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If you learn anything about communicating across social channels in 2011, let it be this: Never write anything when you’re angry. I’ll take it one step further and add that you should never  respond to any comments that bring out emotions you feel you cannot control.

Here’s an example: You’re reading a highly critical comment about your company, yourself or one of your colleagues or employees. After the first few sentences you are fuming. You know it’s a lie and you cannot wait to rebut. That is when you have to walk away. You are in no position to respond.

Not yet.

I have seen this time and time again, and the people who would seemingly understand this concept, and the permanence of any content posted online, fall victim to their emotions.

One comment turns into two, unfinished thoughts morph into uncontrollable rants, and when the dust settles, they look like a fool.
Consider the tale of this back and forth on Twitter, as described by MG Siegler over on Techcrunch. This is just one case of bad judgement and it probably won’t have much fallout for those who participated, but it is chronicled on a popular blog, something they may not have expected.

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This is a guest post from Heidi Cool, a web strategist and designer based in the Cleveland area. Heidi and I met on LinkedIn and discovered a Cleveland connection and shared habit of taking deep breaths and walking away from negative comments then coming back with a clear head in an effort to respond with dignity and grace. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No. Here’s more from Heidi on how she deals with negative comments:

The first thing I do is take a deep breath and walk away from the keyboard until I stop grumbling under my breath about the comment. Then I’ll re-read to see which points have merit, which do not, and which may be the result of a misunderstanding. I blog about Web development and don’t tend to stir up much in the way of controversy, but sometimes people will disagree.

I do not censor opposing opinions, I think they can sometimes make interesting discussions. What I do censor is spam. If I received a particularly offensive comment I might censor it for language or edit it–but leave a note in the comment that I had done so. I’ve not had to do that yet, but I think it’s the tactic I would take. In most cases I find it is helpful to leave a tactful response to the comment, so as to clear up any issues that may confuse other readers. The exception would be for someone that is deliberately trying to provoke a reaction.

As the saying goes, “Don’t feed the trolls.” If it looks as though someone is trying to start a flame war I will leave the comment there but ignore it. I recently had a particularly negative comment on a blog entry I wrote, “Is Flash evil? No, but Flash-based sites can be a marketing nightmare. ” I knew this would be a controversial topic, especially for the Flash designers, but I was also trying to point out the potential pitfalls that many designers don’t realize. One fellow referred to the entry as garbage and called it blatantly misleading. However he didn’t state which points he disagreed with, nor did he offer any examples. In this case there was a risk that he may have been just trying to stir up a fight, but I responded by clarifying what my intentions were with the post (which discusses SEO problems I regularly see on Flash-based sites) and asked if he had examples he could share which would demonstrate how these problems could be solved. He didn’t respond, so no flame-war ensued.

Another fellow pointed out a solution to one of the problems. That was a helpful response because it let’s Flash designers know that there is a good work-around for that issue. Overall though most responses, including emails and Twitter feedback, were positive and the entry received many reTweets. This was reassuring because while I knew I had done the proper research it’s always nice to know that others agree.

Sounds like Heidi is a class act. What about you? How do you deal with negative comments on your blog or elsewhere? Do tell.

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Dear United Airlines:

You messed up big. You know it. There is no need for me to rehash it because it is all over the web, TV, radio..you name it. I’ve watched the video twice and even showed it to my husband last night, many days after my first viewing. I couldn’t help it.

The tune is actually catchy, the video funny and well, you really had it coming. The next time someone vows to (In Carroll’s words) l “write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world” I think you should take them to heart.

What I talk about on my blog is community building and engagement and there is still hope for you if you’re willing to put in the work. Right now you are in heavy damage control mode and that is quite understandable. But if you can step back for a minute and think of ways to connect with people who are talking about you in droves right now, you can take this big bowl of lemons and start making lemonade. There was a post by Dan Greenfield earlier this week that chronicled your responses on YouTube and Twitter and compared them to the number of comments made by the public. They completely dwarf your numbers. That is somewhat understandable but you could probably do better.

The key here is that people are talking about you. It may not be in the best light but they are talking about you much more than they were before this happened. You will have to kowtow to Carroll a bit, but that should not be your only strategy. Try building community around all of this chatter.

