Negative Conversations With Your Attackers

I saw an interesting quotation this morning from a Social Media Club event in DC that focused on crisis communications: “Every negative attack is the start of a conversation.“  I’m not sure I agree.

“Conversation” is perhaps the hottest buzzword of Web 2.0 – your customers are having conversations, companies should participate in conversations, new media marketing is a conversation, if you’re not part of the conversation it’s happening without you, and so forth. Entire books have been written on the topic. Even I’m guilty of promoting this idea in the government space.

And conversations are fine. But is every negative attack truly the beginning of a conversation? Does every frown have the potential to be turned upside down? (And how does that scale?)

Having a conversation about some one’s negative reaction to your brand, company, government office, situation etc. is a nice strategy, but the concept of negative attacks leading to positive conversations is based on the assumption that people will always engage in rational discussions with you.

They don’t. Naivety, ideology, and stupidity are all common in society’s discourses. People make emotionally-fueled arguments all the time (this Fox News “discussion” about views on abortion and the President receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame isn’t a bad example). People often cling to strongly-held beliefs, even in the face of contradictory information, or data that oppose their views. Many conversations are irrational, or at best only partly rational. I would go so far as to say that partly rational discussions are the norm.

Economics is perhaps the field of study most heavily influenced by the finding that people behave irrationally. Traditional assumptions about economic behavior included participants in financial markets having perfect information and making rational choices related to adding value (i.e., obtaining money). But more recent research has shown that this is often not the case, and that this irrationality can spawn larger effects through complex systems.

Perhaps also with the field of communications. As hip as the concept of “communications as conversations” is, sometimes it’s best to not touch your detractors with a ten-foot pole. When peoples’ comments are irrational, when their views ignore available facts, when they’re too busy or too dumb or too angry to care what you have to say, a negative attack isn’t the start of a conversation. It’s the end of a relationship.

Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • email
  • LinkedIn
  • TwitThis
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • Slashdot

This post was written by:

Mark Drapeau - who has written 225 posts on Dr. Mark D. Drapeau.


Contact the author

1 Comments For This Post

  1. Justin Thorp Says:

    Definitely don’t feel like I’m an expert in this area but as a community manager/public person I feel like i’ve had to deal with my fair share of negative criticism about my company and even myself.

    I think you can drop negative criticism into a few different buckets.

    For some, the folks attacking you are just far too irrational. You’re absolutely right. You don’t touch those with a ten foot poll. They’re just looking to get a rise out of you and you don’t benefit at all from engaging with them.

    On the other hand, I think there are some folks to go negative because they’re frustrated. They’ll say something nasty on Twitter or in a blog because they had a bad experience and they don’t think that anyone cares or listens. In these situations, it’s a fantastic idea to respond. These are the folks that their frowns will get turned upside down. By reaching out to them they’ll turn from your detractor to a cheerleader. It’s happened to me soooooo many times.

  • Popular
  • Latest
  • Comments
  • Tags
  • Subscribe

Search this website

Post Archive