Should you respond to nasties online? Walmart’s new approach

One thing that has become all too transparent with social media and the Internet is that there are an awful lot of ugly, nasty people out there. And when they can hide behind anonymity they can get real ugly. That reality has driven a whole new class of reputation crisis. But left many with the question of what do you do when the uglies, nasties and digital mob start creaming you online?

My sense is that the standard answer (certainly mine has been) is that it doesn’t make sense to respond to any and every gratuitous attack. Monitor, monitor, monitor and if it looks like some accusation is getting legs then respond. However, I continually am surprised by the remnants of the old Mark Twain comment (I think it was Twain) who said never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. While that refers to news, because of the impossibility of determining a meaningful distinction between new media and old media, it also applies in some thinking to online attacks as well. Particularly if the attack is coming from someone with a large following.

The old saw about buying ink by the barrel must be balanced against another old say: a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. Walmart, it seems, is signing up to that idea with a new policy of not allowing gratuitous attacks online to go unchallenged. This digiday article on Walmart’s social media reputation SWAT team gives a very interesting insight into how Walmart deals with the 60,000 comments online about the company.

While your organization may not be Walmart in representing such a juicy target, if you have concerns about what may emerge online a study of Walmart’s approach is very worthwhile. This article gives a great behind the scenes look. The key difference in Walmart’s policy is this:

The internal mantra at Walmart: No free shots. This is a shift. Up until about a year and a half ago, Walmart took a passive approach to its critics on social media. It used social as a media relations tool to push out messages when it was convenient to them.

Social media is primarily about engagement. I see many approach it with old media thinking–that it is one way. Social media is two way. Sort of like talking to people. You won’t get much respect if in your conversation with others you just talk, talk, talk and never recognize that your conversation partner might have something to say.

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