I am publishing a special series detailing my SWARM methodology — a toolset to help you respond when your organization gets negative feedback online. This is the second lesson. You may want to start reading with the “S” in SWARM first.

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“Stand up!” squealed the leader at the conference I was attending. “And find a partner.”

I cringed. Honestly, as a participant, I prefer zero interaction with others in the room. I’d much rather just absorb information from the speaker than participate in any ice-breaking exercises. It’s not that I’m anti-social; I just learn best on my own. Perhaps it’s my only-child tendencies coming out.

But everyone stood up. An over-caffeinated woman in her 20s bounced up to me. “Hey — You can be my partner! We’ll win this thing, whatever it is.”

The session leader explained the rules. “Hold your palms up against each other.” My partner jabbed her hands at me. I reciprocated. “Now then. I’m going to start a timer for 20 seconds. Whoever can get their partner to move their feet, wins.” His timer beeped, and my perky friend began pushing at my hands, trying to throw me off balance. I tried the same, in some kind of bizarre corporate-approved arm wrestle. Neither of us moved our feet and the timer went off.


“So, how many of you employed the brute-force method of just pushing as hard as you could?” A few hands raised. “How many of you relaxed your arms, so your partner would fall into you, causing their feet to move?” A few snickers, and more hands.

“And how many of you BOTH won?”

Confused silence filled the room. “Did any of you agree to BOTH move your feet so you would both win?”

A fellow in the back yelled out “You said the first person who moved their feet lost.”

“No I didn’t. I said ‘Whoever can get their partner to move their feet, wins’. There’s no reason why you both couldn’t have won if you’d just agreed to both move your feet.”

Not Everybody Has to Lose

Sometimes we forget that just because one person wins doesn’t mean the other person has to lose. With just a little bit of thought, it’s not difficult to construct a scenario where both people win.

People will complain on your social media channels because they want something to change — better quality service on their next visit, a cheaper rate, and so on. One way to help knock down an angry swarm is to give them something more than just a response.

Give them a “win.”

You don’t need to overthink this. Wins can be simple — a promise to check back with them to see if something they were complaining about has improved.

My company works with a number of shopping centres to help them manage their social media channels. One day, one of the centres’ Facebook Pages we moderate started to blow up. A visitor had posted a complaint about the in-mall kiosk vendors. These vendors sell everything from cell phone covers to makeup to inexpensive jewelry. Apparently, some of the vendors can be quite aggressive in their sales approach — even as far as grabbing passers-by by their arm to try to pull them over to their kiosks.
The visitor complained about the aggressive kiosk people and her comment got an enormous amount of traffic — dozens of comments and Likes a minute in the opening salvos.

My approach to responding was thee-fold: (1) Acknowledge the comments; (2) promise to look into it: and, (3) report back the next morning on what happened.

Of course, the comments kept coming (some people hadn’t seen my post) so every dozen or so comments, I — posting as the shopping centre’s brand — would dive into the comments with, essentially, the same message but worded differently.

I tagged the major combatants so that they’d get notified that a response had been posted. Then I’d wait for another dozen to come in and post essentially the same thing, again, using different phrasing.

As soon as I started with this approach, comments died down almost instantly. People felt they were being listened to which is half the reason they posted. It impressed them even more because this was taking place in the evening, outside of business hours.

The next morning, mall management spoke to the kiosk vendors, gave them another copy of the selling guidelines, and threatened them with fines if more reports of aggressive tactics are reported. Of course, I reported this in the comment stream, to keep people updated:

So the “win” there was that the comments actually resulted in something real happening. Then, I sent a message to about 50 of the most active commenters:

Facebook, unfortunately, lumps all messages from brand pages into a generic “Other Messages” bucket which most people don’t check, so only about 15 people got back to me. Each one was happy to be contacted later. I filed their email addresses away and reached out to them a couple of months later to see if things had gotten any better. Indeed, even just responding generated a wealth of positive sentiment.

Finding the right “win” is critical to a successful negative response. In this case, the “Win” people got was being listened to, kept updated, and had someone follow up with them to see if the situation had improved.

Done right, when they win, you win.

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Next Post: “A: Avoid a Public Battle”

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This is a small part of Tod’s keynote presentation “The Facts of Strife: A Blueprint to Crisis Management Online.” In the presentation, your group will also learn:

  • Tod’s company’s highly effective PEDB (Praise/Escalate/Delete/Ban) flow-strategy for managing your brand’s social media presence
  • How to create a Negative Response Strategy for your firm
  • The most effective, compliance-safe social media policies for employees
  • How one of the most talked-about social media campaigns ended up nearly destroying its brand
  • Tod’s model of a “web swarm,” and his five-step methodology for responding to a swarm
  • How your legal and marketing teams should deal when your brand falls victim to “Twitterjacking
  • Case studies of instances where organizations in your industry have faced attacks online, how they dealt with them, and the results
  • Why your organization’s next hire needs to be a Chief Humanizing Officer and what that role would entail
  • How to monitor the state of your brand’s reputation daily, with almost no technical expertise

Here is more information about the presentation or you can inquire about Tod presenting it to your group.