How does a PR pro remain "social" in the midst of "fan" anger directed at a client?
While thumbing through my Instagram feed last night, I noted a celebrity post with several thousand comments and stopped to read what her adoring fans had to say. "Nice old lady feet." "Eat something." "Too thin. Makes your head look fat."
That doesn't read much like a "fan" feed, does it? Call it freedom of speech but the anonymity of social media has created a generation of people that thrive on exuding hate. They're part of a generation of social users being called a "hateration."
We advise clients that all companies, brands and personalities will likely, at some point, be the target of hate. The best of social strategies can't successfully avoid their sad goals of spreading anger. Hateful comments typically aren't a reflection of a true fault of the brand. These people spend their days, like bullies on a digital playground, looking to pick a fight.
So we know they exist. When looking to inspire and are faced with a social heckler, what do we do?
1. Don't lose sleep
Don't worry much about the power a hater might have. Your fans have seen their kind before. Chances are you've worked hard to inspire your fan base and your track record will speak louder than @ieattoomuchsugar8637.
2. Enlist neighborhood watch
Consider posting community guidelines, typically placed within the 'notes' tab on Facebook that outlines what you will and won't put up with. Empower your fans to help moderate and call out offenders. Remind fans of the rules regularly and reference them when calling out violators.
3. Evaluate the offense
Rants over not having won a free pen vs. personal attacks or racist comments should have very different consequences. True hatred has a damaging impact on the very culture you've worked hard to build. In these cases, without hesitation, block the offender. For simple hostility, see step 4.
4. Step outside
A feed equivalent of a shouting match fixes nothing. Make every effort to move the exchange offline. Offer solutions, visible to your community, in the form of a customer service phone number or a contact email. With the spotlight off the anger, your page can again be peaceful while you work offline to extinguish this person's flames.
5. Keep your cool
Digital's fingerprint is eternal. Do not take part in unprofessional banter. Keeping one's cool offers more than taking the high road, it keeps you in control. Most haters feed off what they perceive as success. Starving them of that reward will send them elsewhere for their hate nourishment.
6. Record and smile
The hater has departed and you let out a much deserved exhale. Remember that every moment offers a lesson and record the exchange for team members, even other departments, to learn from. These real life examples offer great learnings and a playbook on best practices for future run-ins.
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Katherine O'Hara is president of The O'Hara Project, a marketing, public relations and social media firm based in Morristown, New Jersey.