It doesn’t matter if you’re an individual, a corporation or if you were just sitting there minding your own business, if you’re publishing content on the Web, at some point you are going to be attacked. Your words will be twisted, your integrity will be called into question, and someone will be waiting in the wings to tell you that not only are you WRONG, but you’re also incredibly UGLY. Basically, you’ll be sugarrae’d.

When the crap hits the fan, you have two choices: Sit there and cry or whore leverage the holy hell out of it.

Listen. Everyone wants to give you advice on how to avoid causing a fire on the Internet. Bruce Clay’s Katie Wertz offered some comment etiquette tips recently and last week Copyblogger had a post seemingly designed to talk people off the blog rant ledge. That’s all very nice and valuable but they both lose sight of two important laws of the Internet:

  1. Fires can’t always be avoided.
  2. Fires shouldn’t always be avoided.

Yes, I’m telling you that sometimes it’s okay to have fires break out on the Internet. Now, don’t go crazy. I’m not saying that you should go out and intentionally cause a reputation management issue, but unless you blog about nothing but unicorns, puppies and regurgitated SEO, those fires are going to happen naturally. And when they do, there’s no harm in using it to get yourself, your company and your blog a little bit of exposure and some more RSS subscribers. Motrin did. Skittles did. Your world will not end.

There’s an old saying on the Internet that you’re nobody until somebody flames you. And as sad as that sounds, it’s a little bit true. When you get your first hit by an A-lister (or simply someone with a much larger audience than you), welcome it. In fact, go buy yourself a nice dinner because it means you’ve probably been doing something right.

Enjoy your fancy dinner. But once you clean that steak bone, get to work figuring out how you’re going to make this work for you. The trick to leveraging fires is to capture some of your attacker’s reads.

How do you do that?

Monitor the Activity

In the early hours after the A-lister’s initial blog rant, you’re going to see a flurry of activity. You’re going to be called an idiot. Your company will be mocked. Everyone will be so morally outraged that it will be as if you kicked Bo Obama right there in front of them. Let the masses work themselves up into a tizzy. Watch as your attacker curses your name and gets their readers all worked up. Read the comments about what an ass you are, how the A-lister is God’s gift to the Internet and how all of those starving babies in Africa are starving because you did that to them. And when the sensationalism has reached fever pitch, bring the conversation over to your blog and start using the fire to heat up your own agenda.

Moving the conversation

It’s nice that your new A-lister friend is getting you all this attention; however, you want it to take place on your blog, not theirs. In order to move the conversation, you’re going to have to put your foot in the fire a little. You’re going to have to address the situation on your blog and give the masses something else to get all hot and bothered over. You’re going to have to write a blog post that addresses what happened, what your responsibility in the matter was and how you’d like us all move to forward.

Maybe you wrote an article that criticized the blogger or you insulted one of their friends or maybe they just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Whatever it is, explain what happened and own up to any guilt that you may have had. Don’t try to skew things so that you look innocent. The true story always comes out anyway. Use your words to explain things in a way that is calm, logical and soothing. Invite the A-lister to talk to you about the matter offline and out of the pubic eye. They’ll probably continue to whore the situation in public for attention (which is totally fine), but it makes you look like the bigger person. However, if the bigger blogger DOES want to take it offline, make sure that you never, ever say anything in an email, IM or even phone conversation that you wouldn’t want slapped up in a blog post for the world to see. Because sometimes people are jerks and they will slap your private conversation up on the Internet.

Stay calm

The higher profile blogger can rant and rave and throw a tantrum all they want. They already have the mindshare, the larger audience and the credibility. If you want to win this argument in the court of public opinion and avoid being written off as “just a blogger”, you need to remain calm. Be the logical one. Keep your head. Realize that while this is all a game, it’s a game you can win. And it’s in your best interest to keep those emotions in check and to react strategically.

