Friday, 29 June 2012

Mind your manners

A curious phenomenon happens when some people communicate online. The perceived protection of the screen and keyboard seems to turn them into boorish louts and bullies. I'm not talking about anonymous trolling here. What I want to focus on is people who use their real names - or the name of their company - on sites like LinkedIn and Twitter. I'm also limiting my remarks to people represent their business or company on these channels.

I have no issues with having a spirited discussion as long as everyone is behaving professionally and calmly. Talking to people that don't share your views is a great way to learn, even if you end up agreeing to differ.

Generally, the intentions of businesses that engage in social media are to raise awareness of their business, generate leads and look after current customers. Building a digital footprint that is balanced and well populated takes time and effort. What you put on the 'net stays there for an awfully long time. (Even if you think you've deleted it)

If you're looking up a business on Google and you come across acrimonious exchanges online, what will your opinion of that business be? The main excuse I hear is that the individual representing the company believed they were "attacked" online and had to respond.

Now hang on just a minute! The defence that "they started it" should be left behind in the playground. It has no place in business. It takes two to make an online disaster. How you cope with complaints and negativity towards your business reflects on you. It can actually do you good.


Well, make absolutely sure your replies to a dissatisfied customer are courteous and helpful.  Even if the customer remains disaffected, you will be seen to have tried your best. Indeed, a particularly persistent and unreasonable online complaint (if handled well) can do you a great service by demonstrating how responsive, polite and "on the ball" you are.

Then there's the excuse that the other company "behaved badly". Oh please! Exactly how are you making things better by engaging in extended online acrimony? Behaving badly just because someone else does is unprofessional and will significantly damage your reputation.

There's still a misplaced perception amongst some business people that because online communication is virtual, it isn't "real". What you say online, and how you behave, is critical to the success of your business.

If you're angry or upset by something you read online, here are a few tips to help you cope:

  • Don't comment while you're still fuming. Calm down first.
  • Research the background of the incident. You need the whole story.
  • Do you actually need to reply? Sometimes silence is very powerful.
  • Move away from the screen for a few minutes. You won't calm down by staring at it.
  • Take into account the tone of voice that your reply will be read in - rather than the one you'll send it with.
  • Be courteous, however great the provocation.
  • If you are subjected to abuse stop interacting and block/report as required.