“Guilt-Proofing” Your Brand — Modern protection from Slander, Hoax & Smear Campaigns - Part One.

There's an interesting truth in business that the more successful that you are, the more enemies you make. Such is the case with any brand – including yours. What none of us want to admit is that for all the efforts we make to craft positive perception around whatever we support, there is someone in the wings waiting to exploit it or tear it down.

Although I am knee-deep in the social media business, I still admit it can be a double-edged sword. On one side, you have powerful channels that allow you to communicate any level of content and message to your customer or engaged audience. On the other side, you have the exact same channels placed in the hands of an unknowing populace to do with as they see fit. In some cases, this is much like handing a child a pack of matches.

She might manage to start a nice, cozy fire that warms the family on a cool night. Or she might burn down the neighborhood.

No matter how carefully you craft your message and target your audience – someone out there wants to burn down your neighborhood. 

Because haters love to hate, your position as a public-facing brand can work against you. Achieving success on any level elevates you above most start-ups and wannabes, many of whom feel like the underdog compared to you. And the Internet as a collective usually sides with any person or entity that seems to be an underdog. The online community jumps at any opportunity to go to bat for an alleged victim, while vilifying "the man" without conducting any meaningful thought or research.

Ask yourself this question: When was the last time I heard something negative about a large brand that tainted my perception of buying or using the product again? This guilt gauge is a powerful tool that even the most timid of us understand.

That's what happened when Victoria Wilcher, a precious 3-year-old girl who was brutally attacked by her family’s three pit bulls, was supposedly asked to leave a KFC in Jackson, Miss., because her injuries offended other patrons.

"We" {me included) grabbed our rakes and flaming torches and decided to destroy the mighty chicken. Did I do any research to verify the facts? No. Was I inflamed by the possibility that this could have happened? Yes. Did it even once cross my mind that this could possibly be a hoax crafted by the family to exploit the food franchise? No! Why would I think that? Who would do something that terrible!

Guilt is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. When accompanied by a sense of disbelief that anyone could be so cruel to a child. It didn't hurt that pictures of the family portrayed them as near destitute, and reinforced the perception that the world is against them.

Put yourself in the place of KFC for a moment. If your business is under the microscope in this fashion, you need to think with a clear head. Use reasonable tactics that work toward a peaceful resolution for all parties. If you are truly not at fault, the unintended benefit could be that the situation even improves the public's perception of your brand.

When "Guilt-Proofing" your brand using social media, do so by a defined procedure and with logical steps that could look like:

  1. Monitor your brands, products, leadership, and related trademarks/lexicon.
  2. If a perceived crisis occurs, DO NOT PANIC or respond right away (within the first few hours). Or you can choose to "research and return."
  3. Determine the type of threat, whether that be a troll, competitive attack, negative review or escalating 'mass opinion.' The context of this becomes your threat assessment.
  4. Rationally deploy consistent content within a closed loop such as a microsite, forum or within direct messaging.
  5. Respond and assess the change progressively. A side note on responding: No matter how much credibility you have, and no matter how much of a tyrant your pain-point may be, it's your professional responsibility to 'take the high road' and try to emerge unified.
  6. If that doesn't work, always remember, "when burning bridges make sure you bring enough fuel to torch the cities they connect."

In our next post we'll talk to a public relations professional regarding real-world tactics you can take to protect yourself.

Posted on July 14, 2014 and filed under Brand, Business, Research.