Archive for the 'corporate blogging' Category

Hazmat for Toxic Comments — A Guest Post by Dave Statter

April 30, 2010

Dave Statter is a very well-known blogger on fire and EMS issues at statter911.com. I’ve linked there a few times and appreciated him commenting here. Not long ago, he commented on a post about blog comments. I really liked what he had to say and asked if he would prepare a guest post on the topic. Here is some great advice for anyone who engages in blogs or any form of social media. If you haven’t encountered toxic talk yet, you certainly will.

Hazmat for Toxic Comments
You’re a jerk. You hate volunteer firefighters. You hate career firefighters. You’re a racist. You suck. Everyone should boycott your blog.
Those are some of the printable negative comments I received in the first months of STATter911.com. The blog features fire and emergency medical services news focusing on the Washington, D.C. area where I am a TV reporter.
As the comments trickled in, after starting the site three-years-ago, it became clear I was not immune to the toxic thoughts that plague every website with an open public forum. This virtual vitriol was usually directed at a fire chief or some other public official mentioned in one of my stories but readers were also taking aim at the messenger.

Nasty comments were not something I had given much thought to as a new blogger. In fact, most of the 16,000 plus comments you’ll now find on the site are not vicious. They’re usually just opinions on a fire department policy, the actions of a fire chief or tactics used to fight a fire. But on the blog — like news websites everywhere — there are people emboldened by anonymity who go a step further. They are on the attack. They target the subject of a news story, the blogger and the people who comment. And they do it in a very personal way.

Some top emergency management officials in the country tell me how much they enjoy STATter911.com but can’t stand the comments about themselves or their colleagues. There are also firefighters, paramedics & public information officers who constantly complain about a negative tone in the comments section. I agree with them when it comes to the personal attacks. My lofty goal is a respectful exchange of ideas that doesn’t focus on personalities. I know… I’m dreaming.

My guidelines are simple. Any of George Carlin’s seven dirty words (plus a few he failed to mention) will always prompt me to hit the reject button. I do the same when posters decide to be reporters, presenting new “facts” I can’t verify. But going beyond these limited rules seems a slippery, subjective slope for a free speech advocate like me. I always challenge those complaining about the comments section to give me workable guidelines that don’t smack of censorship. No one has met that challenge. Like me, they soon realize one person’s view of “crossing the line” is very different than the next.

I have no magic formula to fairly and successfully weed out those comments. But if toxic words on an Internet forum are directed at you — and your reputation is on the line — I may be able to help. Consider what the readers said about me. How do you respond when you are called a racist jerk who sucks? First, you need to know I’m fair game on my blog. If comments meet the language test, they’re posted. But the negative comments went beyond STATter911.com. My reporting had become a topic of conversation among firefighters on thewatchdesk.com. FYI: No language filter on that site! Friends in the news media and the fire service urged me not to engage the Statter-haters. They believed it would only make things worse. But I had reputation management in mind. My own. I wanted anyone who Googled Dave Statter to get both sides of the story. It became a bit time consuming, but I responded to each attack. Still, watching others go down in flames trying to defend themselves on anonymous forums gave me pause. Like a hazmat team dealing with a toxic substance I knew to proceed with caution.
I needed a set of rules for this on-line reputation management. They’re now my personal SOP and I believe they work.

•    I never attack the attackers.
•    I try to get beyond their emotions and point out the facts behind the
issues.
•    I explain the why and how of what I do.
•    I challenge the writer, in a firm but nice way, to back up their claims with
facts.
•    I make a maximum effort not to sound defensive.
•    I try to infuse a self-deprecating sense a humor into my responses.
•    If I find valid points within the emotional rhetoric it’s acknowledged and
corrected.
•    I thank them for reading my blog and taking the time to write.

My goal, then and now, is setting the record straight and telling my story. I’m not looking for love.

When I started fighting back three-years-ago the first replies were often worse than the original toxic comments.
I stood my ground. I repeatedly asked for the facts behind their emotion. Instead, I got something different.
A small number of these overly passionate writers actually thanked me for the response. They understood my point of view and respectfully disagreed. One or two went further. They began an email dialogue and soon became sources for future stories.
When the toxic writers didn’t change their ways, the community often joined in. Forum readers told the offending poster they should put up (the facts backing their point of view) or shut up.

