Home Open Thread: Dealing With Real-Time Negativity

Open Thread: Dealing With Real-Time Negativity

I’m fresh off a Social Media Week panel with Collecta co-founder Brian Zisk and Stage Two marketing firm founder Jeremy Toeman; we’ve been chatting for the past couple hours on how to deal with the realities of the real-time web.

One of the greatest concerns folks in the audience had is how to deal with negativity – bad-review-type blog posts, angry tweets, disparaging comments, etc. – in an environment that’s instant, viral, noisy and difficult to control. While each of the panelists had their own answers, I’d like to ask our readers: How do you handle being smacked down, called out or criticized in a real-time web environment?

Especially for brands and organizations that rely on community management, online CRM systems and social media marketing, being able to adeptly and quickly filter signals and take appropriate action is key to surviving in the real-time Internet.

But knee-jerk reactions aren’t always the best way to deal with negativity.

Toeman’s comment about the real-time web is interesting and insightful. “Where there’s smoke, there’s sometimes fire,” he said. “And sometimes, it’s just smoke.” Responding to every negative comment can sometimes create a legitimate “fire” in a situation where not responding would allow the (non)event to blow over.

Two fellows in the audience today asked how to deal with negative blog comments, either on one’s own (or one’s company’s) blog or on a third-party site. Since I’ve been spending more time reading our own comment threads – and interacting with readers that way – my immediate response is that one of the best ways to deal with negative comments is to leave them there and let them go without comment. Almost without fail, friends or fans will come to the defense of the product or idea being discussed without the brand or author having to do anything about it. That’s just the nature of community.

We all on the panel seemed to agree that often, learning to ignore unwarranted negativity can be a blessing, but it’s a learned skill that takes time and patience. The virtue of not reacting is one that most of us have had to learn the hard way after being tormented by the big, mean Internet, spinning our wheels and expending our social capital to fight battles we cannot win. Communicating this learned patience to clients and less experienced users is an important part of what true social media experts ought to be doing; in addition to encouraging dialog, we have to let others know that it’s sometimes ok to ignore negativity and remain respectfully silent.

The old adage “don’t feed the trolls” was admirably updated by Zisk, who said, “Don’t feed the trolls, unless you’re feeding them tranquilizers.” He said that often, angry people simply want to be heard and acknowledged; any attempt at self-defense or debate on the part of the brand or post author will simply escalate the negativity.

Another point where the three of us saw eye-to-eye is that age, experience and patience are great virtues, even in a fast-paced, real-time environment. Being able to predict which negative signals will dissolve into the ether and knowing which real issues need to be address, understanding different real-time community’s audiences and attitudes and knowing how to use each channel or platform – these are things that almost no 22-year-old “social media expert” will be able to do.

What’s your take on it? How do you personally deal with snipes, snarks or blatant attacks in real-time media channels? If you represent or advise brands, how do corporate communications change when real-time negative comments enter the conversation? Let us know in the comments.

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