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Dealing with negative word of mouth

I wrote the following column for New Communications
, a publication of the very
interesting Society for New Communications Research. Special thanks to their chief Jennifer
for the opportunity. 

(Read the original post here.)

Dealing with Detractors: Responding to Negative Word of

By Andy Sernovitz
Author, Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get
People Talking

What do you do when you’re attacked by a blogger? How do you
respond to unfair criticism in a message board?

What you can do is tell your story. Jump in, join the
conversation, and be a part of it.

You can make sure that the conversation ends on a
positive note, that your views are heard, and that you’re part of the

Working with bloggers is hard for many PR-trained
executives because of the inherent lack of control over the situation. It’s
about learning to respond and participate instead of plant and initiate. It’s
no longer about managing what other people say, but letting your own words
speak for themselves. And it’s about earning respect (but not necessarily
agreement) from bloggers by showing you know how to participate the right way.


Six steps to dealing with blog criticism:

1. Be human. It’s easy to attack a faceless corporation.
It’s hard to attack a person you know by name. As soon as you comment on a
negative post – with your real name – much of the meanness will go out of the
conversation. Dell has proven this time and again. It’s easy to rant about
Dell, it’s hard to be nasty with Lionel, Andrew, or Geoff reply. (They are nice
guys – watch this:

2. Participate. Nothing earns more credibility with
bloggers than a company that is part of the blog community. Blog. Comment.
Converse. Don’t be a stranger. It’s too late if you aren’t already blogging
when a negative attack happens. You can’t earn respect after you need it …
you need to earn it up front, and build a storehouse of good will.

3. Show that you are listening. Many bloggers are
(pleasantly) shocked when they find out that a company is actually reading what
they write. Post a note when you read something you like. Post replies and
comments when you see unfair criticism. Post an offer of help when you hear a
complaint. Always identify your affiliation with your company, and offer to
solve any problems. In many, many cases, this is the most important thing you
can do.

4. Convert critics when you can. You can’t make all
people happy all time, but you sure can try. Work your butt off to find ways to
make people happy. You should be doing this for all customers, but you should
work extra hard to help bloggers. There is a double payoff here: First, you’ll
have the story of a happy resolution as the most recent post on the blogs.
Second, much research shows that converted critics are the most enthusiastic

5. Write for the record. In the end, don’t expect to win
every point in every blog debate. It’s not possible. What you can do, however,
is tell your side of the story. Post comments or entries in your own blog for
posterity. Remember the permanent record, and write what you want history to
see. Future readers are smart – they’ll understand your views, they’ll
interpret the attack in context, and they’ll appreciate your willingness to
engage. (Don’t forget – some people are just plain crazy. If you see it, so
will other readers.)

6. Move on. Once you’ve made a genuine attempt to resolve
a problem, and after you’ve told your side of the story, it’s time to let it
go. You’ve done all you can, and anything else will just drive more traffic to
the negative post. Try to resist the temptation to get drawn into a fight. As
they say "Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel."
You can’t win a fight on someone else’s blog – they will always get the last


The Bottom Line 

If you want a good rep in the blogosphere, you need to be
good. Genuinely good.

Your reputation is the amount of respect you earn, less
the number of people you annoy. So choose to earn respect.

In the end, it’s much more fun to go to work each day at
a respected company that is honest, fun, and treats people well. You might as
well work to make that happen.

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