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The Potential Danger of Trending Negative Press

Last week, a pet store in Texas became the unwitting victim of a torrent of social media abuse when a very dissatisfied customer posted a scathing report on Facebook accusing the store of having abhorrently poor conditions and generally failing to properly care for the animals inside. The post was shared over 13,500 times in 24 hours and continues to circulate even now. Since then the owner of the store has been subjected to a tirade a verbal abuse, up to and including death threats. Complaints about the store have been made to both the media and the police.

The thing is, the evidence to support these claims that the store is some kind of puppy hell is flimsy at best. While there have been complaints about the store in the past and code violations were found during a 2014 inspection, nothing matching the severity of the claims has ever been reported before and it's since been found that at present, the conditions of the pet store are not in violation of any codes. Despite this, the business is now teetering on the brink of collapse, with both owner and establishment now more well known for poor conditions than they had ever been for general sales and customer service.

This is what happens when negative press spirals on social media, it turns into a kind of witch hunt, with the victim often being admonished and verbally abused far beyond the severity of the claims being made, regardless of how valid they might be. This kind of online shaming usually tends to apply to an individual, rather than an establishment, but it almost always centres around something which, if you really think about it, isn't a big deal at all. Recent examples include a physicist being dragged over coals because of his lewd shirt, or another scientist whose admittedly wildly misjudged misogynist comments (meant to be a joke) lost him his job.

There's a whole Tumblr page dedicated to singling out racists on social media and seeing to it that they get fired. It's seen as a praiseworthy initiative by many. In these examples though, it's a person (and often one who did make a real, consequential mistake, albeit disproportionately) that's being lambasted and often, while their lives will take a severe hit, they will ultimately bounce back. Small businesses like this Texan pet store might end up closing down for good as a direct result of this.

The simple fact of the matter is, with the right wording and momentum, destroying a small business using social media probably isn't all that difficult. When there are people howling for your death, the old adage of 'everyone deserves a second chance' ends up getting drowned out pretty quickly. In 2011 Freestream Aircraft, a private jet dealer, almost got shut down for good. The owner had been sued by her old company when she left to start her own business, she counter-sued and settled out of court, it was all very civil. Despite this, a prospective customer caught wind of her legal history, banded it about on social media and cost her an almost fatal customer haemorrhage.

The easiest way to deal with an issue like this is to do everything you can to make sure your reputation online is carefully managed. The pet store, for instance, could have made use of some past positive customer reviews and reports in order to counter the single negative one. Happily, there are places both people and businesses can go to deal with this kind of thing, rather than having to face up to it alone. Reputation.com was founded in 2006 and now operates widely across Europe and North America. They specialise in helping people manage their reputations online so that they won't be ruined by negative press.

It's fair to say that sometimes this kind of shaming is not only warranted, but genuinely useful. Most of the time, this is when it's directed at larger companies and groups in response to larger issues. Despite a vast contingent of US residents being in favour of action against climate change, regardless of political affiliation, there are still climate change deniers in congress who block bills. In response to this, a group called Organising for Action created a 'climate change denier fantasy tournament', organising all the worst offenders into an NCAA-style bracket, allowing people to single out the worst of the worst, as well as making it easier to harangue them all on Twitter.

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There's no direct way to determine exactly when shaming and bad press is a necessary evil and when it's just malicious, but once again the most simple answer is that people need to manage their online presence and reputation in such a way that if something nasty does rear up, they're well positioned to counter it. The most important thing is to focus on listening to people who have real, genuine points to make about the way you run your business, rather than the ones who are just out for their pound of flesh.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

Contact us on Twitter, on Facebook, or leave your comments below. To find out about social media training or management why not take a look at our website for more info http://socialmediacambridge.co.uk/.
The Potential Danger of Trending Negative Press Reviewed by Unknown on Monday, September 07, 2015 Rating: 5

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