If you are in a communications crisis situation, especially an adversarial reputation crisis, one of the first things you must understand is what are your vulnerabilities.
A vulnerability is a place where your detractors can hit you that will cause real damage. It doesn’t matter if 50,000 strangers on the Internet think you’re a jerk if it doesn’t affect you in any material way. However, if that message reaches certain key people, then it can be profoundly impactful.
Bosses. Clients. Business partners. Business associates. Family and friends. These are just a few examples people whom it would be very bad if they were to be affected by the misinformation being spread about you.
Taking action to defend vulnerabilities
If you are dealing with a misinformation situation, and the truth is really on your side (if the truth is not on your side, you need to get yourself in the right first) then there are few things you must do.
First, identify where your vulnerabilities exist. Do you have a boss who could fire you? Do you have key clients who might believe the stories?
Next, determine the best way to make sure that the story will not impact these areas of your life. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of knowing that you have sufficient trust with this person that they’ll stand by you. In other cases, you may want to tell them about the situation before they hear about it somewhere else.
There will also be cases where it’s not clear how big the firestorm will get, and you want to be careful not to spread the rumors where they would not go on their own. In those cases, you may just want to monitor the situation and be ready to respond if someone close to you does hear the story but not share it yourself.
The better people know you, the less likely they are to believe lies about you. This is why building a personal network is extremely important.
Awareness is key
Regardless of what action seems most prudent, awareness is most important. You must know where you vulnerabilities exist and give some thought to how you can defend those vulnerabilities.
You can’t protect what you don’t understand.
Are you facing a situation where a rumor or misinformation is threatening to cause real damage in your life? We can help. Contact us.
There may be someone out there who wants to make you look bad. We call them a “detractor.” Much as we are surrounded by viruses throughout our lives, there are people around us who wish us ill. Like a virus, such a detractor has a minimal impact on our lives unless they can get some traction.
The best thing to do with such a person is to try to connect with them, understand why they wish you ill, and try to find some common ground in which to bury the hatchet. However, there are some people who simply cannot be reasoned with and just won’t let it go.
Should they achieve traction, it becomes a situation we refer to as an Adversarial Reputation Crisis. However, one of the best ways for a detractor to achieve traction is to manipulate you into giving them a platform.
Your Audience and Your Detractor’s Audience
Likely, you have a much larger audience than your detractor, and they want to reach that audience. At the very least you have greater access to the audience of people important to you than they do. You have certain platforms which can reach most of your customers or friends or constituents. This includes your web site, your social media platforms, and even your business.
They may attempt to co-opt these resources to carry their negative message. They could post a negative review, comment on social media, or even come to your business and badmouth you. Fortunately, most of these efforts can be countered. You can delete comments. You can kick them out of your business. Often, you can even respond to their reviews as well.
What if they can get you to put their message onto your platforms? That would be quite a coup, wouldn’t it.
Carrying Your Detractor’s Message
Why would you share the message of someone trying to ruin your reputation on your own platform? Because you are trying to refute this message.
Let’s say that someone is going around telling people that John eats cats. A couple of people have asked him about it, and he’s even seen a couple of social media posts that suggest that he eats cats. He wants to get in front of this, so he goes on social media.
Before this post, John’s detractor had been spreading the rumor, and it had caught on with two of the detractor’s dimmer friends who posted about it. These people have very few friends in common with John, and no one who doesn’t know John finds this rumor interesting, so no traction there.
John has 975 friends. The idea that John might eat cats has now gone from an audience of 3 to an audience of 975, all of whom know John. Every person seeing this post might start to wonder who started the rumor, why they would say such a thing, and, worst, is there anything to it? After all, that’s an odd rumor to make up out of whole cloth.
John has multiplied the audience of the detractor by a large multiplier. In attempting to address the problem, he has greatly exacerbated the problem.
Tacos and Politics
This kind of thing happens all the time. It is very easy to overestimate how much traction a detractor is getting. Of course, if they are getting traction, it is crucial to respond from your platform of authority. That’s just good strategy. A strong counter strategy is to trick you into doing so prematurely, or, even better, getting you to compromise your own platform to respond.
Amigos Taqueria y Tequila, a Mexican restaurant in Westerly, Rhode Island, recently had a such a situation. On election day, their staff wore t-shirts which said “86 45,” reference to impeaching President Donald Trump. State Senator Elaine Morgan claimed that the shirts were advocating not impeachment, but murder, and called for a boycott.
Senator Morgan’s call spread across the Internet, and Amigos was soon getting threatening phone calls, online harassment, and all the rest. Most of this was coming from people outside the local community.
Amigos responded by taking down their Facebook page, disconnecting their phone, and replacing the front page of their web site with a message discussing the situation. As a response to the onslaught, they effectively shut down their standard digital marketing program.
Senator Morgan, by motivating a relatively small number of individuals with extreme right wing passion, was able to create the impression that this issue had taken over the entire dialog. Under the onslaught of angry phone calls from other states and social media attacks, it seemed that extreme action was needed.
This particular extreme action took a conflict which was mostly happening out in the cloud and brought it home. A local customer looking for a good taco, might come to this web site and discover that their enchilada would come with a side of politics and choose to go elsewhere.
In an effort to share their side of the story, Amigos had to share Senator Morgan’s version as well in order to provide context. Further, the issue for most people is not if Amigos was right or wrong in this. The issue is that there is conflict at all. While some might be intrigued by this or supportive, the vast majority of potential customers prefer their burritos without drama.
Any bully’s main goal is to get a rise out of the quarry. They want to see them react, and I can imagine that Senator Morgan got great satisfaction when Amigos altered a crucial part of their digital marketing identity in response to her ridiculous accusation.
Naturally, Amigos did need to engage with this crisis in some manner, but compromising their own marketing platforms to do so did not serve their interests.
I at one point had a run-in with a peculiar individual in a local community. His relationship with reality was tenuous, and he had a tendency to do something wrong, then project it onto others. For example, he might tell people not to attend a charity event he didn’t like, then proceed to accuse you of telling people not to attend charity events.
This troubled individual began to go around town and spread ridiculous falsehoods about me. My first thought was that I might want to get in front of this. I could share to my channels who this individual was and what he was doing.
To do so, however, I would have given him and his absurd suggestions a larger stage and greater credibility than he could ever possibly achieve on his own.
I did occasionally hear from contacts that they had spoken to him, and he had shared his foolish suggestions with them. This report was immediately followed by an opinion that what he said didn’t make much sense and they put very little stock in it.
Had I dignified his statements with a public response, it would have elevated his ramblings to the level of credible concerns. By simply allowing him to go about his business, the issue all but vanished on its own.
Moderation In All Things
Regardless of the nature of the situation, a response must be appropriately measured. Often times, the reaction to the situation causes more damage to the target than the detractor could ever have done on their own.
If you are dealing with a situation, and you are not sure how aggressively to respond, contact us. We’d love to talk it through with you and see how we can be of service.