Doing Business Against a Background of Twitter Rage

by Kevin Michaels on August 1, 2013

I’m writing this at the end of an interesting month on Twitter. Two entirely independent events occurred which highlight the volatile world of social media, the importance of image and the seemingly capricious nature of Twitter users.

The first was the widespread shaming and insulting attacks on Rachel Jeantel, a key defendant in the racially charged George Zimmerman murder trial. The second was a very public Twitter rant by Alec Baldwin, directed at Daily Mail reported George Stack, in which the actor made homophobic insults and threatened the reporter for a misreported story Baldwin’s wife Tweeted during James Gandolfini’s funeral.

One of these events was an ill-thought-out rant by a single individual. The other — the attacks on Jeantel — more closely resembled mob behavior, with Twitter users basing judgment on a young woman for her appearance, education and manner of speech.

Why do I bring this up? Because such toxic acts are not uncommon on social media and this is the arena in which we do business.

Think First. Type Second

As entrepreneurs and businesses, we’re not immune to this kind of behavior. Snide or insulting comments similar to Baldwin’s angry tirade have occurred on business accounts in the past, and will show up again.

Individuals like Baldwin can recover from such acts relatively unscathed. In his case, he deactivated his Twitter account (not for the first time). When he returns to the social media platform, as he probably will, the incident will have blown over.

Businesses lack this luxury, whether they’re retailers, family lawyers or SEO companies. Ditching your Twitter account won’t help a business recover from a scandal. In one of those capricious acts of human behavior, people who will quickly forget Baldwin deactivated his account would remember a business “turned tail and ran” for years.

Nothing — absolutely nothing — should go up on Twitter when you’re angry, upset or think you’re being humorously clever. Take a breather first. Share the post with coworkers for second opinions; only then should you post. (It also helps, as Mr. Baldwin may now realize, if you avoid using expressions like “toxic little queen”).

This Is Your Audience

The Jeantel situation sheds a different light on social media and it isn’t positive. As soon as her testimony aired, people took to Twitter to attack and shame her. Her physical appearance was attacked. Her speech and personality were denigrated. Her education — or lack thereof — was held up to public scorn.

In short, her legitimacy as a witness was questioned, not because of what she testified, but how she looked and acted while she said it. It was a perfect storm of sexism, racism and classism.

Why should this concern us as social media experts? Because this sordid mess played out in the same arena we do business. Certainly, our companies (hopefully) weren’t involved in the debacle. If you publically objected to the mud-slinging, good for you.

This is still where we do business though. The virtual mob is — at least partly — our target audience. How does that make us look?

Kevin Michaels HeadshotKevin Michaels is a freelance blogger and social media addict. He’s an early-adapter who loves testing and writing about new Facebook and other social media features. He believes that with every change, there’s always a new marketing opportunity. In his free time, he enjoys road trips, concerts and attending football and baseball games. Follow him on Twitter @Kev_michaels or visit his profile on Google+

image: rosauraochoa

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