Engage with the Hate

I recently began that much-maligned exercise of apartment hunting with my wife in Minneapolis and if I learned anything from the pursuit (other than a realtor’s idea of ‘spacious’ is from the point of view of the cockroaches) it is that businesses need to engage with hate online.

Much of our hunting utilized social media – we searched ads and sites and used accompanying blogs, tweets and reviews to assess where best to rest our hats. It is safe to say that there is a lot of hate in the social media sphere – from security deposit battles to strange-smelling hallways, the dramas of rental life in the Twin Cities were laid bare online.

Some of the complaints were enough to put us off regardless of the beautiful but tiny thumbnails – tales of legal wrangles, of infestations and of neighbors from hell. Of those properties that didn’t have enough ‘rage-baggage’ to put us off, we found mostly stink-free hallways and landlords who were nothing like the Stalinist dictators they had been portrayed as.

When we talked to one of the landlords about the hate-blogs, he admitted he had seen the reviews but argued that some of his blocks had literally hundreds of tenants, of which only a handful had felt the need to spew their anger online. “We should answer some of them,” he admitted, “but we never have time and they only represent a small minority”.

The toughest thing for businesses is to get bloggers and other social media-ites to post positive stuff. Satisfaction is not a good driver to get people typing; no one is interested in reading your latest blog: ‘My hallway smells just fine.’ That said if you have spent all night fruitlessly trying to kill an insect that is widely known to be able to survive a nuclear explosion, you are going to be angry enough to make a Facebook group about it.

You can’t make people write nice things about your business unless you pay them, but you are sure as heck going to get people up and angry the moment the slightest thing goes wrong. And those rants, however misplaced or libelous, are out there and people will find them just as we did – and as any business will tell you, word of mouth can be a killer.

The only way to fight the hate is to engage with the hate – reply to blog posts, reply to tweets, to nasty Facebook groups – get your voice heard, no matter how frivolous it might seem. My wife and I may have missed out on some great places because we listened to the rant just as many other consumers have been turned off by a bad blog or a grumpy tweet. But if there is nothing else there to make us believe it isn’t the truth, why shouldn’t we side with the hate?

Lee Jones is a British business journalist looking to make his way into the US PR industry through examining and learning about social media, a form of communication he has scorned for so long…until now. To read about him keenly stumbling through social media experiments like a technophobic octogenarian see his blog.