Chief Bill Boyd (he’s a former fire chief, but he’ll always be “Chief” to me) is one of the few I would call on if I found myself under attack. That’s why it was an honor that I would be one he would call when a nasty personal attack appeared online about him.
As you can see from his blog post about this experience, he quickly discovered that even years of experience in handling some pretty high-profile crisis and emergency communications does not necessarily prepare you when suddenly you are the subject of attacks. His retelling from this painful personal experience is a great lesson for just about everyone and every organization when facing reputation threats.
Some key lessons Bill and I discussed in the heat of the moment are clearly identified in his story but bear repeating here:
1. Stay calm. Be very careful about an overly emotional response.
2. Be careful about elevating the discussion publicly. It is quite normal that the person making the attack has a reputation for this sort of thing, enjoys limited credibility and loves the attention it creates and has a motive for increasing attention on his blog. Hence, the wrestling with the pig comment.
3. Don’t be afraid to confront the accuser. In this case, Bill found his attacker to be more reasonable than expected and after being directly confronted (in a nice way) with the facts, he quickly backtracked, apologized and corrected the record.
4. Monitor, monitor, monitor. An attack like this only is effective if it gets legs. Having someone say something nasty is like the tree falling in the forest. It’s only damaging if it is heard. That’s why you don’t want to do anything to make it more heard. On the other hand, social media gives us an unprecedented opportunity to track the momentum of an attack. Use it.
5. It’s not necessarily good to do nothing. It seems in the past most advice would be to let it die its own death, especially if it doesn’t seem to be getting traction. But, another of my favorite sayings is “a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.” That’s the nature of history, and the Internet is the best keeper and distributor of history we have–including false history. It is far better that these attacks were corrected than allowed to stand. You never know what on the Internet will come back to bite you–as many young people doing and saying stupid things on social media are finding out when they hit the job market. Do what you can to get and keep a clean record.