How to Run Social Media for a Company Everybody Hates

By Dara Fontein

Social

Let’s consider a somewhat unfortunate hypothetical: your company is not the most popular color in the crayon box. You live a life where the general consensus in the high school lunchroom of the marketplace is “you can’t sit with us.” As a scenario, it’s not that hard to imagine: maybe you’re in the parking enforcement business, or you’re the market leader in super-annoying pop-up ads. Whatever. For some organizations, it’s just a fact of business that, while they have their place in the world, they’re not going to be well-loved.

As a social media marketer, running social media for a company that everybody hates is probably one of the most challenging opportunities you’ll face in your career. But there’s an upside to having so much working against you: you have a huge chance to defy your critics, or at least keep your current customers happy, and not aggravate those who aren’t your biggest fans. To help you navigate these very treacherous waters, we’ve put together the following guide.  

Love to hate

Before we get started with the tips, it’s helpful to understand why being hated might not actually be the worst thing in the world for your brand. You’ve most likely heard the common phrase “Any publicity is good publicity,” and the same principle can apply to buzz around your company. In a piece providing advice for brands who have found newfound communities of haters, Fast Company argues “For a brand, a lot of indifference is more damaging than a little hatred—which means that you should actually find comfort that those newfound haters are simply validating the saliency of your brand.”

If your company is hated, it probably means you’ve taken some risks. If a brand isn’t one that sticks out in your mind, it’s safe to say that they’ve kept their marketing and outreach efforts relatively conservative. It’s a natural human—and professional—instinct to want to be liked, however, as Fast Company explains, “All of this concern causes us to dull the edges of our brand, keeping us from doing something that might actually stand out and be noticed.”

The last thing I would want to advise is for brands to continuously play it safe and never do anything remotely risky, but there are definitely some better ways to go about doing this. Through reflecting on the practices of some brands who have faced more backlash than most, I’ve come up with the following tips to help you run a social media strategy for a company that everybody hates.

Focus on education

While many brands are rightfully loathed, occasionally there are simple miscommunications that cause for widespread hatred. Sometimes, even when you’re simply clarifying and providing information, people will still hate you—or hate you even more. That’s okay. If you have taken the time to clarify and educate the pitchfork-waving masses, at least you have enabled them to construct an opinion on fact, rather than hearsay or myth. As no stranger to controversy, agricultural company Monsanto has a social media team who are continuously working with very few people rooting for them. When speaking on the SocialPros podcast, Monsanto’s online engagement coordinator Janice Person shares that a key goal of their social media strategy is to educate, saying “We need to make sure that our information, our perspective, is out there in a way that people who are interested can find it.”  

A prime focus within the realm of education for this purpose, is actually knowing when to engage and provide information, and when it’s best to refrain from this course of action. Regarding Monsanto, “When dealing with some of the controversy surrounding a few of her brand’s products, Janice says that it’s not a question of how to behave; it’s a question of when to engage.” If your company spends all day simply coming up with retorts to trolls and those continuously throwing hate and insults at your brand, you aren’t spending your time wisely. Instead, use your judgement to evaluate which users would be open to actually learning about your product or service, or answering questions that would inform and help a large group of people.

Don’t provide the ammo

If you recognize that you’re running social media for an unloved company, you have probably come to the realization that haters will find contempt with just about anything you post. However, it’s important to use your judgement and ensure that you’re not giving them extra reasons to hate or make fun of you. Our post on what people hate about brands on social media is a great resource to help you with general guidelines that will help you stay neutral, but some tips include :

  • Steering clear of sensitive topics: If you are a company that people don’t love and you try to take on a polarizing, or sensitive topic that doesn’t really have anything to do with your product or service (for example, the recent Paris attacks) it’s likely that somebody will find some issue with your message and bring attention to it in a negative light.
  • Minding your own business: Do you remember being a teenager and having a conversation with your best friend, only to have your parents butt in from the other room? This is similar to the feeling people having social media conversations experience, especially when the random input is irrelevant or purely spam-oriented. Factor in the corporation intruding their conversation being one they hate, and you have a recipe for anger. Don’t jump in where you’re not invited, unless you want to cause even more aggravation amongst social media users and the public at large.
  • Don’t toot your own horn: There’s nothing angry people hate more than seeing the subjects of their disdain succeed. If you’re running the social media accounts of a hated company, ensure you aren’t just continuously posting about how wonderful you think your company is. People are going to challenge you on this, I guarantee it. While being authentic and transparent is good practice for all organizations, spamming social media with obviously biased and conveniently one-sided messages will alienate most users.

Take the wheel

While you may have accepted the fact that your company isn’t well-loved, your job as a social media manager or content marketer means that you are still required to help direct messages surrounding the company. Rather than spending all of your time responding to trolls and fruitless insults from haters on social media, use your time to develop a strategy for getting ahead of the complaints.

As one of the only companies we could find who openly discuss these challenges, Monsanto’s Janice Person spoke to Convince and Convert and explained, “It’s a fine balance between proactive and reactive. They monitor conversations on various social media outlets while also creating content allowing people to see behind the scenes in the lives of Monsanto farmers. From the Monsanto blog to the America’s Farmers campaign, the social media team makes sure to address negativity while also creating positive content surrounding the brand.”

As University of Illinois researcher Wilhelm Peekhaus explains in his paper “Monsanto Discovers New Media,” rather than constantly responding to the latest accusations surrounding the company and their practices, “Monsanto wants to open up and steer a conversation about how agriculture is going to meet the needs of the world in 2050, when, according to current population estimates, there will be 9 billion people on the planet, meaning that we will have to produce as much food in the next 50 years as we have in the past 10,000.” I’m not suggesting that you ignore genuine customer inquiries and questions, but use your judgement to politely ignore pure, unconstrained, and hopeless hate-filled content, and instead minimize any future incidences by getting ahead of the message. If your company has honest and factual positive developments, highlight these in a non-arrogant way and provide thorough and transparent information. Dispel any myths in a humble way, while recognizing that you are not going to be loved by everyone. Being loved unconditionally is overrated anyways.

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