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Think before you tweet…and after: lessons on online reputation management and PR gone wrong

by Anastasia on August 8, 2010

Social media can be deceptively transient.  With 65 million tweets per day, information flows quickly.  That is until you make a mistake.  If you are quick and lucky, you can hit the delete button before too many people see and share your blunder.  In the worst case scenario, you recognize that you said something stupid when you hear your own echo reverberating down the long Twitter tunnel and you see your reputation on a train speeding down that tunnel after the breaks failed.

An illustration in point is what happened yesterday when the twitter account of Evan Lysacek, the 2010 Olympic gold medalist in men’s figure skating, showed an offensive tweet in response to a rude question targeting his rival Olympian Johnny Weir.  You can read about the incident and the chain of events in the blog post “Olympic gold medalist shows his true colors.” It created ripples over the social media, fans’ communities and blogs.

This type of engagement can turn into community managers’ worst nightmare.  It happens not only to public figures with corporate sponsorships on the line.  Businesses can face reputation threats from their employees, negative reviews, and their own poor responses to sensitive situations.  It’s a good idea to think about your Internet reputation management strategy in advance to avert disasters, or at least, to minimize the damage once they happen.  So, what lessons on managing online reputation can we all learn from this unfortunate incident?

  • First, monitor your reputation online.  There will be no awkward silence, sheepish smiles, gasps, or puzzled looks to give you a clue that there is a communication breakdown.  If you don’t monitor what you say and what is being said about you online, things can escalate fast and cause much damage before you get a chance to notice and respond, which brings me to my next point…
  • Assess the situation, contact your PR people or trusted advisors, work out a plan and act swiftly.  In any crisis communication, time is of essence.  The longer you wait to take responsibility, apologize and make amends, the less trustworthy you appear.
  • Take responsibility for what you and your representatives say online.  Words matter.  What you do with the words matters. How you act after all is said matters.
  • Your reputation is about perceptions, not intentions.  People may never know what was intended behind the questionable remarks, but they will trust their own perceptions and will make decisions based on those perceptions.
  • Don’t pretend that nothing happened. Don’t try to deflect attention to something else.  Don’t tweet uncontrollably trying to bury the offending information with lighthearted humor.  Tweet-ease is no Febreze, it doesn’t eliminate odors from what was done.
  • Don’t shift the blame, deny your involvement, or state that somebody or something hacked your account or your brain unless that’s really true. And even if somebody did, in fact, hack your account, it is still a good idea to apologize for the inconvenience and confusion and promptly remedy the problem.
  • It is often appropriate to delete the offensive remarks, but don’t try to create an impression that they never existed.  That’s like tampering with evidence.  And someone who knows how to capture computer screens will have that online evidence.
  • Apologize directly to the party affected by the comments and to the public.  Seal your apology with consistent actions to resolve the situation.
  • Demonstrate restraint and competency in dealing with hot button issues where almost any position taken is sure to please one group of people and offend another.  Shouting matches don’t aid in conflict resolution.  In the above story, Johnny Weir showed confidence and wisdom by choosing not to fuel the fight.  What do you do if you are a business dealing with rude negative reviews, for example?  You still have to be professional and use good tone.
  • Understand that when you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.  Provocations can ignite multiple arguments over the Internet.  It becomes up to the moderators of those forums to ensure the safety of expression.  This brings me to trolls.
  • According to Wikipedia, in Internet slang, “a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into a desired emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”  The best strategy to deal with trolls is to ignore them.  Their goal is to test your emotional control center, your brain’s limbic system, because theirs isn’t doing the job.  Just like bullies, they are likely to have negative attitudes and beliefs about themselves and others and have trouble with social interaction and social problem-solving skills.  Don’t give them any of your attention and don’t even think about responding to or sharing their rants with others.  Block them, delete their comments, unfriend them.  Your attention is the most precious asset in our fast-paced world.  Give it to those who value and appreciate it.
  • I will conclude with this familiar suggestion:  treat others online like you would like to be treated.

Have you ever had to deal with online conflicts?  What worked and what didn’t?



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