How to respond to online flame attacks

If you’re online for any length of time, you’re bound to get flamed. And in any group of people who are thinking about getting their small business or tourism destination online, there are always several who are seriously worried about being attacked online.

The moon is on fireI think this is a natural extension of our small town concerns. We have CAVE People (what Jack Schultz calls the Citizens Against Virtually Everything), we have coffee shops full of people quick to criticize and slow to help, and we have a gossip about every 20 feet. And our experiences with unmoderated online forums, like anonymous comments on newspaper sites, are not positive. So it’s natural for people to worry.

Here are five strategies to help you survive the inevitable flames and even respond appropriately to online attacks.

  1. Always thank them for engaging. You’re from a small town. Don’t forget to be polite, even to those who may be rude to you.
  2. Acknowledge the truths. Many online rants are tied to at least a seed of truth. Make sure you are honest about those points.
  3. Fix what you can. Nothing sucks the life out of a firestorm faster than solving the problem.
  4. Use your coffee shop skills. When you walk in to your hometown coffee shop, you know that different situations and different people call for different approaches. Sometimes you have to sit down and join them in conversation. Sometimes you have to laugh.
  5. Know when to move on. This is another coffee shop skill. Sometimes, the best thing to do is not engage them at all, or to end a conversation. Don’t be afraid to do the same online. 

Perhaps the best advice I can give you to avoid or survive the flames is to over communicate. Make sure you are getting important messages out to the right people through as many channels as possible. Remember, you may have to repeat your message seven times before people will take it in.

What advice do you have for surviving online controversy?

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About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband own a retail liquor store in Alva, Oklahoma, and a small cattle ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.

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  1. says

    Yup! Just had a somewhat kind of this sort of twitter exchange – a response to one of my links to a performance of Dame Myra Hess – the most dynamite concentration of energy I have ever heard pull a whirlwind out of a piano keyboard – Someone responded that her performances were “flabby” – this stunned a few pianists I follow –
    anyway, I ramble….
    I engaged. I acknowledge the “to each his own” – Live & let live – and kept the lines open –
    Now, to the small-town connection. Everybody should enjoy the privilege of learning what can be learned by hanging out in small town cafes, locally owned pizza restaurants, bakeries, drugstores-Best part about taking my Mozart to small Oklahoma towns, is “the people” – There’s a lot of wisdom if you keep your ears open –
    Thanks for this post.
    I ramble, but as my favorite writer, Marguerite Young, advised prior to Twitter (back in the 50s)
    “Twitter on, Burdock, Twitter on!”

  2. says

    Interesting enough I had a conversation with a client just the other day regarding this topic. While I agree with all your excellent suggestions being part of the SEO world I would have to add using specific social media tools available on the Internet can help. This of course is if the “flaming” is done on social networking sites.

    Our client has opted to remove the comments feature. Something I am still working on having her avoid. Opening the conversation is really the only way to move on!

  3. says

    Yes it is interesting how flaming can grow from a lot of misrepresentations as well.

    The challenge in online communication is that everyone brings their own perspective and baggage to the communication.(and you miss body language and tone of voice etc…)

    So while one word is cool with you another can be a trigger point for them as they have attached it to a bad experience before you ever came along. You ask a simple questions and BAM you triggered them without even knowing.

    Funny how the reptilian brain works.

    While there are a lot of people saying be open online, the best way to disengage with negative conversations is to not engage at all. I have interviewed numerous people on this topic and from attorneys to social media enthusiasts all say take high road and be quiet.

    So one stance for personal and another for corporate is weird how that played out.

    Now for companies being accused of not operating as they stated that’s another ball of wax, yes then communicate like Ford and Comcast has done.

  4. says

    I’ve been through this and I’ve learned it’s important to be proactive. Send happy customers to review sites (or email lists or forums) before you get a bad review. I’ve found that having two bad reviews sandwiched between 10 good reviews is better than 1 bad review followed by 12 responses.

    Also, most review sites and lists are worried about libel. If the flamer gets personal, can’t prove that what he’s saying is true or if mention that there is a possible or current lawsuit then the sites will remove the offensive content.

  5. says

    Haha CAVE people, love it. Whether its positive chatter or neg, better to show you are listening. People will talk about you whether you are listening or not. Probably more so if you not in the room.

  6. says

    Wayne, that is a good example. Music is certainly subjective, and a negative comment can hurt. I do like, “Twitter on!” :)

    SEO Copy, thanks for adding your experience. Please comment with your real name, not your business name in the future. Social tools can be effective in replying, and also in generally getting the word out. Specifically in small towns, communication is everything.

    Michele, in love that perspective on one word setting it off. For the small town businesses that we focus on here, I cannot encourage them to fail to engage, EXCEPT when the flame is irrational, etc. Even then, it doesn’t pay to ignore it completely. You may have to engage even the nuts in your small town. That engagement may not be direct or personal, but you can’t let bad issues just fester in a small town.

    Holly, great point about proactively seeking positive reviews, when possible. It does make a difference.

    Lara, defeintely worthwhile to show you are listening. And remember that listening doesn’t have to mean direct engagement of the nuts.

  7. AlohaSKS says

    Timeliness is important. Respond soon as you see the post–delays fan the flames–and are able to address concerns. The most lasting impression will be steps taken to recovery.

  8. says

    AlohaSKS, thanks for the point about timeliness. It doesn’t do to wait until you have a big problem to choose to engage. Please comment with your real name, not your business or online name in the future.

  9. says

    This very question came up in a class we taught this week; this post will be helpful for them. We may use it in future training, as well. Thanks, Becky.