Every month, I write a column for the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly focused on a different social media topic. This month, I shared a few tips for responding to the critics you’ll inevitably encounter via social media.
Let’s imagine you’re the key decision maker for a venture that’s been, from its very start, the subject of serious criticism. While you’d like to believe much of what’s being said is unfounded, some of the arguments being made against you are hard to refute and the problem isn’t going away.
One day, a respected blogger in your field with a national audience takes a shot at you, echoing some of the more biting comments made by others over the past few months. How would you respond?
A. Ignore it. After all, if you’re confident that your work has value, why expend energy on anything other than proving your critics wrong in the long run?
B. Create a constructive diversion. Create content of your own and focus on what makes your organization special, thereby giving your story a chance to be heard.
C. Attack. Confront the blogger directly with a response that denies the validity of everything he and others are saying (even the stuff that, if you’re being honest with yourself, has some merit).
Most of you probably picked A or B. After all, when the options are laid out as clearly as they are above, it’s a little easier to make the right decision. However, in the real world, when the choices are often clouded by pride, emotion and the ready availability of a “submit” button, it may be much harder to make the right decision for the long haul.
The scenario described above, in fact, isn’t fiction. While the names have been omitted to protect the not-so innocent, it’s drawn from the example of a leader of a local organization that has made the mistake of going on the attack not just once, but multiple times. Have others made the same mistake? Undoubtedly.
Nevertheless, has this person done irreparable harm to his organization? Without question. Firing off a heated response almost always results in a rebuttal from your critics and clicks and comments from the audience, which, in turn, makes it more likely those posts will rank high with the search engines — which, in turn, means more people, including your customers and prospects, will see it.
So how should you, as a leader in your organization, respond when a few arrows are shot your way? Here are a few tips:
1. Assess the size of the critic’s audience. There’s a phenomenon called the “Streisand effect,” wherein individuals and organizations call more attention to things they wish were kept quiet. If you make up half your critic’s audience, it may be best to do nothing.
2. Don’t take it personally. Easier said than done for sure, but still worth doing. Often, even when you think it’s about you, it’s not about you.
3. Think before responding. Take a deep breath, walk around the block or call a friend, but by all means, don’t act on your initial instinct.
4. Be objective and try to understand intent. It’s possible that some of the claims being made are legitimate — but you’ll only see that if you put yourself in the other person’s shoes. It’s also worth asking what is motivating your critics. It may be that they just want to provoke you, but don’t rush to that conclusion. It is equally as likely that they want to help you solve a real problem.
5. Make sure there’s more than one side to the argument. It’s bad enough when you have to read content that criticizes your organization, worse still when the world reads it. The best way to make the latter less likely is to have a sustainable strategy for creating content of your own. Doing so as a reaction to negative content won’t help as much as getting started now. The more good content you create, the less likely the bad stuff is to rise to the top of search engine results.
One more thing: There may be times when it is appropriate to engage your critics. However, first determine whether they are rational and treat virtual detractors like you would in the real world. If they swear and threaten bodily harm, they should be “thrown out” and not dealt with.
However, if they are reasonable in their approach, it may be worth having a conversation somewhere other than online or in a way that can be shared without your consent. (Don’t, that is, make the mistake of sending a “private” email message. It may not stay private for long.) Pick up the phone if possible — or better yet, meet in person — and seek common ground. Humans respond best to other human voices. It’s easy to criticize someone when you’re hiding beyond a keyboard, and easier still when your target stays in hiding, too.