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Trolls, Jerks, and 'Civility in the Digital Age': Author Andrea Weckerle Talks to Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

Hosted By:
Kerry O'Shea Gorgone
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
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Online conflicts can cost businesses thousands of dollars (and hours) to resolve. Andrea Weckerle, author of the recently published book Civility in the Digital Age: How Companies and People Can Triumph over Haters, Trolls, Bullies and Other Jerks, is an attorney with experience developing alternative dispute resolution programs for Fortune 500 companies. She also founded a nonprofit organization called CiviliNation that works to encourage the exchange of ideas online without abuse or harassment.

I invited Andrea to Marketing Smarts to share her thoughts on how companies can protect themselves when an online situation turns critical. Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:

Start preparing for online conflict before you have a problem (15:55) "Look at...your conflict culture. What is it that you want to achieve? Be very specific about this: Do you want to avoid problems, do you want to protect your reputation? Be very proactive with your conflict management approach."

Have a "dark site" ready to launch, and identify and train the people who will handle your crisis communications in advance (17:00): "Having a dark site in place is a huge thing that not enough companies do, so if an inevitable screw up happens online...they scramble."

Consider carefully how to respond when your company becomes a target of the mob mentality online (22:30): "Be responsive to the criticism. If there's something that is factually incorrect, then... try to correct it...but don't be defensive. Let the situation play itself out."

Make it known that you are listening (23.37): "Try to engage one on one with the most vocal detractors or the ones that hold the most power online.... You can't possibly respond to every single individual online, but try to be responsive so the greater public can see that you do care about the situation and that you're trying to act in a responsible manner."

Know when a statement is actionable, as opposed to just rude (27:32): "Things such as defamation are not permissible, whether offline or online... Defamation is a false and unprivileged statement of fact that is harmful to somebody's reputation and that's published...either through negligence or malice."

Why filing a lawsuit might not be your best option (29:19): "A huge thing you need to think about is what your long-term goal is. Is it simply to correct that information, or is it also to try to make that information 'go away' to a certain extent? Let's talk about a gossip online site for example... If you pursue that [claim] in a legal arena, the situation will probably become amplified, because they thrive on controversy."

My conversation with Andrea included much more. I encourage you to listen to the entire show, which you may do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

Music credit: Noam Weinstein. 

This marketing podcast was created and published by MarketingProfs.


This episode features:


Andrea Weckerle,†attorney, founder of the nonprofit organization Civilination, and author of the newly released book Civility in the Digital Age: How Companies and People Can Triumph over Haters, Trolls, Bullies and Other Jerks.

Kerry O'Shea Gorgone is a lawyer, podcaster, speaker, and writer. As Director of Product Strategy, Training, she oversees sale and distribution of MarketingProfs' premium training products. Kerry also hosts the weekly interview show, Marketing Smarts.

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  • by Ann Handley Wed May 1, 2013 via web

    Great interview about an important topic -- thanks for coming on the show Andrea!

    And I learned something by this answer to Kerry's question: "I want to get the terminology right, so.. what's the difference between a jerk, a bully, a troll and a sock puppet?" The more you know....

  • by Kerry O'Shea Gorgone Wed May 1, 2013 via web

    So glad I could help, Ann. ;) Andrea, thanks again for a great interview!

  • by David Roderick Thu Jun 20, 2013 via web

    Starting a new company that deals with the public.
    Expect some rude to malicious comments from the competition
    Not sure how to respond. I can't let them define our company.

  • by Andrea Weckerle Fri Jun 21, 2013 via web

    David, thanks for listening to the podcast. Without knowing the unique details of your situation, it's difficult to suggest the best thing to do. Preventing others from having an opinion about your company and expressing it is unavoidable, unless you're referring to people leaving comments on sites or pages you control, in which case you can monitor and enforce the code of conduct or comment policy you've set in place, (e.g. on a company Facebook page. Another thing to consider is whether they're leaving comments simply to get a rise out of you, in which case you definitely have a choice of whether you're going to play their game. If the criticism or comments are legitimate, responding may be a good way for readers and the public to see your side of the story and witness you behaving professionally and with interest. Another thing you might do is anticipate the criticism and proactively address it on your own site, but without mentioning the detractors or engaging with them directly. "Civility in the Digital Age" will give you specific ideas for managing your unique situation and circumstances.

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