In the end, the flame throwers couldn’t provide any real facts to support their positions. In virtually every case, whether the rest of the community responded or not, the attacks stopped. A few returned for a second or third round in reaction to a new blog story. After getting the same type of responses from me they disappeared.

I stood up to the school yard bullies and won. Very different than grade school where they took my lunch money.
Still, this technique may not work for everyone. Here’s why:
You have to check your ego at the door and need a thick hide. If you’re easily offended and can’t respond without sounding defensive, don’t engage the enemy. You will be dead meat. My experience is they’ll sense your weakness and pounce harder.
It’s important to find someone you trust to monitor your responses. They can let you know if you’re wandering outside the guidelines. My monitor was a fire service friend who gave very good feedback.

I no longer hear from any of the bullies on thewatchdesk.com. I searched the site while writing this and found it has been a long time since anyone made me the target of a toxic comment.

On STATter911.com the traffic has more than tripled, but the attacks against me have dramatically decreased.
My experience is telling your own story in this very specific way solves a few problems. It neutralizes even the most toxic comments. It puts the facts on the record. It also sets a tone. Attacks on your reputation won’t go unchallenged. And along the way you may earn a little respect.

Now, if we could just get everyone who writes online to focus on the issues and not demonize those they disagree with. Still dreaming.

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Looking for company Twitter policy statement? Here’s Walmart’s

July 9, 2009

Thanks to the ever vigilant, hyperactive social media guru Shel Holtz and his Twitter feed, I’m sharing Walmart’s “Twitter External Discussion” policy statement. Looks like a good one and a useful model to follow.

United stock crash and GM “fact and fiction” site provide lessons

September 11, 2008

Two things caught my eye while enjoying the Napa wine country. Both involve the rapidly changing world of reputation management and instant news. One, United Airlines stock crashed–going from $12 a share to one penny in a few hours–all because someone posted a six year old news story on a website. It bloomeranged from there (pun intended). I wish I had been on the ball and bought some of that penny stock.

The other story is not as sensational but still significant. GM launched a website aimed at confronting directly the numerous myths, attacks and accusations against the company and how it is meeting its severe business challenges. The website called GMFactsandFiction.com is simply constructed, listing a myth and the GM response. The current lead myth is whether GM is seeking a government bailout.

The point is this–life comes at you fast, as the commercial states. The instant news world seems to keep accelerating in part because more and more of the instant news world starts and lives on the internet. Devastation can be wreaked in minutes, not even hours any more. What used to take weeks to spread now is global at the speed of light. But the evidence continues to mount that most communicators and more importantly, their leaders, are not prepared to respond as quickly as this new world demands. The United story is one example. Were they monitoring the internet? Did someone not notice the old story? How soon after it was posted did United have a rebuttal very publicly posted? Did United have the capability to head off the storm before it gathered momentum by proactively releasing a notice about the false information. Did no one contact the Florida paper and inform them of their stupidity and how their irresponsibility was creating huge damage? In short, were they prepared to go to battle instantly, gather intelligence instantly, and get proactive and on the offensive instantly. Quite apparently not.

Not to say that GM is, just by this website, but it does seem to show that someone at GM understands the dynamics of internet conversation. The conversation goes on, like it or not. It cannot be stopped. And one thing is certain about this conversation–a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. That’s why it is essential for companies at the center of such internet conversations join in on them, have their own clearly identified voice, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS speak the truth and nothing but the truth, and aggressively counter the lies, attacks, myths and misinformation. This is good stuff. I think I will buy some GM stock.

Sarah Palin vs. “the media:” who’s really on trial?

September 4, 2008

All of us who have media relations and public information as part of our lives have to be standing back in amazement at what is going on relating to Sarah Palin and her battle with the media.  The story has quite dramatically shifted, it seems to me, from “is Sarah qualified, and therefore is John McCain’s judgment sound” to “is the media biased, sexist and unfair.”

I just watched this morning the interview of the managing editor of US Weekly by Megan someone, a Fox News anchor. Now, whether you consider the Fox News attack “fair and balanced” or the US Weekly article on Palin (Titled: Babies, Lies and Scandal”) “fair and balanced” probably depends on your political orientation. In fact, that is one of the more fascinating aspects of the varying coverage of the political events by the news channels. An MSNBC poll about whether or not Palin helped the ticket (by far most think she did not) did not say nearly as much as Palin as it did about the orientation of those who watch Olberman and company. Contrast the polls showing on Fox which, of course, show a completely different slant of the viewers.

