favorite is “How do you get blood from a clown suit?” and “What’s it like not having a soul?”
Ok, so whether or not you agree with the people who posted responses, this is an important example to look at of how using social media can backfire. And to be honest, it’s the biggest reason I think a lot of small to medium sized businesses are afraid to enter the arena.
When someone heckles you online with social media, how do you handle it? As an individual you can block and report the person. As a company, you can’t really do that. So how can you avoid nightmares like this one?
Use the Right Platform
This campaign by JP Morgan was not very well-conceived. It should have been planned for a different venue, with a limited roundtable panel discussion perhaps that then could be uploaded to YouTube or sent out via email. Twitter-ers are motivated to get retweets and funny smart-aleck comments will most certainly get retweeted. If you’re a political candidate these days you’ve no doubt been the butt of many acid comments. It’s completely open and transparent and therefore, not exactly the best place to do a professional Q&A. LinkedIn or Google+ would be far more appropriate. The very best place to do such an event would be on a blog, where comments and responses can be moderated.
Have a Plan to Handle Hecklers
Not everyone is going to inspire the wrath of the public like a political candidate will, but should you run into a heckler online, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place to handle it. Address issues directly with the person(s) in private and try to resolve them. Make transparent what you are doing. If you’re wrong, say so. There are plenty of jerks out there in cyberspace and you won’t win them over. Hopefully you don’t want to. Great companies handle their failures well, by being honest and apologizing. Doing all they can to make amends. Just like a person. And just like a person, when falsely accused, they present facts to refute them and don’t allow themselves to be shouted down. They recognize when someone has a genuine problem with them and when someone is just trying to be hateful. There is a difference. They make changes.
In the context of JP Morgan, it would have been enough to state that the Q&A was canceled. The rest of the tweet gives their critics fodder and empowers them. “Bad Idea, back to the drawing board” should never have been part of the tweet. How would I have handled that nightmare? I would have had a leaderboard made for best tweets and sent it to Dave Letterman. I would have encouraged JPMorgan to be human, joined in and awarded points on best zinger. I would have laughed with them on the more gently sarcastic of the tweets while ignoring the vitriol. And I also would have made sure a sincere letter to the public, addressing any major issues got posted asap. I would have found serious questions and answered them as openly and honestly as possible.
When I first started blogging, I got an ebook from Hubspot that stated that Design didn’t matter so much. They were talking about blogs and to be fair, they were right in saying that people tend to focus more on design when they should be focused on content. But I thought they took it too far and I wrote a blog stating that. I told why.
A VP of Hubspot and several of their employees responded almost immediately. We had a good discussion and, where I was previously somewhat turned off by them, by the time it was over I was left with a good feeling.
I also learned a lesson about the power of my own little voice.
Now I was a little independent blogger, not a huge voice, but This company took the time to listen and respond. They didn’t dismiss what I had to say. I still recommend their services and writing to people to this day. They totally turned the experience into a win. You can turn criticism into a win too. It doesn’t have to be a loss. Someone who is talking about you is thinking about you. Isn’t that why you spend the big bucks on advertising?
Learn from your Mistakes
Make changes where needed. Our company, Red Toad Media, made some missteps this year (like every year but this year was particularly teachable!) and we’re working toward making changes so those errors aren’t EVER repeated. Working toward making amends. Learning the hard way is really painful but the lessons are those those you do not forget. If you avoid social media because of fear of what might be said, it might be time to look at what changes you need to make in your business. By making changes before you go into the public eye, you have answers for those who are there to criticize. You’re ready.
If you are going to venture into a public arena to get feedback, make sure you’re ready for angry lions. Some of those lions have legitimate problems with you and you need to listen to what they have to say and adjust. Some of them are just peoople who are jumping on a bandwagon and really don’t care. They have fun being witty at others expense. Some of them are hateful and damaging not because of a legitimate reason but because they deal with life’s frustrations by venting from the safety of their couch, in anonymity. Such trolls can be dismissed.
Don’t be Afraid to Get out There
It’s important that whatever you do with the feedback you receive out there on the world wide web, you listen, use it and respond. The world is changing and authenticity is the hallmark of good branding these days. Don’t let the risks involved in negative responses keep you from venturing forth. Who knows, you might hear something you really need to hear and it could spark changes in your business that are needed in order to survive.
Choose your venue with care, choose your distribution method with care, listen to your detractors, be authentic and change when it’s warranted. Social Media going wrong doesn’t have to be a disaster. It can be a catalyst for improvement and an opportunity to make positive changes where arguably there is already a problem. You won’t know till you try it. And ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.
What do you think? How do you think you should handle social media hecklers and deal with open criticism online?