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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Jungle of Trolls: Coping with Social Media Disasters, Controversies, and Blunders

A few weeks ago, we at the Center had a fiasco on our hands. What happened, you ask? We entered the wild, savage jungle of Internet Commentary.

Here at the Center, we're a calm bunch. We're extremely respectful of one another, and we get along like fuzzy critters in a Disney movie. Nothing particularly controversial happens, except when someone eats the last Reese's cup in the candy jar.

Pictured: Travis "Sweet Tooth" Butterfield


So, in June, when one of our blog posts sparked a heated discussion in the comments section, we were all caught off guard. The blogger, Katie Hawkes, had written this post encouraging our audience to be optimistic about volunteering. We've had a couple bloggers explore similar sentiments, too, including my fellow Lodestar staff member Laura E. Tan and Public Allies Arizona alumna Angela Soliz.

But not everyone agreed with Katie.

As the first negative comments rolled in, one of my coworkers told me he was concerned and believed we should delete them. I imagine he reacted like the majority of people would, probably even you. You want to defend your friends and coworkers (or, you know, at least the ones you like...). The best way to do that would be to make the problem disappear, right?

You couldn't be more wrong.

When you engage in social media marketing, your nonprofit needs to be aware that it's an incredibly different jungle out there. I know you keep getting a barrage of advice and articles that say, "Social media is different! It's a two-way street! It's a conversation!" Yeah okay, I get it, I get it. But what do you do when that conversation goes sour?

So, let's make a Social Media Survival Kit for those negative moments. It's going to have a bunch of different essentials in it, so you're probably going to want a backpack. And a pith helmet, since those are seriously just awesome.

Hammock: To fulfill all your "chill out" needs.

First and foremost, calm down. If someone attacks you or your organization, try your darnedest not to react with anger or defensiveness. Instead, bust out your trusty hammock and take a moment to chill. One of the biggest mistakes your nonprofit can make is to overreact.

Chrysler ran into this issue earlier this year when an outsourced employee made a really unfortunate Twitter update on their official account. The mistake cost him his job and his company its contract, but many people were more concerned about how Chrysler handled it. In addition to the firing, the company apologized several times, but many Twitter users saw it as an amusing situation, not something that required repeated formal apologies and a lost job. Chrysler was the buzzkill, and they missed an opportunity to take it all in stride.

Bull Whip: To give you the confidence you need to face adversaries.

Channel your inner Indiana Jones! That guy was confident, and he even had his own soundtrack to alert people when he was about to do something awesome. The bull whip can help you assume the Indy level of confidence you're going to need when you're facing a roving pride of angry comment lions.

Keep in mind: having a bull whip in your Social Media Survival Kit doesn't mean you should go around cracking it at whatever crosses your path. Having the whip is less about taking down "the bad guys" and more about being confident in knowing you have additional protection in case it's needed. That protection comes in the form of communicating effectively with your social media friends and followers.

More often than not, deleting comments or simply ignoring them results in the community becoming distrustful and angry. A great example is the recent Urban Outfitters controversy. When an artist became angry about having her jewelry designs stolen by the company, she blogged about it. That story went viral on many social media outlets. Urban Outfitters remained silent, though, and even tweeted about products it was selling rather than addressing the very obvious elephant in the room (which took the form of a prominent trending topic). The company's silence only fanned the flames. Moral of the story: ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away and can even make it worse.


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Transparent Bandages: Because you're a big kid now.

If you make a social media goof along the way, don't freak out. Once, as a kid, I thought it'd be a fantastic idea to ride my bicycle down a flight of concrete stairs. Turns out, that's a super terrible idea. But I really didn't care all that much about totally humiliating myself. Slap a bandage on my freshly skinned knees, and I was good to go.

You've got to approach social media that way. If you make a gaffe, just admit it. By owning up to your faults, you'll appear more sincere and honest, meaning your followers and friends will be more likely to listen to you in the future.

You might remember the now infamous Red Cross tweet, where an employee accidentally tweeted about drinking beer on the Red Cross's official Twitter account. What made this event so memorable was how wonderfully the Red Cross, the employee, and even the brewery dealt with it. All parties involved acknowledged the situation, apologized in friendly ways, and came out looking fantastic and genuine.

Facing a social media controversy can be scary. It's a little like walking in the thick of the jungle without a compass. Since you can't predict things that will happen down the line, you can't always know which direction you'll need to turn. But, as long as you've got a well-stocked Social Media Survival Kit, you'll totally make it out alive. After all, you're a trooper.

Kayla is a Project Specialist at the ASU Lodestar Center, and you can catch her regularly updating the Center's social media accounts and managing this blog. In addition, she's currently working on her master's degree from Arizona State University in English Rhetoric & Composition, with a focus on social media. Feel free to stop by her Google+ page to give her a big Texas-style, "Howdy."


ASU Lodestar Center Blog