I think we can take it as read that any contemporary senior executive has at some point considered the possibility of his or her company having to deal with criticism, even a concerted campaign of criticism, online. It would be interesting to know whether many of those executives have taken that thought to the next stage and looked at their preferred strategy in the event of such criticism occurring.
An article in the Wall Street Journal a week ago by a couple of management professors draws on their research into the phenomenon of online attacks on corporations, to provide:
- a neat outline of typical ways of dealing with such attacks
- recommended strategies.
Dr. Christopher Martin is the Rudy and Jeannie Linco professor at the Frost School of Business, Centenary College of Louisiana, in Shreveport. Dr. Nathan Bennett is the Edwin and Catherine Wahlen professor of management at the Georgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta.
They spell out five basic approaches adopted by corporations:
- Put the Lawyers on to It
- Throw Money at the Problem
- Invite and Engage the Customer
- Stop it Before It Starts
The professorial duo provides comments and recommendations on each of the approaches. The listing is clearly in order, from least first to most useful last. The first three, ‘old hat’ approaches are deprecated and the last two approaches are encouraged.
They do not understate the risk an online attack can bring:
The potential harm from such attacks should not be underestimated. They can damage a company’s reputation, hurt sales and scare off potential — and current — employees. Investors may flee, and partnerships may be put at risk.
They offer optimism:
The good news is strategies exist for fighting back and even inoculating companies against such attacks. Often, the first successful step is recognizing that the authors of the attacks are frustrated over what they perceive as unjust treatment.
In the accompanying video interview with one of the authors, Professor Nate Bennett, their recommended approach is summarized, under the two preferred strategies, characterized as:
- Invite and Engage strategy
- Innoculation strategy
A key takeaway for me, which probably belongs in the category of “makes sense but how many actually practise it?”, was the observation that:
Companies experiencing few or no online attacks are characterized by a culture supportive of employees and concerned about customers.
Right. Social media strategies are not panaceas for customer and employee relations challenges. They are complementary to other aspects of best practice.