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We Didn’t Start the Fire!

Mean Girls Meme: I Hate You. K, Thanx. Bye! - Social Media Damage ControlWhen it comes to crazy people there is no question, like Bigfoot, designer snuggies and Channing Tatum’s sex tape, they’re out there. We just hope that we never find them (well, maybe with the exception of the last one). For every social media professional it’s the outreach conundrum: To increase your klout you have to connect with influencers and start a conversation. But you also stand the chance of connecting with people you really don’t know much about and can go off the deep end for no apparent reason.

A few months ago I was doing outreach for a new client. For the sake of this blog post, I will use an imaginary client, DistroLogic, a company that creates software for the logistics and distribution of products for retail grocery stores. We were creating a blog for DistroLogic, and as part of the creation process, I was initiating relationship-building outreach to various blogs that we considered influencers in the retail grocery industry. One of the influencers on my list was a blog called, “The Mom and Pop Shop Blog.” To begin the conversation, I sent all of the prospected influencers an email. Here’s a simplified version of the email so you can get the gist:

Good afternoon!

I represent DistroLogic, a company that creates software to support the logistics and distribution needs of retail grocery stores. We noticed that your blog was already very active in this industry and wanted to become friends so that we can share posts in the future.

Hope to hear from you soon!

While I received several positive responses from several small grocery stores, I received an email from The Mom and Pop Shop Blog that went a little something like this:


Thanks for writing. Support? Retail grocery stores don’t need support. Your business helps big box retail stores, like Walmart, and that makes you the enemy. We will do everything we can to run you out of business, legally. Shut DOWN, close your business, LEAVE this world! I’m going to post all of this on my blog so everyone can see it!

While I later clarified that our client had no affiliation with stores of a specific size, he only got more fired up. And before I knew it, I was in the middle of an outreach fire. If you’ve ever found yourself in a similar situation, it can be frustrating, confusing and just plain scary. Unfortunately, it is probably going to happen to you at some point. Luckily, there is a process to help prevent and handle these things. In order to help outreach specialists around the globe, here’s my fire escape plan. May it serve you in your greatest time of need.

Fire Proofing

Only YOU Can Prevent Outreach Fire: There are a lot of preventative measures you can take when outreaching to influencers in a sphere. But before anything, you need to do your research on the industry. What are the hot topics? As a rule of thumb, politics and religion are off the table, but what other issues have even a slight chance of striking someone’s nerve? Whatever they may be, avoid them in your communications.

Judge a Book by its Cover: Try to avoid extremists in the fiery topics that you found. If you are finding influencers in the fuel industry for an oil company, you want to avoid blogs with names like, “I Hate Fossil Fuels” and “Angry Environmental Hippie.” Negative words – even if they’re not directly related to your company – is a great indicator of where that person stands.

Dousing the Fire

Take it Off! (offline that is): Somewhere along the line, someone is going to get mad. If that happens, it doesn’t matter if it is a Facebook comment or a tweet, reply back to the user in a direct message, out of the public eye. Ask for their email address or phone number so that you can correct the problem. People can get UGLY online, so it’s best to move the discussion offline to avoid public confrontation.

Know your Rights: Anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of the blog. So treat every communication, regardless of its implied privacy, like it’s a comment on a Facebook wall. (As we saw above, people will post anything and everything.)

Double Check the Fire Code: When someone is angry via email, you are going to feel rushed to reply. But one of the biggest mistakes you can do is send something in a rush. Revise any correspondence you send, and then have a peer read over it as well. After two revisions, play devil’s advocate – look for any word that might be taken the wrong way. Angry influencers hate to be talked to rationally, so they will try to turn anything on you.

Peace Offering: Sometimes it may be necessary to offer a phone conversation to the irate person and clarify any misunderstandings that may have happened. You’d be surprised how much people calm down once they match a voice with an email.

Fire Escape Plan

Stop, Drop, and Roll: Sometimes people are so angry and so set on making everyone else’s life miserable, that they will not stop until they feel like they have shown you who’s boss. If this happens, sometimes you have to cut your losses. Stop trying to reason with the angry individual. Drop the conversation. Politely let them know that you will no longer bother them. Roll away from the situation and find other influencers who are pertinent to your industry. The Internet is VAST. You are bound to find other users who want to engage with you and are happy to do so.

The Internet is catching on fire all the time, so just keep cool when a fire happens. Respond accordingly, with transparency and honesty. But if all else fails, stop, drop, and roll. Hopefully, this lesson in social media damage control will help put out your next fire.


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