The internet is an incredible thing. It offers a breadth of knowledge, entertainment, and community that is hard to fathom. If there’s something you want to learn, someone you want to connect with, or you just need to kill an hour or two of your afternoon, the internet is always happy to oblige.
But there’s a darker side to the internet too. There are the trolls. The haters. The misanthropes. To the unwary or the unprepared, the internet can seem like a cold, heartless place filled with people who delight in dragging others through the mud.
A Personal Example
I went through this personally last week. One of the sites I run was hit with a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack, which knocked it offline for a few hours. I got a nasty note from my hosting company about hogging resources, and it took a while to get sorted out. After a bit of research, we determined that the problem came from a single IP address in Beijing. The address was blocked and everything is back to normal.
I was – understandably in my opinion – upset about this. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to knock out this website; it’s in no way political or incendiary.
Now, my first reaction was to get mad, run online, and complain to whoever would listen. Of course I knew this was absolutely the wrong way to approach the issue, but I still wanted to. Instead, I waited a day or two to cool down, then posted on CSS-Tricks (one of my all time favorite sites) and was wisely advised to either take something teachable out of the experience, or keep my complaints out of the public record.
Their advice is basically a blogger’s version of the ages-old internet adage of “Don’t Feed the Trolls”. Trolls, as we understand it, are nasty little creatures who live on the internet and thrive on drama and attention. By denying them their needed sustinance, they will – in theory – move on to more habitable environs.
A Counter Example
But this is the internet, no one wants to read about restraint. So let’s take a look at another example of people who didn’t take the time to cool down. Maybe you’ve heard of them, I’m talking about a little business called “Amy’s Baking Company”.
If you haven’t read the whole story – and you should because it’s hilarious – the Cliff’s Notes version is this:
Samy and Amy Bouzaglo, owners Amy’s Baking Company, were having a hard time, and blamed a good deal of this on negative reviews on Yelp. They (allegedly; I don’t want to get sued for libel) didn’t help things by confronting the reviewers online, calling them “losers”, and posting fake five-star reviews.
In an effort to save their business, they went on the Fox show Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, a show where celebrity chef Gordan Ramsey goes into failing restaurants, figures out what’s wrong, and helps the owners get back on the right track. Except in this case, Ramsey walked out on the restaurant’s owners.
This has never happened in the show’s history.
From here, things went downhill fast. The Reddit community started doing their thing, and soon the restaurant’s Facebook page had a bunch of posts calling out the owners on a few of the more unsavory things they did on the show. The Bouzaglo’s, showing perhaps the least amount of common sense I’ve ever seen, decided to take the fight to the commenters, and started an epic brawl on Facebook, Reddit, and Yelp.
It didn’t end well for them.
The next day, perhaps finally calm, they posted that their accounts had been hacked and some nefarious person must have posted all those awful things. Unfortunately for them, no one was buying it.
Amy’s Bakery’s PR Lessons
All that aside, there are a few quick and easy lessons we can take away from the fiasco:
- Don’t fire back responses when you’re still emotional, just don’t
- No ad-hominem attacks, by which I means don’t make things personal – address issues not the critic
- Take ownership – telling the world that you’ve been hacked as a get out of jail free card is just insulting; we’re not that stupid
- Don’t respond to everyone; you’re just feeding the fire
So could Amy’s Bakery have weathered the storm a bit better with a cool head and a little patience? Absolutely. Instead, they’re the laughing stock of the internet, and people are going to associate their business with this event for a long, long time.