Independent bookseller Avid Reader has staved off a troll attack on Facebook with a series of witty comments and delicious-looking cake, and marketing and social media experts are calling on other SMEs to use the situation to think about their own game plans for unwanted attention on social platforms.
On Monday the Brisbane bookshop re-posted an announcement from author Clementine Ford that she had signed a second book deal and will be starting a project on masculinity in Australia.
Despite Avid thinking this was “brilliant news”, the post enraged some Facebook users, who were angry that the store would promote Ford’s work. What followed was a flood of one-star reviews being left for the business.
Avid Reader social media manager Christopher Currie tells SmartCompany the attacks the business saw were “unprecedented”, but what to do next came naturally, because he knows the values of the business so well.
“I approached it in the same way I approach anything else when representing Avid Reader: we have a strong set of values that we stick to, and these don’t include submitting to the concerted attacks from “Men’s Rights” activists. Basically, if you treat us with disrespect, except the same back,” he says.
The bookshop started cheerfully engaging with the one-star reviews. Within hours, call-outs from former staff members and writers Ben and Michelle Law had seen the shop’s customers and supporters writing hundreds of five-star reviews in response. Some customers even brought staff cake to fend off bad troll energy.
— Benjamin Law (@mrbenjaminlaw) June 26, 2017
The store now has 4,500 five-star Facebook reviews, more than outweighing the 352 one-star ratings.
While this approach might not be right for every business, the swift silencing of aggressive voices in this case reveals a lot about handling conflict with grace, say experts.
1. Don’t switch off
Social media is not a forum where you get to decide how others respond to your brand, even if you’re doing everything right, says head of Marketing Angels, Michelle Gamble.
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“You can’t control what happens in social media, they rely on the crowd self-moderating to a certain extent,” she says.
Too many businesses use this fact as an excuse not to engage with new platforms in a meaningful way, but this is a missed opportunity, because if you have a strong community, it can help counteract any attacks against you.
“Rather than them going to prosecute the trolls, they’ve gone to their community and said ‘what do you think about this?’,” Gamble says of the Avid Reader case, highlighting how this wouldn’t have been possible if the store was disconnected from social media from the start.
2. Build a community well before controversy hits
“We are very lucky to have customers and indeed former staff members with great social media engagement, and they took to the task of taking down the trolls with gusto!” Currie says.
Gamble says this is incredibly important, because you can’t leverage a community if it isn’t there in the first place.
“If you’re going to invest, you need to commit to it — you can’t be half pregnant,” she says.
While many businesses “know inherently” what they stand for, actually sticking to those values in the moment is difficult for those who haven’t thought about what that looks like when times get tough.
“I think businesses inherently know what they stand for, but in terms of a clear sticking to those, it’s not something that many do well,” she says.
Director of InsideOut PR Nicole Reaney says you will get support from your customers or community entirely depending on what you put in.
“Brand reputation can be considered just like a bank account. The more time you invest in your brand image and reputation — the stronger the following and loyalty you will receive in hard times where you need to ‘borrow’ some additional support,” she says.
3. Have a game plan … kind of
“I personally have been moderating comments since Monday night basically nonstop,” Currie tells SmartCompany, acknowledging that many businesses might not want to engage with trolls directly when things escalate so quickly.
However, his advice to other businesses facing aggression online is to make a choice on how to deal with it and stick to it.
“I suppose my advice would be to be consistent. If you want to ignore it, ignore it. If you want to start banning people, do that,” he says.
Social media expert and founder of CP Communications Catriona Pollard agrees, saying while each case is different and humour is not always the answer, SMEs need to have at least a basic set of principles around who responds to outrage, and when.
“Do some research, so you know the different approaches to managing situations like this. Have a game plan to a certain extent, because these things can so often happen outside of hours,” she says.
“Every single case needs to be treated differently, but you can still be researched, make sure the right people have the passwords, and that you have people in the business who are trained on this. That’s the point where so many businesses come unstuck.”