No-one’s perfect. It’s how we react in our moments of failure that sets the tone for our online relationships.
A few months ago I received an interesting offer: I would be given a whizzy new mobile – for keeps – if I agreed to do an honest review of the device, sharing my thoughts with the folks in my social network. Being a gadget geek and futurist, I could see two good reasons to accept this offer: I could explore the device while also exploring the potential of social media as a platform for reviews. As one of 25 reviewers, all with some presence in social media, what kind of cross-fertilization might we see as we all worked simultaneously toward the same goal?
Just hours after the reviews began to pour out, I received a stream of messages from a number of people who indicated that they objected to my use of social media for commercial purposes. This was, they explained, a personal space not colonized by marketing or public relations, and they were intent on keeping it that way.
There’s a lovely line in the film Ghostbusters: “Don’t cross the streams.” That’s what I’d done. I’d identified myself with the commercial aims of the carrier who sponsored this experiment on social media. I was seen as being its marketing mouthpiece. I’d crossed Mark Pesce with something else, something that definitely was not Mark Pesce.
I’d never felt such a pushback, and that’s when I realized that I’d actually done myself some damage. By identifying myself closely with an organization that has its own share of public relations problems, I’d tarred myself with the same brush. From here on in, whenever people think of me, they will always think about that relationship. It’s become part of my history.
‘How do you recover from that kind of damage? I hit upon an answer: live by the sword, die by the sword how do you recover from that kind of damage? I hit upon an answer: live by the sword, die by the sword. If my social network was upset by my actions, I’d offer up a transparent explanation. Further, I offered my network a choice: if a consensus agreed that I should withdraw from the review, I would do so.
For the next 24 hours, my blog was as busy as I’d ever seen. Some people supported my decision, some disagreed with it, but everyone appreciated the opportunity to be heard. In the end, I decided to honor my commitment and complete the review. But I doubt I’ll do this sort of thing again. It wouldn’t be an innocent mistake next time, so should it happen, I doubt my social network would be as forgiving. No-one’s perfect; mistakes get made all the time, even when people believe they’re acting from the best intentions. Social networks give us enormous antennae – we can know in minutes if others think we’re in the wrong. What happens at that point makes all the difference to the future of your reputation. If you take that moment to engage – openly, honestly, and transparently – you can soothe angry individuals. If you take on board what they’ve said, and change your behavior, you can gain their respect. If you show you’ve learned from the experience, you can earn their trust. It’s not rocket science, but it’s also not public relations. A social network isn’t something you can ‘manage’. It’s something that demands attention. How you respond to that demand will shape how others see you.