Previously, I talked about preventing social media posts from negatively affecting you. The truth, however, is that often people only know the true cost when they get caught unaware on social media.
It may have been a personal comment, an innocent post, a politically-charged thought leadership piece, a thesis on a contentious subject, a rally, support for a friend in trouble or something that was said back when you were in high school and hardly thought about 30 years down the road. Whatever the initial motivation, your comments are there for anyone to use against you.
How do you survive a backlash when your comments appear online for all the wrong reasons?
Here are some steps you can take:
- Don’t panic
It shows if you do. If you become defensive or take offense personally, it will appear as such online. Also, your replies may be taken out of context (again!) and you will only be fueling the fire. Keep in mind that for every comment, there are a hundred passive readers who are making decisions about the discussion without ever replying. Your defensive behavior will only make it seem like the offensive post is based on some strand of truth.
- Stop the bleeding
This does not mean you should not defend yourself at all. You need to get more positive comments to drown out the negativity. So get your friends, family members and even your PR team to post more positive articles, drive third-party comments, etc. The idea is to get the negative comments onto the next page of search engine results, not the front one. This isolates the problem to only those who know about it, and reduces the number of new doubters who may stumble upon it.
- Go legal
Know your rights and legal options. But that does not mean you have to react immediately. Muffling the media or naysayers was easier in an offline world. In an online world, it is far more difficult, and may even get the naysayers to take other more damaging measures (such as moving the information to overseas servers) or even highlight that they are being pursued because they were right. So tread carefully with your legal maneuvers, but in the end, it is advice you need to consider.
- Take control
If the post is taken out of context, promote the entire conversation. If it is the whole truth, say that it was part of a private conversation. In all of this, you are reframing the discussion where you have some control over the narrative. You are also forcing people to engage you on your terms, which will often lead to many preferring to stay out of the fray. More importantly, you are creating a seed of doubt over a doubt.
- Honesty is a weapon
In all your replies and engagement, use truths and facts. People tend to make judgement calls on what they read on online. It may all be conjecture, but the seed of doubt is planted. So your next engagement should highlight your sincerity to be honest. That means backing up with full conversation, highlighting facts, references, etc.
- Get viral
If the damage is severe, start a viral campaign that shows how good you are or how good your company is. Feed positive comments from customers or employees into the campaign. The aim is to show that you or your company are above petty remarks.
- Do good.
If there is ever a time to start a CSR campaign or charity drive, now is it. People need to see that you or your company are contributors to the society, not pariahs. It will get some to doubt the original accusations or move past the incriminations. It will also help you legally, if it ever comes to that.
Admittedly, each social media issue needs to be assessed and tackled separately. But it is good to keep the above steps in mind when the unthinkable happens.