How to deal with negativity on social media platforms is one of the issues I’m asked about most frequently during training workshops. Most organisations will at some time or another, have to face criticisms or complaints online. If you find yourself on the receiving end of negative comments, the best way to respond is quickly, transparently and authentically.
But occasionally a bigger crisis occurs and last week there were two examples which neatly demonstrated the right and the wrong way to deal with a social media tsunami.
First up, Adecco who allegedly ripped off an idea from blogger Turner Barr, Around the World in 80 jobs and turned it into a strapline and campaign for their own ends. There has been a huge amount of criticism on social media channels and Adecco’s main Facebook page is flooded with comments criticising them for seemingly stealing someone’s idea and passing it off as their own. In response they posted a statement which is little more than an exercise in PR fluff, in it they say:
We have seen and heard your sincere concern about our recent youth employment initiative and take your feedback very seriously. We deeply regret if we hurt Turner Barr. This was never our intention when we set up our “Around the World in 80 Jobs” contest. We clearly see that Turner is an inspiration to many people. We feel there should be more of such initiatives that inspire people to live their dreams and achieve their ambitions. Unfortunately, we moved forward with a name and contest that clearly upset Turner and his community. We sincerely apologize for that mistake.
When Turner contacted us about his concern, and we understood the full situation, we immediately engaged with him to try to make things right. Unfortunately, we have been unable to find common ground so far.
So what’s wrong with their approach so far? Well firstly, it’s patronising to its audience. The statement has a faux sincerity that is grating to read, it also doesn’t really tell us that much. And while I’d never suggest trying to respond to every comment, having posted the statement to Facebook, they haven’t (so far) been back to engage further. Secondly, they appear to be completely ignoring the issue on other social channels. A quick search for ‘adecco’ on twitter reveals a huge number of people tweeting in support of Turner Barr and criticising Adecco but the sum total of their response is one tweet last Friday linking to a statement on the matter. In that tweet they use the phrase:
We’re sorry for some recent negative comments on our global youth employment initiative
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? They’re sorry that they got something wrong or they’re sorry to be receiving end of so many negative comments?
Now obviously they could be involved in legal proceedings which means they’re unable to get into more detail but whatever they’re doing, they need to do it fast. Of course in all of this the biggest problem is that what you say when something like this blows up is actually only a tiny part of dealing with it effectively, it’s what you do that matters. Social media simply holds a mirror up to your organisation and reveals it as it is. Rather than try and paper over the cracks you have to fix the issue.
Which leads me to Kickstarter, who had a similar social media crisis last week but who dealt with it in a completely different manner. They came under fire from many different individuals and organisations when a ‘dating tips’ manual received funding despite the fact that it was, at best, a how-to on sexual harassment and at worst, a manual to encourage rape. Their response was quick, decisive and included real action. The tone of their apology is authentic and free from corporate speak. They have explained the background and the action they’ve taken (no publications of this type will be allowed on Kickstarter in the future and they donated $25,000 to an anti-sexual violence organisation). The huge number of positive comments on the blog post demonstrates how positively people have responded to Kickstarter’s approach. Yes there are a few counter opinions in there but the vast majority of commentators are congratulatory.
The key difference between them and Adecco is that Kickstarter have taken action and then been very clear about what action they’ve taken. Whereas, so far, Adecco have hidden behind a statement that is not just disingenuous but as it stands, has only served to add fuel to the fire.