If you’re planning on handling a social media crisis with rational argument, you’re unlikely to succeed.
I’ll admit I like a bit of Dr Phil. I even remember the first episode I watched because I was completely wrong about the tack Dr Phil would take. Knowing he was Oprah’s go-to counsellor, I expected a touchy-feely answer to a married couple’s conundrum. Instead, right after the introductory video clips he turned to the wife and said, “What makes you think that’s all right?” No pleasantries. No warm up. Right out of the gate with WTF is your problem?
He talked about the marriage bonds, the agreement she’d entered into with her husband. He didn’t hold any hands, he get anyone in touch with their emotions; it was less a counselling session than a tutorial on contract law.
In that case, in my opinion, Dr Phil was right. But a social media crisis is at heart a relationship issue.
And as anyone who has been in a human relationship knows, being right is not enough when it comes to a relationship crisis.
When the social media crowd would rather pick up a pitchfork than a book
In an earlier lifetime on another blog I had an experience with a group of Australian bloggers who didn’t like my using their YouTube video about blogging. I’d embedded it on a page of my site advertising a social media training course I was running in Sydney.
Although they were advanced social media users, they didn’t understand even the fundamentals of YouTube.
They put the video on YouTube under its standard licence, which means anyone can take that video and embed it on their own site for any reason. That’s spelled out in paragraph 8 of YouTube’s terms of service. A video’s owner can’t say, this user can embed the video for this purpose but that user can’t embed it for the same purpose or some other purpose.
The person who takes your video and embeds it doesn’t need any more permission than you’ve given by uploading it to YouTube in the first place.
Under the terms of YouTube’s licence, there was no question I was within my rights to use the video. But these bloggers were upset, they felt hard done by. Pointing to the agreement they had with YouTube wasn’t going to help me.
What’s in a word?
The owners of this video made a further objection that the relevant page of my site was “commercial”. If I’d embedded the video in one of my blog posts, not on a page promoting a course, it would have been fine, they said.
Is page 86 of Vanity Fair not commercial because there’s no advert but page 87 is commercial, however, because Rolex bought it?
How can you have a non-commercial page of a business website?
Do they think bloggers who make money (or hope to) from their blogs should not embed YouTube clips without additional permission from the video’s owners?
Again, these bloggers felt I’d ripped off their content. My argument holds but that doesn’t mean it would turn them around. The torches were already alight. I don’t think I’d even have been heard making that argument.
What the occasional madness of the social media crowd means for your business
The bloggers’ biggest objection, however, was that I was teaching a mummy blogging course and who was I, a man, to teach women about being mothers? If I’d been teaching a food blogging course instead, I wonder if they’d have thought I was planning to teach attendees how to be food.
Although it was obvious to any reader that I was offering only to teach blogging skills to mothers, not dispense mothering advice, I could have taken a surfboard to ride the waves of bile flowing in my direction. Facebook and Twitter lit up. The attack spilled onto a blog with a massive national readership. Comments called for the owners of the video to take legal advice (I couldn’t have agreed more) or to try to bring me to my knees by “flooding my email”.
That’s how I, for one, know first hand the crowd is not always wise. Social media moves faster than the speed of thought and is likely to be louder than the whisper of your lawyer pointing to a line in the contract.
The answer to a social media crisis is more emotion, not less
I had the facts on my side. I wasn’t relying on opinion, there was nothing subjective in my argument. It was all there in licence agreements, dictionaries, and the offending page on my site. It’s not fashionable to talk about things being black and white. Some people will say there are always shades of grey but it’s not true. Paris is the capital of France. A kilogram is 1,000 grams. And YouTube videos are there to share.
But none of my arguments mattered a jot. Rational argument was not going to prevail in the circumstances. Dr Phil would have crapped out on this one. The mob didn’t want to pop their pitchforks down for a moment, take a seat and discuss it. All this pitchforkery had happened without anyone so much as sending a tweet in my direction to ask for a comment.
Dr Phil’s stern calls to common sense and pragmatism would have fallen on deaf ears here.
What this means for you is that you’re making a mistake if your plans to respond to a social media crisis rely too heavily on rational responses. There’s no such thing as a social media crisis devoid of emotion. On the contrary, a social media crisis is going to be awash in high emotion. And you need to factor that into your plans. People who are emotional about an issue need their feelings acknowledged, not argued against.
Learn more about handling a social media oil spill
My situation, what I did about it, and other examples are all discussed in the YouTube video of a keynote speech I gave at Surfer’s Paradise to the International Consumer Product Health & Safety Organization’s international conference on product safety (feel free to share it!). The video is here, if you can’t see it above. There’s also an audio-only version on Soundcloud.