A few comments:

– As part of the fragmentation and segmentation of media, the old idea of “objectivity” is quickly disappearing. This should not discourage us because “mass media” in the US, dating back to Colonial days, were highly partisan. Publications were created to support political parties and positions. They only really adopted the idea of “objective, non-partisan coverage” with the growth of Associated Press in the Civil War era as a way of pooling reporters. AP reporters were supposed to simply gather the facts from the front, then the individual editorial slant would be applied by the editors. However, the publishers found that readers like the “just the facts” reporting direct from AP and heavily biased reporting lost favor. We are simply going back to those days, but in this era it is a matter of segmenting the marketing, trying to dominate segments in order to survive and profit as media businesses.

– The spectacle of one media outlet attacking another for “bias” is a little humorous and fascinating. Sort of like watching your sisters mud wrestle. Something disgusting about it, but you can’t take your eyes off it either. It’s really funny when they refer to the others as “the mainstream media” as if they are just not part of that at all. It kind of makes your head spin.

– When the public stands outside of this media scrutiny of media, I think we all benefit. One of the greatest challenges we as communicators face is the reality that while everyone says “you can’t believe what you read in the newspapers,” everyone still does. Including professional communicators (witness PRSA’s hyper reaction to the completely out of line reporting on the FEMA “fake” news conference). The more the public gains some skepticism and informed judgment about the motives, agendas and biases of those charged with providing us our news and therefore our perceptions on which we make vital judgments, the better off we all are.

– the role of blogs. I would like to know how many times in the last few days of coverage that the “left wing blogs” were mentioned. Not just on Fox either–although MSNBC and CNN are more likely to just reference “the blogs.” The blog attacks on Palin are to a large degree driving the news cycle. That’s where the mainstream outlets get their fodder, and that’s also where they make judgments about what is relevant and will drive audiences. There is a huge lesson here for those in crisis management. If you still think you should not pay attention to blogs when you are the focus of the news, you have your head in the sand or someplace else. Blogs are the drivers–increasingly every day. Not just because of their own audiences, but because of the tremendous influence over the focal points of mainstream media coverage.

Employee blogs–how lawyers are forcing tightening of corporate policies

March 28, 2008

Cisco got in trouble over a blog by one of its employees–legal trouble of course. I agree with the Economist who consistently laughs at our litigious system and the high cost we all pay for the abuse of it. I say that without intending any comment on the merits of the case against the Cisco blogger.

Blogging by employees has become part and parcel of the business scene–and a tremendous impetus toward transparency. But, there are risks and dangers. And while Scoble and other leaders of corporate blogging argued for minimal guidance and control by corporate leaders, it seems our litigious society will not allow that to happen for long. I suspect this case and the thousands of others soon to follow will drastically change corporate blogging–much to the loss of all of us.

Our legal system, after all, completely discourages organizations from saying “they’re sorry” when they screwed up. I just heard from a friend about the sad story of his mother who fell off an x-ray table in a hospital as she was dying of cancer. A hospital staff person who turned his back on her and she fell off the X-ray table–seriously contributing to her decline and destroying what little quality of life she had left. Rather than saying “we’re sorry” and explaining in detail what happened which would have satisfied my friend, they instead refused to provide him any records or information about the incident, refused to accept responsibility and refused to discuss it with him. Just following legal advice, no doubt. But because of this excellent advice, he is now considering taking action–all avoidable by saying you’re sorry.

What this has to do with blogging, I’m not sure–oh yeah, stupid lawsuits.

2007–The Year of Authenticity?

January 2, 2007

It’s always fun to look toward a new year. One of my hobbies is painting so I think of the new year a bit like a blank canvas. It  is ripe with possibilities, but there is a certain apprehension about whether things will emerge as you hope they will. And like painting, it usually takes more effort for the best to come out than you think it will. But as a canvas, the new year mostly paints itself. It’s like working on a canvas in which new colors, forms, shapes, objects are appearing even as you try to do your own thing. The year has a  mind of its own, and the art comes in not trying to control what cannot be controlled but in turning what emerges–whatever it may be–into something beautiful, graceful and meaningful.

