A Viral Angry Mob Was Not the Kind of Viral You Were Hoping For

Scout+ Customer Service Outsourcing

by Jennifer Williams

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.

Jennifer Williams is a Marketing Behaviorist at Verilliance.com, building lean marketing strategies based on consumer and decision science.

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