I often get asked by clients and the non-profits I volunteer for… “What if we put ourselves out there and someone says something bad about us.” My feedback is always that people are going to talk about you… you can’t control that… that is the nature of the Internet and where it has evolved to. What you can (and in my opinion MUST) do is to build your network before you need it. Launching a blog or a twitter account in response to a crisis is to late… totally and completely too late. Putting in the time, the effort, and the risk up front to connect with people and then connect them in a web of support that will in turn support you, if and when you ever need it – is WORTH IT.
Yesterday, I saw a perfect example of this unfold throughout the afternoon. While taking a quick peek in on the Twitter traffic in between tasks I caught a post by Elise Bauer of @simplyrecipes:
I was intrigued… maybe it was the mention of a company my grandfather gave 40 years to… more than likely it was just seeing a tweet by simplyrecipes. SimplyRecipes.com is actually the first blog I ever added to Google Reader 4 years ago… it was the first blog I actually followed… it was the recipe site that wooed me away from a very passionate addiction to allrecipes.com. I don’t see Elise tweet often… so when I see one in the stream I pay attention and this one had really sparked my curiosity. I quickly scanned and saw a follow up post:
Well, what was this I wondered… and skipped on over to check out the link… and found this title: How SimplyRecipes and Elise Bauer is Like Monsanto (Did ya catch that? Yes, Elise linked me to an article that was attacking her… I didn’t have to go find it – she sent me to it.) In the post on a third party blog (FocusOrganic.com) Mike Lieberman shares that he has a blog called SimpleRawRecipes.com – and has received notification that he is infringing on the SimplyRecipe trademark… long story short… Mike is not too happy about this and is voicing his opinion about the matter, which he has every right to do.
I read the post, formed my own opinion – a bit biased due to my loyalty and how much I know about domain names and trademark laws – and wondered what the comments looked like. Before Elise posted the link on Twitter the comments where in support of the author. Then, starting shortly after Elise’s tweet – the tone changes, the comments changed in support of Elise… did ya catch that one? That’s right… Elise did not and has not addressed the blog post. In fact, quite beautifully, if you go to SimplyRecipes.com the first post is about hope and ending world hunger – and I doubt that’s some political move – it just so happens to be that’s how SimplyRecipes rolls. Her support network addressed the post for her. And it grew from there… people who like simplyrecipes.com told other people about it and those people left their own comments (speaking from experience on that one.) When I checked the post this morning there were more than 80 comments – split between the 2 sides of the argument. Still, there is content in there in support (sometime passionate support) of SimplyRecipes and Elise. I don’t believe that would have happened to the extent it has if she had not alerted her supporters to the post’s existence.
Because SimplyRecipes has build up a network of supporters by putting out good content, good vibes, and good Karma for the last 5 years – when she needed them – those supporters came out for her.
I don’t know what the outcome of the conflict will be. It is like the wild wild west when it comes to precedent on trademark laws and domain names. And I think that Mike does make a valid point that generally speaking the folks with the money or connections for better lawyers often win – regardless of who is “right”. And it is true that Elise is legally obligated to defend or lose her trademark. Who knows how the cards will shuffle out on this one. What I do know is that from a PR and brand awareness perspective there are a couple of ways this could have gone:
- Elise could have had no social media network and no way of alerting her supporters to the blog post to get them to help her out.
- Elise could have simply ignored the post and hoped for the best – let the comments on the article go unchecked, building in volume with negative content about SimplyRecipes. Letting it eat up Google love for SimplyRecipes.
- Alert the supporters, let them defend her and hopefully outweigh the negative content with positive – and if not, at least mix in positive content that does not generate from SimplyRecipes itself.
The first 2 options leave the negative content out there unchecked and growing – and this is why I think growing your social network NOW is a must.
Here are a couple of tips on how to handle someone saying something bad about you:
- Set up Google Alerts for your name and your organization – so you get an email when someone writes about you online. Knowing is the first and most important step.
- Be transparent, be honest, be graceful, be kind if you can… stick to the data… avoid judgments.
- Address the issue head on… do not stick your head in the sand… it will only make it worse.
- Let your supporters know how you would like them to support you… send them to the post to leave comments -or– write a post on your blog addressing the issue (once again, be transparent, honest, graceful and kind – get help with this if you are so pissed you can’t see straight!)
Remember… people will talk about you. You have no control over that. You can control how the conversation goes. If it is a valid complaint about your product or organization – address it, fix it, and THANK the person who brought it into the light – they just helped you make your product or company better. If it’s just a rant and bad for your brand- call in the people who love you and send them over to help you out.
Most importantly – use Social Media to find and connect the people who love you – help them – before you need them to help you.