That means keeping your head in your blog post AND dealing with irate blog commenters. If you happen have some extra Xanax lying around, now is the time to pop a couple. Because as soon as you bring the conversation to your house, the crazies are going to swarm and they’re going to do it hard. And make no mistake; they’re NOT going to be on your side. It will be as if a herd of Digg commenters have landed, screaming, knocking things over and zinging you about how you still live with your mother. Regardless of what they say, be gracious and polite. Handle the situation without letting it handle you. This may be where Katie’s commenter etiquette comes into play. It’s perfectly fine for there to be a war on someone else’s blog, you don’t want that on yours. Your blog is above that. Your blog is for intelligent people.

Capitalize on the attention

Once you’ve said your piece about what happened, move on. Both on your blog and in your head. You can’t hold a grudge or hostility toward the A-lister. There’s no time. It’s time to start leveraging the hell out of what just happened.

The biggest mistake you can make is to just shut down. After a crisis, many blogs will go into Operation STFU and hide under their desks until the storm goes away and people stop looking at them. Don’t do this. After a public blog storm, you’re going to have a lot of new lingering eyeballs watching to see what you’re going to do next. This is the time to let loose some of your best content and show people who you are and why they should become fans. Spend the new few days/week writing the best content of your life.

Take unique stands. Be useful. Mimic the type of content they’d find on the originating site, but find ways to make it even better. Don’t pick fights with people to gain attention, but do be the best version of yourself that you know how to be and give those rubberneckers a reason to subscribe and stick around. Capture them.

Too many blogs are afraid of the fires that can break out in the blogosphere. You shouldn’t be. Don’t go looking for them, but realize that as long as you remain the adult in the room, you’re often going to walk away from this a lot better off than when you first started.

You’re no one on the Internet until you’ve been your industry version of threadwatched. Oh, how I wish I knew then what I know now…


About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.


36 thoughts on “Making Negative Press, Flame Wars and Attacks Work For You


  • Joe Hall on said:

    There’s an old saying on the Internet that you’re nobody until somebody flames you. And as sad as that sounds, it’s a little bit true. When you get your first hit by an A-lister (or simply someone with a much larger audience than you), welcome it. In fact, go buy yourself a nice dinner because it means you’ve probably been doing something right.

    This makes me have a few less regrets! Thanks!


  • netmeg on said:

    Having participated in various conferencing systems, Usenet, blogs, forums, you name it for well over twenty years, boy do I know about this one.

    Sometimes in the late 80’s, I was nominated for “Stupid Post of the Year” on Usenet, for my defense of someone that a much higher profile user (and most everyone else on Usenet) hated – I came in third, but I still made a little gold certificate out of it and attached it to my website of the time. (I was right, I still think I was right, and the person who took such offense is dead now, so *there*)

    Embrace it. It’s the only way to win.


  • claudio alegre on said:

    Nice piece Lisa,

    I wonder how many flame wars are real and how many engineered…? The A-lister leveraging J. blogger Doe on what seems to be a nasty but staged bar fight. Then a little business happening in the back end…

    I think most of them are for real though….Later :)


  • Lisa Barone on said:

    Joe: It’s very healing once you realize that it’s okay. That all the yelling people have done, all the sticking your foot in your mouth, all the trouble you’ve caused, it’s all just okay. :)

    Netmeg: Ha, that’s awesome. I too would have proudly donned that on my blog!

    Kim: Right. I don’t believe that I said A-/B-listers were all out to get you. The post was simply an exercise in what to do WHEN it happens. Because we’ve both been around the block enough times to know that it does happen. And personally, I think growing my blog readership and bringing new eyes to my company and what we’re doing IS part of my job and “real work”. So when the opportunity arises, I’d rather leverage it than close my ears and hide.


  • Todd Mintz on said:

    I’m with Netmeg…you gotta have a sense of humor about stuff. The times that I’ve been attacked, I’ve responded with a (non-personal) joke or a wisecrack…and it diffuses the situation.


