The Art of Standing Your Ground

Apparently out of nowhere, the Twitter mob descends upon you. Suddenly you find that you’ve gone viral, but not in a good way.

Maybe it was something you said in a tweet, or something that you placed on your website or your company LinkedIn or Facebook page. Or a donation you made to a political cause, as a company or personally.

People you don’t know, have never met, and would probably avoid in any social setting are calling for your firing, or a boycott of your company, or maybe even worse. It is social media, after all, where it can sometimes seem hard to find any semblance of human decency or compassion.

It’s your move. What do you do?

Too often, people grovel and beg forgiveness. They plead temporary insanity for not being sufficiently aware that someone out there could have been offended. But the truth is there is someone ready to take offense at anything and everything today.

For a certain subset of the population, taking offense is their version of a video gaming addiction. They prowl social media looking for things to get angry about. Anything will do.

Is that a photo of you holding a shotgun at a turkey shoot? You’re an armed terrorist! Did you post a photo of yourself wearing a T-shirt with a joke that 95 percent of us would find funny or at worst innocuous? How dare you offend (fill in the blank)!

At a point, as individuals and businesspeople, you can only grovel so much. Our recommendation – and this has changed over time as the social media environment has devolved – is to ride out the storm. Don’t apologize, don’t explain. Just hunker down.

Because as vicious as the social media mob is, it has a short attention span. They’ll move on to the next target and forget you. Yes, there may be some short-term discomfort, but it will pass.

There are companies that we have lost all respect for when they capitulated to the social media vultures, in effect pleading guilty when they really were innocent. It’s cowardice at a time when what we need is bravery and resolve.

Our advice stands that you should always avoid outrightly offending your audience, and keep your politics and causes to yourself as much as possible in these polarized times. But when you innocently cross a line that someone else arbitrarily drew for you, the first response should not be to concede that they were right and you were wrong.

Hanging tough really can earn you more respect from your core audience than you would ever gain by kowtowing to people who will never be your customers, or your friends, no matter what you say or do to atone.