I had an interesting moment this week on the Facebook page of a media organisation who’s social media I manage. I made a decision to go off the usual promo-promo-promo style of posting that most media companies embark on, and called out a moment where that company actually had let down it’s audience with a whole lot of hype that really missed the mark.
This led to a moment where a snarky commenter (and there are always plenty of these) called me out, saying, in effect, “why should we be an audience of your medium when even you are telling us it’s full of crap?”
It was a good question, albeit wrapped in the usual social media keyboard-warrior snark.

But it was also a good opportunity to take the commenter on a journey. My response was that “we’re not full of crap – we also advertise the things we’re proud of.” This didn’t impress him, He came back with “It’s a bit weird for a commercial business to advertise their failures. Does you boss know about this?”

My client knows my style well. And on social media, that style I use is “human-first, brand later.” My final answer, that seemed to hit the right mark for the commenter was that, “we’re all humans, we all miss the mark… it’s just that we’re being honest and open about it. And that’s what makes us a Darwin media company, not a Sydney or Melbourne one.”
This is the problem with “PR” and “Branding.” It places such a premium on strange concepts such as “brand integrity” and “a consistent look and feel” that it forgets that we’re dealing with people at the other end. All this “brand talk” leads to infuriating canned responses from company reps, inauthentic apologies that are wrapped in legal-ese to ensure that the company isn’t actually apologising, and frustrated consumers who have their trust in our institutions eroded by our lack of authenticity.

This very public conversation then spurred on another person to comment on a similar concern he had about that medium’s programming. Or one particular show. It would, in other conversational thread, be a powder keg ready to to blow. But in every encounter with a keyboard warrior there is an opportunity to engage with them without dismissing them. So I went down a path of “We’ve been hearing a lot of this kind of thing about {insert show here}. Naturally they leave us out of their conversations up here in the Never-Never, but wouldn’t it be amazing to be a fly-on-the-wall to see what really goes on!”

No putting down the commenter. No canned, answers from a script. Just an acknowledgement that this guy isn’t alone, isn’t wrong. And an added perspective; step in to their shoes and turn their criticism in to curiosity. The conversation ended with the guy admitting that he usually interacts with a very different kind of medium than ours. But his wife likes us, so he bites the bullet and joins her. So I complimented him for “taking one for the team” and that he was “a keeper.”

The lesson here isn’t that I’m some enlightened and great social media manager. It’s that no amount of “brand values” or “on-brand messaging” would have left these guys feeling good about us. It took being a human and engaging with them like humans, with respect and acknowledgement of their complaints to turn a potential troll in to a potential fan.

So when you next face a bad review or a nasty comment, breathe a moment. Think about where this person is coming from. Then be a real person with them. They may be there to argue, but you’re there to represent your business. And the best way you can do that is to be a real person. Not a spokesperson.