  • Lisa Barone on said:

    Todd: You have to be careful with the “humor” thing but not everyone will understand your humor. I tried to use humor to diffuse my first public lashing and it ended up making a bad situation worse because I was a little to, um, “witty” for my own good. :)


  • Joe Hall on said:

    Yeah i agree Lisa, I too have tried using humor to defuse things, and well, lets just say that some folks don’t think I am that funny! I also think that we all operate at different levels. Some of us have met each other in person and thus have a completely different perspective on someones remarks.


  • Kim Krause Berg on said:

    Lisa, I wasn’t referring to you. And that’s the problem with this stuff. It just happened with Todd/Barry (Rustybrick) too. If you had removed the A-Lister part, and addressed the fact that ALL kinds of bloggers are purposely wrecking reputations, I would have kept my mouth shut. You and I both know first hand that some people have an agenda and believe that the way to the top is to squish any big name they perceive is in their path. In my opinion, that kind of agenda doesn’t equate to real work and is not what Internet Marketing is all about.

    Turning lemons into lemonade, as you say, is absolutely the thing to do. Easier said than done.


  • Lisa Barone on said:

    Kim: Fair enough. I just used the A-lister because (a) it’s the A-lister Copyblogger post that got me thinking about it and (b) the idea is to steal readers from folks with bigger audiences than you.


  • Rae Hoffman on said:

    Kim, actually, the A-lister part was important, because without the offending blogger being one with a larger audience, there is no ROI in taking the time to try and leverage their post. Before you flip out, I’m not saying a rant by someone with 20 readers isn’t important – because everyone has influence of some kind. But in order to launch a “campaign” to leverage the inbound rant or flames, you need to make sure it’s worth it. All kinds of bloggers indeed post negative information – but only A-listers and B-listers have audiences large enough to be worth leveraging. Otherwise, you’re working the plan in reverse.


  • Kim Krause Berg on said:

    Rae, I actually did have that thought in my mind while posting. It’s true that a no-namer with an agenda and few followers can’t make much of a dent, which for some of them, will piss them off more and make them keep at it, or align with someone who is an A-B-lister.

    What fascinates me (off tangent) is do blog readers know when an A-lister is link baiting or competing? Does the intent come through and if so, does it hurt or damage their own credibility over time?

    Lisa, yes.:)


  • netmeg on said:

    You can still have some fun with it, even if you don’t broadcast it. I was on a forum once where a high profile user sent an email to another user comparing me (somewhat speciously) to Sen. Joe McCarthy for some reason. Despite being cautioned not to spread it further, the recipient of the email forwarded it to me. I didn’t confront the originator, or say anything about it publicly – I just changed my display name to Tail Gunner Meg in all the forums. Nobody else knew why I’d changed my name, but *he* knew, and he knew I’d likely seen the entire email, and *I* knew he was squirming. He was mighty quiet after that.

    (For a while, anyway)


  • Gerald Weber on said:

    Damn good advice. I’m not one to sit quietly while someone is talking smack about me or what have you, but it’s imperative to keep your cool. The worst thing you could do is go off the deepend in a public setting online. which I have unfortunately witnessed some people do. Again great post, great adive! ;-)


  • Kristy Bolsinger on said:

    I think this is great advice! And highly timely for me. Just yesterday I was thinking I’d like to write a post about this, but knew I didn’t have the appropriate level of experience that’s necessary to cover it. And actually thought….Lisa should write this! So, whether you knew it or not….thanks for reading my mind and writing this!


  • Patrick Sexton on said:

    This could be titled “How to use others feelings for your own gain”. You metion two choices in this post I would suggest a third, listening. I would think the goal of blogging would be communication, but that is just me :)


  • Patrick Sexton on said:

    My last comment sounded a bit short, I should provide an example. I will use the ones Lisa used, skittles and Motrin. It is not the goal of Skittles or Motrin to have more blog readers or comments. Their goals are: Skittles – Sell more Skittles; Motrin – sell more Motrin.

    If brands are not willing to listen, then they are hosed. In both the Skittles and Motrin scenarios, they had an idea, acted upon it, and then received a reaction.

