If it hasn’t happened to you, it will. And if it has, congratulations.

When you are attracting a new audience and expanding your recognition, you quickly become a target for those who disagree with what your organization stands for.

The most important thing you can do is to be prepared. Know in advance how you will handle the situation. That way when (not if) if happens, you feel confident in your response.

Here are a few practical tips, especially aimed at handling darts thrown via social media and online platforms:

  1. Respond quickly.

Social media interaction happens at lightning speed. A lag in time to take the issue to leadership, create a policy, or hold a committee meeting will only fuel the fire. Be prepared to make a quick response.

  1. Acknowledge their comment with a brief response.

A quick response that acknowledges the detractor’s concerns but doesn’t seem defensive or angry is the best way to stifle the conversation. Even if you don't have a full media or PR staff, it's a good idea to designate a point person to handle external communications issues like this quickly and with diplomacy.

  1. Don’t engage in argument.

As tempting as it may be, ongoing banter over the facts is not helpful. There are many “online bullies” who are looking for a fight. The best way to escalate the drama is to engage in argument. The best way to end it is to respond once and move on. It’s highly likely your bully will move on, too.

  1. Don’t engage on their turf.

Again, as appealing as it may be to make comments on your attacker’s blog site or Facebook page, this is a sure sign to an online bully that they are getting your attention...which is exactly what they want.

I recall a client who couldn’t resist this temptation. As an ugly online attack was slowing winding down, he made one small comment on the attacker’s blog. Not only did it stir up the debate again, but it brought attention and massive amounts of traffic to the attacker’s site. A real win for the attacker. And a real loss for the organization.

  1. Consider the source.

Any negativity is painful, especially when the target is a mission or cause you believe in. But you must consider the source. Many times a quick look at the attacker’s profile will show a history of attacking organizations in your space.

At the same time, everyone in your organization should be encouraged to bring special considerations to the attention of leadership. If the attack is coming from a highly influential individual or another organization (yes, this unfortunately happens), special thought should be given to the appropriate response.

Sometimes a public offer to take the conversation offline (such as posting an email address created for these situations) shows everyone you’re not opposed to having additional conversation, but that you believe social media is not the right venue.

Above all, a cool head prevails. There is nothing more difficult to smolder than a fire you’ve kindled. Online bullies are here to stay. Our job is to learn to handle them with respect and reason.

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