Is fear of criticism holding you back?

By far the biggest barrier I’ve seen to adopting smart social media strategies, among both clients and agency people, is fear.

The specific fear is a loss of brand control by opening oneself up to criticism. Everyone is a critic these days, and they all have equal access to whatever you put out there on public social media fora.

My question is always the same: so what? Perhaps I’ve just grown a thick skin by spending a lot of time on the internet, but the fact is that ignorant, anonymous criticism doesn’t matter. On the other hand, fair criticism can be a brand’s best friend. They key is to be able to tell the difference.

The first thing you need to do is develop a good troll sense.

Troll: (Wikipedia): In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into a desired emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

Trolls are a fact of life online, whether they are there to make themselves feel self-important by sounding off, or just enjoy getting a response. Ignore them, and they will go away. Delete them if they are rude. Or just let your community shoot them down.

The next thing you need to do is decide if the critic has a reasonable point, or whether you believe they are misinformed.

In the latter case, you can simply correct the misconception in a calm and confident way. This is where social media really pay off. In the old days, people would just write you angry letters — or if they were really angry, perhaps a letter to the editor of the local paper. Those were small customer service and PR headaches that were usually quite manageable.

But when the angry complaint appears on your social media property, you end up hosting that person’s criticism for all the world to see. Disastrous, right? Wrong! Because while you once had to deal with these critics on a case-by-case basis, now you have the opportunity address all like-minded people with your position and proof. If you do it right, even those who did not share the complaint will feel better about your brand because you have proven that you are open and collaborative. Plus, you may preempt similar criticism by addressing other people’s criticisms before they have time to post. (Just don’t be defensive or angry, or you risk alienating even your fans.)

When the critic has a valid point, you have the biggest challenge — and opportunity — of all. Are you up for it?

Think about the money that is spent on focus groups, opinion polls, and all those other measurement tools. They are still necessary and important, but now you have another way to keep in touch with your audience, and it’s happening in real time.

If you made a mistake, you can admit it, and explain what you are doing to fix it. If you did something that unintentionally caused hurt or offence, then apologize but confidently explain your original intention. If you are being offered an insight or point of view that you were simply unaware of, thank them and explain how you will act on it. Whatever the case, you are able to make adjustments to your marketing and/or community outreach that reflect the real perceptions of your audience. And they gave it to you for free. (You don’t even have to give them focus group sandwiches!)

These are all pretty basic and intuitive crisis management strategies to some people, but surprisingly few organizations are investing in that kind of training or resources for their social media outreach. So they either shy away from the unknown perils of social media, or end up doing it wrong. And they miss some of the most important marketing opportunities available today.

Embrace criticism. Be calm, confident and open-minded. And leave the fear to your competitors.


[Image via Psychologies]

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