Tuesday, April 05, 2005

When Bloggers Attack

In an earlier post, I talked about how the dynamics of influence had flipped: instead of an elite 20% influencing the rest-of-us, now the Internet allowed the commoners to drive trends in a more forceful and visible way.

So the question's come up at the shop: what do you do "when bloggers attack?" (Sounds like that cheesey Fox tv special!)

What if a blogger gets so peeved at your company that they devote their blogs to taking you down?

This is not a new or uncommon problem. Before blogs were au courant, there were sites like BestBuy Sux, which has been around since 1999. Before that, companies fretted about "getting flamed" in Usenet.

There is a difference, however. Sites like BestBuy Sux exist in a vaccum; they are one step away from being static pages. People get P.O.'d at BestBuy then go to the site, rant, and most likely never come back.

Blogs, by contrast, are more interactive and community oriented. To quote yet another of my earlier posts: "...The inner circle of well-known blogs, which are incestuously interlinked, have a growing measure of social influence. Blog audiences grow attuned to the opinions of their fave bloggers and come to trust their opinions as much as they'd trust the opinions of a neighbor. The blogger, in effect, has become a link in the consumer's own social network."

So, it is one thing for me to get pissy at BestBuy and rant at BestBuy Sux: that post is tomorrow's birdcage liner. It's another thing altogether if I am venting my frustration in front of a group of influential friends who not only share my pain but also go out of their way to help spread my tale of woe. The mole-hill can become a mountain.

I hate to be so danged self-referential here, but this brings me back to that original post cited earlier, which suggested that companies had best prepare themselves for unprecendented transparency to their customers. You can't dick around with Joe Sixpack in Toledo and expect that that regional misfire will die quietly, with no national repercussions. Joe Sixpack is now Joe Blogger. And Joe Blogger has friends.

This level of transparency requires a valiant and responsible and ongoing quest for customer service and product excellence.

But the question remains: whaddaya do "When Bloggers Attack?"

First, don't panic. Panic never solved anything, and especially not in "Internet Time" (as it is so breathlessly described by the pundits). The speed and power of the Internet begs for a more reasoned, rational, strategic response to the blogger's complaints.

Next: think like the Blogosphere. For the most part these folks are independent spirits, often with too much time on their hands - which can make them a bit self-absorbed and easily offended. That may be an unfair characterization, but please remember for the purposes of this post that I am talking not only about a blogger who attacked you, but also about a community of bloggers who felt impassioned enough to take up their brother's cause.

If you think like a member of this blogging community, you realize that this crisis should be handled like most other corporate communications crises: speedily, with as much honesty as possible, and with an action plan for how you'll do it better next time (if that's possible or necessary). Think "Tylenol Scare" - it's Crisis Management 101 and perfectly relevent.

That's a quick synopsis of HOW to respond. But, WHERE? Some hidebound PR types who see a blogging crisis emerging will fall-back to the ever-handy press release. Don't do it, yet. Respond where you are SUPPOSED to respond in the Blogosphere - in the "Comments" field of the original flame. Then monitor the subsequent comments and jump in as necessary...but as little as possible. Don't make a nuisance of yourself. (Remember your Shakespeare? "Milady doth protest too much!")

Be open, be honest, be candid. Try not to sound too much like a corporate flunky. But for pity's sake, DON'T try to sound cool, either. Just be straightforward.

Then, get out of the way for a while and see how your response was received.

You need to also remember another danger - the TrackBacks. Be sure to monitor the other blogs that referred to the post (and maybe added their two cents!), and again - patiently and calmly give a similar response.

That's a quick primer. And lastly you ought to remember that there's one other good thing about the bloggers: like a pack of wild dogs, they will all pile on the carcass for a while...ripping and chewing on your corporate reputation...but eventually - and sooner rather than later - they move on.

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