Looking back on the changes in crisis communication and the world of public opinion making, I see some fundamental shifts underway. Much of my work in the past six years or so has been aimed at helping clients and communicators understand the accelerating pace of public information. Most it seems to me, still do not understand, the depth and dimensions of the instant news world. So that word needs to continue to go out, but I think there is something even more significant emerging. And it comes as a direct result of the emergence of the blog culture as a powerful force in our society.

The blog world has a culture. No one has dictated it, and no one that I know of has really tried to define it. Yet, I think we all sense that it is there and we know somehow the boundaries of that culture. We have a sense for what the blog world considers right and wrong, just and unjust. One of the fundamental rules not just of the blog culture but the internet itself, is the strong desire to minimize the rules. So while there have been some rule making and enforcing mechanisms, mostly the internet world and blog culture in particular rely on social convention t0 enforce values. And those values I believe are spilling out beyond the blog culture into the broader world of main stream media, politics, business, advertising, and almost all aspects of culture making.

The blog culture values immediacy, that is certain, and that connects it to the instant news world. When bloggers see or hear something of interest, their first thought is to send it to the world. Mistakes can be made and often are made, and then the blogger is mightily flamed and says he or she is sorry. But it does not slow anyone down.

The blog culture values personality. Bloggers have little or no tolerance for the bland, impersonal language of much of the academic, professional and business world. If a CEO blogs, they want not just to see what he or she has to say about the company or its latest products, they want to have a clear picture of who that person is. They want to see warts and all. They want to see emotion.They want to see beyond the screen of packaging and vetting that normally accompanies corporate or professional communication.

The blog culture tends to be impatient and even angry. It doesn’t take much of an offense to set them off and get them to express raw language and raw emotion. There is variation here and you see a more mature and moderating influence coming in, but the rash, angry response still lives and to some extent dominates. Those who live in this sphere and who do not appreciate it learn to have a thicker skin.

The blog culture is highly political. While again it is shifting as more and more people enter this culture, it has been strongly dominated for some time by those whose primary motivation for blogging has been to participate in some way in the political dialog. It is definitely left-leaning, but again changing as more people become involved. But for a great many bloggers, the polarization of left and right and the desire to somehow influence political direction of the nation and the world is a primary part of their online persona and their reason for actively and aggressively participating.

The blog culture despises profit for profit’s sake. I am careful how I describe this because it is rich and complex. There is a strong anti-large, anti-powerful element in the blog world, and that applies not only to businesses but to any person, institution or organization which is large and has strong influence. Bloggers tend to be highly skeptical of any entity which impacts their lives and over which they have little or no control–so some of this extends to businesses. Their criticism of them tends to focus on the profits they generate, but I believe the underlying concern is not the profits themselves but the way in which power is exerted and the perceived failure of the organization to change based on the values and ethics of the critics.

The blog world has high ethical standards and little patience for those who violate them. The essential standard is openness and honesty. And if you are powerful, it includes humility and vulnerability. This is in effect the sum total of the items listed above. The blog world is about authenticity and its absolute disregard for anyone or anything that is less than authentic. People who buy things routinely over the internet do not want to be fooled by a scam artist. To do so is to undermine the whole potential for online economics. To engage in a lively debate or share interesting information with someone, only to find out they have a hidden agenda, a profit motive, or an economic stake in the outcome of that discussion cuts to the very bone of the reason why bloggers spend their time engaging in these conversations. It is vitally important to them, and therefore they will protect the authenticity of discussions with all the vehemence they can muster.

So when I suggest that 2007 may be the year of authenticity, it is not just in the blog world. A previous post pointed to another blog that reported that this year will be the first year when more people get their news online than from traditional news outlets. Last count I saw there were over 60 million active blogs tracked on technorati.  But it is not just the blending of the sidestream and the mainstream that will result in a significant movement toward greater authenticity. It is how the values of the blog world are becoming some of the fundamental values of the rest of the world. We tend to see history as broad sweeps of changes that are not visible while you are in them. But historians find those individuals and specific actions or activities that are both representative of those broad sweeping changes and who help drive them. Who knows who history will credit with the lighting the spark that changed the world’s value system forever. My vote might be Robert Scoble and Shel Israel because of the impact their book Naked Conversations had on me and the understanding it helped me come to about the importance of the blog world in the greater world of opinion making. And from that standpoint, I guess all history is personal. May it be authentic.

