At one time or another it could happen to all of us. We're attacked online. Whether it's an errant blog post, a misunderstood tweet, or something more serious it's out there and if it's coming up in search, it's always bad news. Unfortunately, with the Internet you are often guilty until proven innocent.
I recently presented a webinar about this topic; in the wake of the Komen disaster, everyone is wondering, "what if this happens to me?" Likely you won't be as visible as Komen, or as viral, but at the same time when you're attacked it all feels the same: bad.
A few years ago someone visiting my website was unhappy with the navigation. Candidly, she was right. It was just before our new site was launched (we were going live with the revised website a week later) and some of the pages ended up in dead links. With an older site this is bound to happen. She was irritated by this and decided to lash out by putting up a YouTube video showing the faulty navigation. She said we were marketing experts and we should know better. In the end, she was right which is why we were redesigning the site. Her complaint, however, should have been brought to us directly and not put up on YouTube. The video was a painful eight minutes long, during which time she blasted us for not knowing our own website, offering a link (and a promise) that went nowhere. It was horrifying. She finally took the video down, and I'll explain in a minute how we got her to do that.
Different types of attacks:
First, it's important to know the difference between an online attack and a difference of opinion. We've worked with authors who have gotten bad reviews and wanted them pulled. A bad review is not an online attack, it's someone's opinion of your product or book. They didn't like it and it's their right to voice that. There have been cases where an author has gotten Amazon to pull a highly negative review but that's for another article.
If the attack is about something you did wrong, make it right, let the person know and move on. We'll cover this more a bit later.
Attacks can show up in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are on Facebook, other times they are on Twitter, LinkedIn, a blog, or on YouTube.
Most of us won't have to worry on a daily basis if we're attacked online. Still, it's never a bad idea to know what's being written about you in general. I recommend getting Google Alerts (www.google.com/alerts), it's free and an easy way to know what's been written about you or even when a review pops up of your business, product, or book. You should get Google Alerts on your name, your URL, and your blog URL -- that way you're covered if someone cites just your URL or your blog and not your name. This happens to us a lot if someone is referencing a blog post on our site.
You've been attacked, what happens now?
- Who is attacking you? First, define who is attacking you because it might not be worth your time to pursue. We had a situation a few years ago where one of my Twitter followers asked me to market him for free (no kidding); when I didn't, he started attacking me on Twitter. We reported him to Twitter and he was shut down, but that's the extent of what we did. Now he continues to start up new Twitter accounts and tries to follow us, but he is always blocked. I didn't spend a ton of time on this because he didn't have a big enough online footprint for it to matter. If you're attacked, determine the extent of their online footprint. If they don't have a significant following they might just want to rattle a cage, or two. Again, if it's something you did wrong, make it right. Otherwise consider someone with no following or a small online footprint (few followers, little or no Page Rank on their blog, no real Facebook presence) to be just a nuisance. Sometimes the Internet, and the anonymity it affords, gives people freedom and power they might have not otherwise had. Know the difference and respond when it matters.
- Keep talking: If you identify the online attack and it's credible, then start talking. Communicate on your blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook. Don't stop talking. That's the first thing many big companies want to do: go silent. Amazon did this several years ago when they made a blunder and more recently, the Komen Foundation did this, too. Silence is not golden. Be communicative. Depending on what the issue is, present your site. If it involves a fix, tell users when the issue will be addressed. If it's a team member that had cyberspace chatting, be clear and specific about what actions will be taken to remedy the situation.
- Watch Hashtags: On Twitter, hashtags have a way of going viral. Such was the case with #Komen and #amazonfail. Be on the lookout for a hashtag and be sure to search Twitter continuously at search.twitter.com. Hashtags can be really detrimental if left unchecked. If there is a hashtag around this issue, be sure to follow it and respond to any and all appropriate tweets.
- Communicate with them, directly: In the case of the gal who put the video up on YouTube, I opted to communicate with her directly and address her issue. I explained to her that I was sorry she'd had that experience and that we were fixing the situation. She wasn't very responsive to my note, but she did take the video down 24 hours later and, to thank her, I sent her a copy of my book. You might think this is a bit overkill but trust me, it's always a good idea to be kind to watchdogs. Whether they are official or unofficial, some users are out there watching for scams, etc. In the end that's what she was doing. We defused it and the situation was resolved. Perhaps emailing the person and having a dialog may be the last thing you want to do, but step back and realize that going directly to the source could fix this much faster .
- Don't I have rights? No, you don't. Bottom line is that anyone can say anything at any time, which makes the topic of online attacks that much more timely and volatile. You can't force someone to take down a horrible blog post about you, and in fact we've had clients who have hired lawyers to go after YouTube and have them take down disparaging videos to no avail.
While we never want to think about being attacked online it does happen. Hopefully it will never happen to you, but much like having a battery-operated radio, candles, or a working flashlight, it's better to be ready then to be caught in a storm and not know what to do.