We know that publishers are huddled in meetings, devising strategies for going forth and embracing the blogosphere. There may be task forces or committees or, shudder, ad hoc committees. Now that they have religion, publishers and more than a few authors are trying to figure out how to make the most of the opportunities provided by online communities
As publishers and authors join communities, they need to remember the rules of engagement.
One important thing to note is that you and your product are already being discussed. You have lost control of the conversation. In many ways, you lost control so long ago, you didn’t know it happened. In the past, providers of services and products controlled the message. Via the creation of clever (okay, sometimes clever) advertising campaigns and public information, a very clear, always positive, image of an entity was presented to the people.
Once we were told that a happy customer might tell one person while a dissatisfied customer would tell ten people. Probably more. Think of how those numbers have changed in the world of ubiquitous blogs and robust online search. Yeah, we’d go back to bed and pull the covers up tight if we could, too.
Bottom line is that your products are often being marketed via channels that you haven’t approved.
Sometimes the discussions are filled with high praise and adoration; sometimes, the conversation is downright negative. Let’s deal with the positive first: say “thank you”. That’s right, post a comment — as yourself — saying, “I appreciate what you’re saying. Thank you.” Naturally, you, being you, will phrase the thing differently. No point in everyone using the same words, right?
If you have a blog yourself — and who doesn’t? — you can also, kindly, link back to the nice comments. Incoming links are still so important and you want to give back to the community, right? If you wish to engage in more detailed conversation, go ahead, but be careful.
If the comments are negative, oh boy. This is a slippery slope. If the criticism contains factual errors, that is one thing; if it is “I didn’t like it”, that is another.
When truly factual mistakes are made, the best approach is to correct them in no-nonsense sort of way. As yourself. One of the key aspects of the blogosphere, heck, the whole Web 2.0 thing, is authenticity. Simply say, “I am so and so, and wanted to correct one item.” Then correct the item. Don’t engage in further arguments, do not (please!) argue the merits of one opinion over another. Do not make yourself look foolish or (worse) clueless by fighting and arguing and just generally looking like a poor sport.
Facts = okay. Everything else = dumbest thing you can do.
That is not to say that entering into a spirited debate is a bad thing. Just remember that there is a difference between debate and stupid arguing. If you cannot tell the difference, then you should resist the urge to respond.
Also, careful readers will note the use of “as yourself” in a previous paragraph. Funny thing: so many individuals, whether speaking for themselves or in defense of their business, believe that anonymity or the use of a pseudonym (heck, full-on false identity) is the optimal choice for engaging detractors. Suffice to say, these ploys are both transparent and easily unmasked.
And the unmasking creates a certain sense of pleasure. You have no idea how many clues you leave as you traverse the Internets. Even more so, you have no idea how easy it is to follow your trail. In some instances, you pretty much leave your name, rank, and serial number even as you’re posting as “Anon Y. Mouse”. We have heard tales of technologically-challenged individuals who have found real identities through the simple task of tracing IP addresses. These individuals, mind you, normally confine their prowess to turning computers on and off.
As publishers and authors engage in community, real names, real thoughts, and authenticity are the most important aspects of today’s online world. You get bonus points for facing your critics in a forthright manner. While it is tempting to hide behind a veil, you’re not doing yourself any favors. What seems brilliant is really dumb. Remember that fine line between clever and stupid.
Above all, resist the urge to enlist your family and friends on your behalf. Please. Resist the urge. You will only live to regret the fallout should you ignore this sage advice. There is no defense more transparently obvious than the “friends and family” barrage. Oh, there is one: the friends and family pretending to be unaffiliated third parties who just happen upon the bloodletting at the right moment. You’d be surprised at how often that happens. It always ends badly.
Hint: the one being criticized never wins. Trust us on this.
As publishers and authors become more engaged in community, they need to remember the rules of engagement. This goes for staff who are hired to interact with web-based communities. When they speak of the community, they need to speak with authority. A year ago, Dell Computers found themselves in the midst of a fight they couldn’t win when someone in their employ (indirectly) took exception with online criticism. Dell did not handle the situation well; this mishandling will be remembered long after the original criticism is forgotten. Other companies have made similar mistakes. Learn from those who go before…