    The choices as listed by Lisa were “sit back” or “whore yourself”. I see a third option, which is to listen and learn. Something that both brands she used as an example did.

    I honestly think this post is an example of what is wrong with search marketing, not what is right with it. If your only goal is to use others to gain for yourself then you are screwed in the marketing world. The marketing world listens and learns and adapts.

    As an example, Lisa just told me “I missed the point”. The problem with that in the marketing world is that the authors do not create the point (though we do try) the real truth is that the audience dictates what the point is, and as in the case of Motrin when the point is perhaps wrong or different than the authors intention.


  • Lisa Barone on said:

    Pat:

    The premise of your comment appears to be this:

    If your only goal is to use others to gain for yourself then you are screwed in the marketing world.

    Of course, I think we’d all agree on that, but that’s not what the post was about, which is why I said you “missed the point” (bad wording on my part, apologies, was running home). The post was about what to do WHEN these fires break out, a la how to make lemonade out of lemons. It never said the point of blogging was to whore yourself for attention or to create these fires. I think we’ve said the complete opposite in other posts! :) Obviously, corporations should be involved with blogging to listen. But that’s not what this post was about. I’m starting to see a trend with your comments where you comment on things that were never actually said and divert the conversation. That’s all I was pointing out.

    From now on I will just address comments that actually relate to the post. No offense, I just don’t want to take conversations completely off topic. It doesn’t seem productive or fair to anyone else.


  • Patrick Sexton on said:

    Note to commenters: Please do not offer your opinion on this blog, simply agree and compliment. If you do anything other than compliment and agree you will be belittled.
    Come on Lisa, do you want discussions on this blog? I apologize if my opinion differs from yours. Things you say have great merit and things I say have great merit. You are amazing talented and intelligent and so am I.
    Don’t speak about me (it is against your comment guidelines). Discuss, if you will my point, which is that listening and learning are (in my humble opinion) more important and rewarding than “whoring yourself” for attention.
    Listening lasts longer than yelling as does it’s benefits.


  • Alysson on said:

    In order to use the inevitable flame war to your advantage, listening to the feedback – or, more accurately, reading and absorbing it, whether given by an A-Lister or not, is an implied action. Perhaps what Lisa should have said was 1) read it; and then 2) Sit there and cry or whore leverage the holy hell out of it.

    Then again, I don’t really think that clarification is necessary. For any good blogger, “listening” is an assumed action – without that, you can take no other action…whether your decision is to run and hide or to engage in the flame war. The point of this post was not to be afraid of or avoid a flame war and how to turn what some might feel is hugely negative into a positive in the long run.


  • Mich D. aka @MichDdot on said:

    I tend to ignore trolls and flamers on the surface, they always do more damage to themselves than me. On the rare occasion they become more than a passing nuisance I do quiet similar to what you outlined. I find patience the greatest asset, if action is needed, you are more prepared.

    To be honest I derive great joy watching others do the hard work for me. Nothing is more amusing than watching your attacker prove their own shortcomings. Could you imagine destroying your own reputation by being a flamer… or even worse, poisoning your own serps in the process?

    Just as imitation is to flattery, hatered is to fear and both are bad for business. Nobody wants to work with a flaming jerk, or feels safe trusting in them. I would personally never hire anyone who seemed malicious or vindictive online, lord help you if you ever fired them, right.

    Loved your post much this time Mi’ Lady of SEO. Always a pleasure to read the Outspoken crew & share it as I stumble thru.

    peace ya’ll
    Mich D.


  • Lisa Barone on said:

    Aly: Thanks for clarifying my point for me. ;)

    Mich: Haha yes, I agree. Watching trolls expose their own crazy is always far better than have to do it yourself. The hard part is shoving your entire fist in your mouth to prevent yourself from reacting. ;) You offer some very wise words, especially the point about employers being wary of those who are openly vindictive online. I think many times folks lose sight of that in the heat of the moment. Even though you may get over your online tiff, your words will live on and show how you deal with pressure and stress on the Internet.

