Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dealing Effectively with Online Critics

I was inspired to blog on this topic when I received an email update from the Yelp directory.  The blog is for owners of businesses listed on Yelp (yes, including yours truly) and their most current post focuses on when a business receives negative feedback. 

Review the Yelp post here

The Yelp blog was inspired by a post on the New York Times Boss Blog regarding a negative review of a restaurant.

We're all human.  Humans have human reactions, including negative ones.  The Internet and websites that allow reviews are not the cause of these reactions; they are merely tools to convey them.  The difference is a keyboard is faster than a speeding word of mouth comment and hosting servers have longer memories than people.

If Yelp hadn't said it first, I would have advised the following on negative reviews.  I'll just quote it and give credit where it's due:

Give yourself a cooling down period. When someone is using a public forum like Yelp to attack something you’re pouring your heart and soul into, a very natural response is to get emotional. Don’t. The last thing you want to do is overreact to someone online (See: Streisand effect).
One of SDOC's more prominent website clients is the Atlanta Alumnae Panhellenic Association.  This is the Atlanta chapter of the National Panhellenic Conference, a group of 26 Greek-letter sororities.  Atlanta's chapter was founded in 1927 to promote sorority life among collegians and alumnae alike.  The website and its information and features are a nationwide destination for women looking to learn about sororities and get updates on activities in North Georgia.  Dunwoody has been its meeting home for years.
In spite of a documented track record of community service and emphasis of supporting women in advanced education, Greek-letter sororities are, at various times, the butt of jokes, the subjects of outlandish urban legends, and a tasty target for legal action.  In the 1950s, Life Magazine called NPC sororities "a growing societal problem"!  Many in the public have negative impressions of sororities either from a personal experience in college, or from movies and TV.
The leaders of AAPA are more than aware of this negative mojo.  It would be easy to turn up one's nose and become indignant at those who express their impressions.  But they don't take the easy route.  Atlanta Panhellenic has taken a bold and proactive approach to rumors and negative information:  they invite it and address it head-on.
AAPA holds an information called College Sorority 101 every spring.  High school girls and their parents who wish to attend RSVP online in a form I publish annually.  In that form there is an opportunity for questions.  Any questions.  About anything.  Some I've seen included "Is being in a sorority only about drinking and partying" and "Is it true that when you're in a sorority you can't wear the same dress twice".  (In case you're wondering, the answer to both of these is "no".  )
No matter how crazy some people may find these questions, they are all considered valid and are taken at face value.  No taking offense.  No getting frustrated.  No judgement of those doing the asking.  No speculation on their motivation for asking.  Just straight, honest answers - in person, looking the public right in the eye.
The discussions continue on the AAPA Facebook group.  Like the informational session, it is wide open.  News is discussed and questions get answered directly and professionally.  No one is going to get huffy and have other members "stand in agreement", squaring off for a flame war.  AAPA is looking to improve opinions, one person at a time.  That's why a well-run web presence is the best tool for the job:  it can foster positive communication where otherwise there would be none.

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