A demo of Storify. Image from www.journalism.co.uk

From Journalism.co.uk

The recent kerfuffle over Storify and the ability of Facebook users to use it to post material from secret groups has got me thinking about the reaction of companies to real or perceived criticism.

When this — I’m not even sure what to call it: weakness, vulnerability, flaw, bug? — came to light via Julie Pippert and the online publication AGBeat, Storify reacted in a way that I would characterize as defensive.

In long discussions online, most notably with blogger Amy Vernon of Internet Media Labs, Storify’s Burt Herman essentially repeated a couple of key messages.

  1. nothing posted online is private and you could always copy and paste or take a screenshot
  2. [Facebook users] need to trust who they are sharing with

I found Herman to be defensive. I understand why. He’s a cofounder of a useful and laudable tool that many people are using and praising. Time magazine called it one of the 50 best Websites of 2011.

But my read of his reaction is that he spoke from the gut and not the head. Look at the timing. Amy Vernon’s tweet was posted at 6:20 am on January 18; Burt Herman was brought into the conversation by a woman named Sue Llewellyn at 7:21 am; Herman then replied an hour after that. Once he’d taken his position, it seemed to harden, as so many positions do.

There’s a lesson here for all businesses. It’s easy to feel attacked when someone finds something disturbing or concerning. If you’re a company founder, you can feel threatened and want to protect your “child.”

But if you react in that manner without serious forethought, you risk ignoring the fact that you could simply be wrong.

Three pieces of advice:

  1. Think carefully BEFORE you react. Be dispassionate; find a way to be objective. Put yourself in the position of the other person, and don’t let your emotions take the fore.
  2. Consider reaching out offline before or during your online response. Twitter is not always the most useful way of having a long-form discussion. Perhaps you need the nuance that a phone call or an email exchange or the like can use to inform your response to the criticism — whether you have to acknowledge an error or you’re right to think that the problem is not really there.
  3. Even if you’ve taken a position on something, don’t hold on to it without carefully evaluating circumstances and facts.

The pace of social media discussion is not an excuse to not be thoughtful.

Pass on the flacklife:
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