    Thanks for the comment. :)


  • Craig Klein on said:

    You’re dead on! You can’t avoid some bad news every now and then. The key is to resist the strong temptation to defend yourself and find a way to play it for all its worth!


  • Rae Hoffman on said:

    LOL. Come on Pat. You know damn well we’re no SEOMoz here. Personally, I’m all for different opinions. Just because Lisa didn’t change her opinion to agree with yours doesn’t mean you weren’t allowed to express it. We’re all for differing opinions… providing they involve the topic of the post and not pick at a small, implied/obvious point over and over even after it has been explained that the point was implied or bring personal issues onto our blog.

    That said, you’re reading far into her post. She wasn’t suggesting you create drama. She was saying if it gets thrown upon you, then use it to your advantage if at all possible.

    You’re going to have to address the situation on your blog and give the masses something else to get all hot and bothered over. You’re going to have to write a blog post that addresses what happened, what your responsibility in the matter was and how you’d like us all move to forward.

    Lisa says read, listen, take the blame if it’s yours and tell folks how you plan to move forward. She just explains how to do it in a manner that is beneficial to you.

    The choices as listed by Lisa were “sit back” or “whore yourself”. I see a third option, which is to listen and learn.

    The way I see it Pat, there is no third option because listening and learning leave you with the same choice once you’ve done it – “sit back” or take advantage of the publicity.

    So let’s say you read their feedback, listen and learn from it… what would you do next Pat? Sit back and let it die or hopefully use it to your advantage? Motrin, by your account, listened and learned… but after that, they either sat back or turned a bad experience into smart publicity. To me, the latter is making lemons out of lemonade. :)


  • Devin Davis on said:

    Great advice – from a branding perspective (obviously) and also from a PR perspective. It may seem obvious, but when people get attacked they do often forget – even negative attention from somebody with a much bigger audience than you has the chance to be a very positive thing.

    And, of course, maybe, if you are wrong…there is something to be learned from what that “A-list blogger” is saying…so yah. Everybody wins.


  • Grokodile on said:

    Hey, I see some yellow shiny metal in this part…

    The biggest mistake you can make is to just shut down. After a crisis, many blogs will go into Operation STFU and hide under their desks until the storm goes away and people stop looking at them. Don’t do this. After a public blog storm, you’re going to have a lot of new lingering eyeballs watching to see what you’re going to do next. This is the time to let loose some of your best content and show people who you are and why they should become fans. Spend the new few days/week writing the best content of your life.

    I’m often saying that emotions, perhaps such as anger or shame over a blog blow-up, are there for you to use them not simply feel them. It’s fuel. Harness the energy they provide to propel you.


  • JoshPerson on said:

    Usually when I’m attacked it’s only by an individual who doesn’t have a site or followers… I still make that feud known to all and post about it on my blog though. Those feud blogs are always popular, though it doesn’t bring a whole lot of new readers, it does get the passerbys attention and gets the regular readers participating. Any type of controversy is a positive, especially on my blog which has no real direction anyways.


  • AZhitman on said:

    Lisa, I don’t know where you’ve been all my Internet life, but I am loving your writing – You’re now on my Google Reader list, and I’ve made your blog “required reading” for my staff (I run the web’s biggest Nissan forum)….

    Thank you SO much for the laughs, and more so, the great information and brainstorming fodder. Keep up the great work!


  • Vic of BusinessAccent on said:

    Starting a flaming fire can be a good and even powerful tool to boost your business online. But as like as real fire. We should not play with fire. We should use the fire properly and fruitfully. Prudence should also be taking in using a flame. It’s useful, it can be powerful, but it can also be dangerous.


  • Taylor on said:

    I just read this article, but it instantly reminded me of this story from last November. Very well written, and a bit shameful in terms of how easy it can be to manipulate the system


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*


*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Comments links could be nofollow free.