Earlier I mentioned that the fine folks over at Eloqua were kind enough to permit me a contributing role in a recent Grande Guide. In the interest of time, brevity, and… well, interest – they smartly pared down the original submission to something more fitting for a Grande Guide. After all, those guides (have you seen them all?) are meant to be consumed over your morning joe, or maybe over your chicken salad wrap at lunch.
I trimmed up the piece I initially drafted for the Eloqua folks. Below is the longer, original post. Enjoy.
The ScenarioYou make a seemingly innocuous tweet, and you get slammed from left field. You posted an update about your product on your blog, and you get dinged three times from the same person about a missing feature. You make a light-hearted post about upbeat quarterly earnings, and you get lambasted for not driving profits back into R + D. What gives? You’re being stalked by haters.
What Is a Hater?
A hater is someone or a group of people who, for whatever reason(s), have it out for you. They use frequent attempts to disparage, mar, or otherwise smear your public reputation, and attempt to do so publicly in an attempt to draw negative attention to you. Note that haters can be current or former customers, current or former employees, or even the competition.
Why Is a Hater Hatin’ on You? What’s Their Motivation?
Motivations for hater activity come in many flavors: dissatisfied with the product, company, an individual, or leadership; use of the product leading to a personal set back; a disgruntled employee; the list goes on. What’s useful in this instance is to attempt to understand what the motivation might be. This will help you address the root cause of the issue, if you choose to do so. Otherwise, you might be addressing the symptom, not the sickness. And try to understand if the motivation is directed at your product, company, or brand, or if it’s directed personally at you.
Should You Address a Hater?
This might come as surprising news to some, but the answer is no (well, ‘no, not always’). The customer isn’t always right. Some people are out there just to give you a hard time. Or, they have wildly divergent views of what you/your/product/your company/your mission is. No amount of platitudes would ever placate a person like this. Don’t get me wrong – by and large, a customer complaint is a gift – it’s an opportunity to learn more and strengthen the brand. But being able to identify and separate out a customer with a legitimate gripe from the ones that just want to spew invective and slander your name is more art than science.
If you can spot the hater right at the outset, and sense that no amount of dialogue will work, then cut your losses, as much as it might pain you to do so. Learning this sense and skill takes time (I’m personally still developing my own sense for it).
Assess the influence or reach level of this hater. Is it worth your time to engage? This isn’t to sound elitist and suggest instilling a “we only interact with A-listers” policy. Rather, it’s another way of looking at the risk-vs.-reward calculation. Let’s say that you spend three 30-minute sessions crafting responses to a hater who has (by your estimation) 11 blog subscribers and 336 Twitter followers; and the best resolution you predict is a swing from negative to neutral. Is it worth 1.5 hours of your time for that person to only possibly share news that they received good customer service from you?
Keep in mind that a vocal minority is not the same as a murmuring majority. Not all noise is the same.
Seven Steps to Addressing a Hater’s Attack
That being said, I think assessing and not addressing haters will probably be the minority of cases. For all others, you will likely want to reach out to them on some level. Here’s a seven-step checklist that you might find helpful.
Understand the motivations – As stated above, figure out what’s making them tick. If you can get to the root cause, devising your approach and possible remediation will be easier. Some possible motivations include a feeling of being insulted, a feeling of being wronged, or even a member of a competitor looking to stir the pot.
Keep it professional – use empathy in all cases – It’s easy to think that the hater’s perspective is wildly inaccurate or a flat-out lie. But try for a moment to put yourself in their shoes. Can you see the source of anger or frustration? Appreciating this viewpoint will help you identify a potential resolution.
Can the ‘wrong’ be righted? Can you turn a hater into a fan? This is the ultimate goal – get the pendulum to swing the other way. First identify if there is indeed a wrong. Note that not all wrongs are blatant company missteps. Sometimes what a hater perceives as a wrong might not be viewed as such from your perspective. Sometimes righting a wrong is as simple as saying “We’re sorry” or owning up to a mistake.
When addressing the hater, initially use the same form of communication – If you get blasted on Twitter, tweet back. If your editorial skills permit (and the situation calls for it), use a little humor to diffuse the situation. The point here is that if you are hit publicly, then you want to acknowledge that in the same light.
Avoid red herrings – Keep the discussion relevant to the point raised. If the hater surfaces a point that is broad, like “Your company sucks!”, consider acknowledging it, empathizing, and asking for some specific detail to advance the conversation. Something like the following would work: “Thanks for taking the time to write. We’re sorry that you’re dissatisfied with us. Every now and again, we all get irked by a company or product. But we’re here to listen. What specifically is on your mind?” With this, the hater is required to isolate a reason (or several, but at least separated) for the hate. From here, you can address the issues. If the hater ever moves beyond that, you can always revert back to this part of the conversation, where the boundaries and framework were set.
Move deep discussions off-line – If the conversation is going to go beyond a message or two, invite the hater to continue the chat off-line. But do this publicly! This lets anyone who is following the conversation know that you, as a company/brand/product/person is acknowledging (and not ignoring) the hater. Taking it off-line lets you move beyond 140 characters (if it originated on Twitter) and into email, or even a telephone call. But if you take it offline…
Bring it back on line to ‘announce’ resolution – Make sure you let others know that the situation has been resolved, or at least brought to a point where you’re not going to go back ‘n forth about it so much. Again, this lets anyone following the situation to know that there is a bit of closure or resolution. It also provides the hater an opportunity to promote that communication point, in the event that you swung the pendulum and the hater is now a promoter.
What Happens If They Are Relentless
Every now and again, you’re going to run into a hater that has an endless gas tank. They will keep firing at you, again and again and again. This is different from the point raised above in the sense that you opted to engage with them at the initial assessment level. But you need to know when to cut your losses. Instill a ‘reasonable attempts’ rule (three is a good number). And after the last straw, indicate to the hater that you’ve reached a limit and that the two-way conversation on this particular point is finished. Do so positively, because you never know if you may interact with them again.
Some Things to Keep in Mind
Continue to monitor your haters from afar – You may not want to follow them on Twitter, but there are ways to stay on top of updates and such through searches. You don’t want to obsess over it, but it’s not a bad idea to keep half an eye on the people that have already publicly indicated their distaste for your company/brand/product/you.
Assume that you are being monitored – Take the same bit of advice above, and switch roles. Keep this in mind when an issue is seemingly over. Don’t go publicly bad-mouthing a person because an issue is concluded, and you think that they may not still be paying attention.
Be careful what you put into writing, or otherwise copy-able format – Note that your text or images can be copied and pasted, and reused elsewhere. Furthermore, they can be used out of context. So be mindful of what you say and how you say it.
Lastly, remember that publicly retaliating will satisfy you and you only – If you represent a brand, you may (or may not) do damage. If it’s a gray area, err on the side of safety. It’s tempting to lash out, especially of the attacks get personal (but emanate from your role within a company).
image source: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/haters-gonna-hate