If In Doubt, Don’t (And If You’re Not, Perhaps You Should Be)
I’ve been through a lot recently. I’m not going to describe it in any detail, but at one point, my father gave me some advice that I believe came from his father: if in doubt, don’t.
This magical rule applies almost everywhere, but in this case, as with many things, I’m going to apply it to anyone with any kind of public online persona. It also dovetails nicely with one of my favourite rules in Public Relations — that the best thing you can do in any kind of crisis is shut the hell up.
Say you’re the executive of a company that has released a product with a massive fault. Commenters are in your mentions calling you all kinds of things, telling you you’re a big piece of crap, that you sell crap, and, indeed, that you may even eat crap.
Executives in this situation tend to engage one of two tactics:
- Concern. I don’t want my users to be angry at me! As a result, I will personally address each and every one of their problems personally. I want the world to believe that I personally care about my products and services, and they will really appreciate me involving myself in the conversation.
- Anger. How dare they respond in such a way — of course I didn’t want this to happen! This is so deeply unfair, and I will personally see to it that these people — who I believe are saying these things because of a lack of knowledge — will immediately back off when they see I’m acting honestly, and show me some respect.
In both of these cases, the executive in question is making a lot of assumptions about the people they’re talking to, as well as assuming that they’re either A) acting in good faith or B) so utterly stupid that the sheer force of logic will crush them into submission.
The reality is that someone who is pissed off with your product or service or something you’ve done will not be placated with words. You cannot explain away a problem without a solution, and if you’re responding to commenters on Twitter, I imagine you do not actually have a solution at hand. An explanation may be necessary, but taking the micro approach and explaining to each and every person is extremely bad.
Why? Because every person that you meet in the world is their own unique, beautiful angel. They are their own special creature, made up of their own biases and unique problems they may be facing as a result of your company’s mistake. Each…