Pleased to be included in new aggregating corporate blog site

November 28, 2006

Thanks to Google alerts, I found that crisisblogger is now included in a new corporate blog aggregating site called Corporate Weblogging. Here is info from their release with a list of the sites they will pull content from:
Expert Blog Content

In developing a knowledge center focused on blogging for public companies Corporate Weblogging has sought to aggregate content from the top experts including: Business Blog Consulting, BlogWrite for CEO’s, Corporate PR, Charlene Li’s Blog, Stephen Spencers Scatterings, Pro Blogger, Business BlogWire, BlinnPR Report, Blog Editor, Bloggers Blog, Blog Spotting, Brandstorming, Buzz Marketing with Blogs, CorpCommBuzz, Crisisblogger, Holmes Report Blog, IRDaily, LexBlog Blog, Micro Presausion, BlogPulse Newswire, PR Blog, PR Communications, PR Squared, Scatterbox by Steven Silvers, Scobleizer, The Bivings Report, The Blog Herald, Diva Marketing Blog, Business Logs, Corporate Engagement, Jonathon Schwartz’s Weblog, Better Business Blogging, Naked Conversations, Marketing Nirvana, Marketing Excellence Blog, Marketing Profs Daily Fix Blog, Marketing Shift, and CopyBlogger. 

SEC Chief Cox suggestion about blogging: tipping point for corporate blogging?

November 7, 2006

SEC Chief Christopher Cox, according to this AP story, thinks blogging would be a good form for corporations to discuss financial matters. Although the movement of companies and executives is becoming almost a flood, this kind of announcement may very well take corporate blogging to the next level.

Earlier today, I was on Shel Holtz’s blog “A Shel of my Former Self,” and read this sadly humorous account of a speaker at a conference touting the benefits of company podcasting. It demonstrates that those entering this world need to “get it” if they are not to embarrass their organizations or clients. Part of “getting it” is understanding that the blog world has an exceptionally high standard for authenticity.

Clara Potes, who commented earlier today on this blog, also makes a strong point for authenticity re the Wal-mart “flog” controversy on her blog: clarapotes.blogspot.com/.

So, when it comes to corporate commenting about financial matters in a way that satisfies SEC rules and the blog world, it will be an interesting show. The language has to be that of the casual blogger, commenting about the world while drinking coffee in his pjs, while the information has to be unassailable and fully legal. Seems the two worlds will have a hard time fitting together. But it will be interesting to watch.

Bloggers beware–here comes the judge

October 11, 2006

A court in Florida awarded $11.3 million in damages to a woman whose business was damaged by online attacks. Here’s the story from USA Today.  This particular story is interesting because the defendant never showed up and didn’t have an attorney because she lost her home in Katrina. And the battle was over the service she received in helping retreive her sons from a boarding school in Costa Rica where her divorced husband had sent them. Apparently she didn’t like the service she received and posted some bitter complaints on a blog or forum site.

Having been involved in helping companies deal with vicious and untruthful online attacks, this will be seen by many as an important precedent for those concerned about protecting reputations. From that standpoint, I welcome it. The $11.3 million judgment is of course, silly. How they came to this amount from the damage this small business may have experienced escapes me. And of course it is a rather empty victory given the defendant never showed up and clearly does not have the ability to pay.

Another concern is the impact on the freedom of speech that is a value dearly held by the blog world. To know that you can sustain this kind of damage when blasting out your thoughts in the heat of the moment is going to give some people pause. It probably should to some degree. But if our legal system has the same impact on Internet communication as it has in our health care system, our product liability situation, and in most other areas of our lives, we will all be the losers for it. So I hope some balance emerges.

How viral blogging works–fascinating case study by Eric Kintz

October 2, 2006

Previously I blogged and posted a link to a posting by Eric Kintz about whether or not posting frequency mattered. Eric took that posting and followed it around the blogosphere, tracking where it got linked and turned it all into a most fascinating case study of blogging’s power. It is viral marketing at work.

Here’s the case study. 

Kintz goes on to explain some of the secrets to accelerating the conversation, such as getting it linked on tier 1 blog sites (those with 1000 or more links.)

And obviously he’s working the system since he just commented on my blog since I was one of those who referenced his article in my blog and now am doing it again. Thanks Eric!