Back in 2014, Smucker’s handling of Social Media moderation made some headlines, and enraged some of their customers and followers.
The short story is that Smucker’s, following its own Social Media guidelines attempted to silence dissenting comments about Smucker’s GMO labeling policies by simply removing any question or criticism shared in comments on their Facebook page.
This quickly escalated into a backlash. People refused to be silenced (as people will do) and stepped up efforts to get their comments and feedback seen, as well as calling for a boycott of the company.
Smucker’s survived, of course, but could the mess have been avoided, or even been turned into a positive?
Social Media Moderation is About Opportunity as Much as Damage Control
Often companies take a crisis avoidance approach to Social Media policies that allow little room for on-the-fly assessment of opportunity. Here is a section of Smucker’s Community Guidelines from their Facebook page:
Respectful: We embrace the power of each individual. We look for a diverse collection of thoughts, ideas, and opinions, all with a sense of humor and good will. Content that includes discrimination, political commentary, cultural insensitivity, or defamation has no place here.
Looks good, right? Seems as though Smucker’s is seeking to create a safe, fun space for their fans that looks something like this.
That’s a noble effort, but that little bit about “political commentary” could be conveniently, and arguably, incorrectly used to try to silence dissenters of the brand, resulting in the escalation and backlash we witnessed a year ago.
It’s also likely included in the guidelines as an avoidance strategy. Avoidance isn’t necessarily a bad strategy, but it can create a rigid stance that instigates, rather than avoids, the very type of escalation the policy hoped to avert.
When Guidelines Don’t Prevent Escalation, Be Ready to Pivot
Rules and guidelines don’t always protect a brand from negative escalation.
Responding to escalation is tricky business, but not impossible with the right people at the helm of your Social Media management. Clear policies and regular moderation are an excellent foundation, but empowered people with high social intelligence on the frontlines of response are key.
In Smucker’s case, this was a particularly nasty predicament as they were on the wrong side of GMO policies according to some of their customers and/or detractors – an issue that inspires activist passion and for many reasons may not be easily remedied. The debate about GMO labeling notwithstanding, sometimes your company isn’t going to agree with, or be able to meet customer or the public’s demands. At least not right away. What then?
Showing that you’re listening is often enough in the moment. Simply responding with, “Thank you for bringing this up. Can you tell us more about why this is an important issue to you?” is going to have an immediate effect of calming a situation, giving the company time to assess how they can and want to make changes.
Reminding the community of policies rather than just implementing them silently helps you not look like a jerk. Attempting to silence people without explanation makes them angry. Combining the response above with a gentle reminder of community guidelines will help fans feel comfortable with the moderation. In cases of passionate topics, polite reminders are not enough, so creating space and opportunity for their voice elsewhere is an important step in the process.
Intelligent synthesis between moderation and response requires real-time observation and assessment to determine the right response given the context of the situation. In other words, be ready to pivot rather than blindly follow policies that cannot prevent every potential escalation and blocks opportunity.
Of course, it goes without saying, that all of the above works best when backed by authenticity.
Photo credit: Smucker’s Facebook Page
Last week the news around the social media water cooler was that Kelly Blazek had been nasty to someone via email, then the recipient of that email posted it to Reddit, and the rest is sad history involving an angry Internet mob with virtual pitchforks.
The lesson seems obvious, “don’t treat people badly, there’s an Internet out there”. Of course, not being a jerk is a generally good rule of thumb for life, regardless.
Still, even if it seems a lack of common sense and common decency brought down Blazek, this kind of rabid, online take-down keeps some businesses up at night. “What if…what if there’s a misstep and we can’t control it?”
You’re right to be worried. We’re not going to lie. You can be a darling one day, and the most hated personality/business/organization the next. With one misplaced word, one wrong joke, one rogue employee, one bad day, one loss of temper.
It doesn’t take much to whip up an angry Internet mob.
If that doesn’t make you tremble in your Facebook-inspired boots, we don’t know what will.
Ok, hold on. Lean in here so we can give you a few hints to ease your mind and help you avoid being on the receiving end of an Internet smack-down.
1. Don’t be a hypocrite – the truth is, Blazek’s error was not that she was a jerk to someone; it was that she acted hypocritically. Online she presented herself as a humble, “just here to help” kind of person. In the offending email she acted arrogant, dismissive, rude, unkind, and certainly not helpful. No one likes hypocrisy. In fact, people really hate hypocrisy. It’s a form of lying, and it’s a trust-breaker. There are plenty of online personalities who get away with being a jerk because they don’t pretend to be anything else.
2. Never Step on the Underdog – Everyone loves the underdog, so take care not to step on one. If you do, expect the angry mob to rush in to defend and protect. Underdogs are anyone who are earnest and have less power than you.
3. Be careful with the jokes – but not so careful that you have zero sense of humor. If you want to play it safe, stay away from politically incorrect jokes, or generally making a joke at someone else’s expense. Even Ellen Degeneres can’t always get away with her jokes. One safe avenue is to keep your jokes “in-house” – in other words, make fun of yourself.
4. Respond quickly to criticism – the longer someone waits for an apology, the angrier they get. If you get a phone call or email from an unhappy customer/client, respond in a timely manner. If you’re not able to respond within 12 hours, set up an auto-response letting people know how long the expected reply time is. Your first line of defense is to resolve complaints offline. If a customer takes to Social Media with their complaint, you have little time to respond before anger at being “ignored” sets in. Have a system for monitoring in place so you’re ready to respond.
5. Go beyond the apology – If you find yourself having to apologize to someone online, go beyond the apology and into the lesson.
This doesn’t cover every possible scenario, but implementing the above tips will help you avoid some major mishaps in Social Media. One other piece of advice…make sure someone with high emotional intelligence is at the helm of your Social Media.
Photo credit: 1931 Frankenstein movie still
With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and the crunch of year-end deadlines looming, take comfort in the fact that while you’re preoccupied, we’re watching your shop.
This season is a particularly important time to make sure that the online arena for your business is free from cyber bullies or others whose ill-used words could negatively affect your operations. This time of year seems to bring out the trolls – and the grinches – who infiltrate sites with spam and wreak havoc on an otherwise enjoyable online experience.
photo credit: US Library of Congress
Abraham Lincoln has certainly been on our radar these days. A small piece of his presidency is highlighted in the Golden Globe-nominated film Lincoln by director Steven Spielberg, featuring a tour-de-force performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as Honest Abe.
While the film covers the last four months of Lincoln’s presidency as he worked to abolish slavery in 1865, it also depicts Lincoln’s gift for making memorable speeches. The 16th president of the United States was very quotable, to say the least. Many sayings attributed to him still resonate today, including these words he once made famous: “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
Photo credit: Michaela Karle Photography All Rights Reserved
If you’ve been reading the news lately, you know that the cyber bullying controversy is huge – and recently tragic. People from all over the world have heard about the Phoebe Prince case and are extremely concerned and interested in finding a solution.
photo credit: Frontier Scout Calamity Jane – Library of Congress
The internet is the new Frontier, but unlike the Wild West, it is limitless. There are countless people, groups and websites – sure we could count them today, but the number will just be bigger tomorrow. The boundaries don’t lie where we can see them, like where California became the Pacific Ocean. And the boundaries, well, they aren’t really boundaries as technology continues to expand at an accelerated rate.