The idea of a mob carrying pitch forks and flaming torches through a village to attack somebody they don’t like, disappeared years ago. We realised that we were a society that didn’t want to live in that kind of world where mob justice ruled.
However, since the advent of social media, the idea of mob justice has reared its head again, with people and companies being vilified by thousands of users online. This disgust is then picked up by large media companies who have websites to populate and the vilification spins up even quicker.
This seems to happen on an almost daily basis based from a Facebook post, Youtube video or even just an errant blog post on small site. If a view is expressed that people disagree with it is jumped on by the mob and the person or company involved are chastised. It can lead to the destruction of companies or even people’s lives.
We now live in an age where a 30 second lapse in concentration when you are having a bad day, can haunt you for the rest of your life and brand you forever. Everybody has a camera and a typo on a Tweet can quickly turn sour.
It has happened this week with a cafe owner who was filmed hitting a cyclist with his car then threatening him. It has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times and when he was identified, his Twitter account and company social media pages were targeted by thousands of people who disliked his actions. It has meant that his cafe has been boycotted and his name and that of the cafe, has been dragged through the mud.
From watching the video, it is easy to see why there is so much hatred towards him but the way it has been dealt with by his PR company and himself has made the situation considerably worse. The question is what can people and companies do to stop this kind of hatred which could have a significant impact on their business?
Get Out In Front
Everybody has done something that they instantly regret in the heat of the moment. This could be something fairly minor like deleting an important email by mistake to shouting at somebody who shouldn’t have been shouted it. However, the stakes on these become so much higher when you are a business owner or have a prominent role within a large organization.
Therefore, if there is something that has happened which may get out on social media, it is important to get out in front of the news, pre-empting it and addressing it publicly if you know it will be spread, or preparing for potential backlash if it is released.
This preparation could take the form of pre-prepared statements, videos or even full campaigns across multiple channels to negate the effects that a release may have.
Defending yourself or company is good, but can only ever have a certain degree of success as you have a vested interest in doing so and this will come across to your audience.
The key to being able to ride a wave of negative press is having people who will defend you or your brand. This is done through being genuinely pleasant to work with, it means not leaving previous employees disgruntled, treating suppliers well and even simply paying invoices on time.
Having a strong customer service is also going to work well in this regard as the more ‘I have always had a good experience working with XYZ before’ messages you get, the more likely it is that people will see the action as a one off rather than endemic problem. If there are others who are willing to defend you who don’t necessarily have anything to gain from doing so, this has far more weight than any PR driven internal response.
Going back to the story of the cafe owner, one of the major mistakes made was that when an apology was made, there was no mention of the incident, instead it took a general view:
'I would like to apologise for any offence caused. My behaviour was unacceptable and regardless of the situation, I shouldn't react like that. I fully appreciate that cyclists have as much right to the road as any other road users.'
It does not discuss why he reacted like that, what the reasons behind it were or even express any genuine remorse about the effects that his actions have had towards the cyclist involved. It may be worse than issuing no apology at all as it comes across as contrite rather than genuine, essentially only doing so to appease the loss of revenue to his cafes than being genuinely remorseful.
To avoid doing this, it is important to address the issues created, either through making a direct appeal to the person involved or addressing the issues head on. This could be done by firing the parties directly involved or discussing why it happened and why you are genuinely sorry, rather than why you should be sorry to save to your reputation.
This one should be the simplest, but can sometimes be the one that kickstarts the anger again if it is done wrong.
It could be anything from a charitable donation to offering a service free of charge, but there should be some kind of sacrifice made in order to appease the wronged parties.
The act is important and doing it correctly is vital to guaranteeing that the issue is considered resolved, this takes a bit of time, so should not be rushed into. Take the time to consider what this could be and the most effective way to deliver it. Making this choice needs to be based on the people who may have been offended or hurt by the actions, what would they appreciate, what would put a certain situation right or if nothing can, what would they deem to be suitable compensation?
Being honest and having genuine empathy is going to be the best possible way to overcome these poisonous situations, often it cannot be faked, so thinking in the same way as those you have offended is going to be the best possible way to overcome it and make amens.