Here are a few ideas I offer you, free of charge:

Ask people what you could have done better. Seriously. Start your own forum or Facebook page asking people what you could have done better in this case. Don’t worry about looking stupid. That has already happened. This could turn into a good thing.

Find Weird Al Yankovic and have him write a spoof to Carroll’s song on your behalf. Remember this rendition of Michael Jackson’s Beat It, coined “Eat it?” Why not get in on the action? I bet he can fit you into his schedule.

Ask Carroll if someone from your company can be in his next video. He may not be as mad at you by the time the third video is produced and if you keep giving him everything he asks for he may even start to like you again. Big maybe on that.

Read EVERY.SINGLE.COMMENT and reach out to bloggers. Get a team of people to read every single comment and blog connected to that video that you can. Comment heavily.

Create some cool sticker with the YouTube logo and Carroll’s face on music equipment reminding baggage handlers to be careful. You see where I’m going with this. Get your team together and start having fun with this thing.

Think long term and get people talking about how you handled all of this with a bit of humor, after the fact and cared enough about your reputation to let the world help you do better.

Yours truly..and good luck,

Angela Connor

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With everyone talking about the disgusting domino’s fiasco, I just had to share a blurb I posted on twitter the day before the news actually broke and Domino’s found itself in the ultimate PR nightmare.

As a community manager, I am very pleased when people open up and share. In fact, I spend a great deal of my time encouraging them to do just that. I’m pretty good at it and my community is growing. But there is a such thing as sharing too much. And simply being stupid.

Enter: THE COMMON SENSE FACTOR

Did you hear about the couple evicted from the house they were renting after posting pictures of wild parties and the house being trashed on Facebook? The common sense factor was not applied in that case. What about the guy who was fired from Goldman Sachs for spending too much time on Facebook? Nope, not a shred of common sense applied there either.

I won’t even go into the Fed Ex incident.

At the core, this isn’t about Fed Ex, Motrin, Domino’s or Facebook. It’s about people. These are technologies and tools and we decide how to use them. We are the thinking beings. The superior species. We control these outside forces, and when we let them control us, the outcome will never be a good one.

So put down the video camera if you think you’re going to lose your mind and record yourself doing something stupid enough to land you in jail. Turn off the computer and decompress. Do yourself a favor, and communicate like the whole world is watching, because some day, that may very well be the case.

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Wait!

Before you hit the send, reply, submit or post buttons, ask yourself this question? Do I want the whole world to see this?

While the “whole world” concept may seem a bit dramatic, if something you’ve written gets in front of the wrong set of eyeballs it will certainly feel as though the whole world has seen it.

While it is never our intention to flat out embarrass ourselves, plenty of people do it everyday and I think it can be avoided rather easily.

How you might ask? By operating like a public official. As a journalist, I know that I can submit a Public Records Request and get copies of emails received and sent by anyone whose salary is paid by taxpayers. So, even though my salary is paid by a private company, I operate as if I’m accountable to the masses.

As the Managing Editor of an online community my written words are often shared publicly and I am extremely aware of that. What that does is make me communicate very carefully and with an amazing amount of tact, even when the situation may warrant a different type of response.

If a member attacks me in an e-mail, I respond professionally even when it kills me. What I’ve found is sometimes my response prompts them to change their tune and a real conversation often follows. That isn’t *always* the case but it happens often enough.

I received an email from a member a few days ago about a woman she thought was attempting to scam the community with fund raising efforts for her terminally ill son. She had conducted quite a bit of research and shared the results in the email.

I didn’t bash the woman but I did indicate in my reply that I was going to remove the blog from the homepage immediately, investigate further and remove her from the community completely if she was running a scam.

Well, the member who emailed me posted my entire response in a blog warning the community to be leery about the woman in question. I didn’t know she would do that because it was an e-mail between the two of us and quite honestly I was not thinking about it when I responded. But boy am I glad that I’ve programmed myself to be careful with my responses. That could have been ugly.

The point of this post is simply to raise your awareness. You never know where your words will end up, so be careful.

Reputation management should start with you.

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This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section of each blog entry.

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