Doni Interviews East Coast Social Media Expert: Fight Cyberbullies with Offensive & Defensive Strategies

Ira S. Wolfe, founder and chief social media strategist for Social Media Architects of Delmarva, was kind enough to answer some questions related to the Ruben Porras story. In this interview, Wolfe offers some insights about how businesses can use social media to protect their reputations. I intentionally chose a social media professional who lives far away from Redding. Wolfe lives on the East Coast, near Ocean City, Md. How did I find him?, why, via the Internet, of course.

In the story about Ruben Porras, and the follow-up about the birth of the Redding, California, Facebook page, some businesspeople claimed Porras used his myriad social media platforms to damage their personal and business reputations. The situation escalated to the point where a businesswoman filed a restraining order against him. Her restraining order included letters of support from other businesswomen who characterized Porras’ actions as a form of cyber-harassment.

With that in mind, how prevalent is cyber-harassment – or cyber-bashing, or cyber-bulling or whatever you want to call it – that eventually evolves to the point where businesspeople are scrambling to protect their reputations from damage done via social media?

This depends on where you draw the line between customer criticism and intentional malicious defamation. If we focus this discussion on a targeted effort to defame another business or adult, the reported incidence so far is rare.

That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t occur, but much like embezzlement, it is likely under-reported because a business doesn’t want to draw more attention to the bad news. It is also likely that most people feel there is nothing they can do. I do however believe that we’ll hear about more cases in the future.

Let’s say a business believes it’s been unfairly defamed on social media sites. What recourse does a businesses or individual have if someone has written disparaging things about them on social media sites like Facebook, with potentially thousands of readers?

Like almost everything else, prevention is much more effective and less costly than the cure. As in this case (involving Ruben Porras and the restraining order filed by a Redding business woman), pursuing legal recourse might be necessary, especially if the act of harassment involved fraud.

But working through the legal process is time-consuming and costly. Worse, the viral nature of the Internet – thanks to social media – is difficult to slow and impossible to stop. Businesses must be proactive. Because anyone can be a publisher today, a reputation assault can be launched and go viral within minutes. Businesses can’t ignore the reach and influence of social media.

I meet with small business owners every day and still hear how they ‘don’t have time for it’ or ‘my customers don’t use the Internet.’ If the customers of a business aren’t using the Internet to search, that business’ days are numbered since nearly 700,000 searches take place every second on Google alone. It is critical – a strategic imperative – that every business have a reputation-management plan. That plan starts with an active website, blog and other social media –“active” being the critical word.

Well, perhaps some business people might assume that if they lack any electronic presence, then they’re safe from electronic harm to their reputation. No social media; no anti-social electronic fallout, right?

Wrong. What many business owners and executives fail to recognize is that offering no channel for customers to vent doesn’t prevent the criticism, it just diverts it elsewhere. If a business doesn’t offer a place for me to post my comments – good and bad – I’ll just go elsewhere (Google Places, Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and so on) to do it. And if I’m really angry, I’ll create a search optimized blog to start my rant.

OK, this has a familiar ring, because a version of that phenomena occurred with this story. Some of the business people who believed they’d been libeled and harassed by Porras via social media enlisted social media to fight back. One person created an entire website that blasted Porras. And some other business people created multiple copy-cat Redding, California, Facebook pages to cause confusion about which Redding, California Facebook page was the ‘real’ one. At last count, I think there are a few dozen variations on the Redding, CA, Redding, California, Redding, Calif. Facebook pages.

But aside from fleeting satisfaction, tactics like that probably aren’t very effective. Taking a more proactive stance, what can business people do to protect their reputations, or at least attempt some kind of damage control?

After the website and blog, the next step to successfully manage reputation is to ensure that all these sites rank high in the search engines. The best offensive and defensive strategy to negate critical comments or harassment is to outrank your ‘competition.’ In this discussion, the competition may or may not be your business competitor. It could be someone who makes a business out of damaging business reputations.

To outrank your competition and abusers, a business needs fresh, relevant content. That’s the key to search engine ranking these days –fresh and relevant.

When you talk about content, it’s not enough for a business to just create a website, correct? You’re suggesting they become active in Facebook or Twitter or other social media venues?

Exactly, but unfortunately many businesses are still reluctant or slow to engage social media. This is a huge mistake. They don’t understand – or they may even ignore – how people make decisions these days.

Which is?

When a business has built a community of people who ‘like’ their business, these followers will support and defend the business against harassers. They take attacks on businesses they frequent and like personally.

For instance, if I owned a Toyota, then during their reputation crisis, criticism directed toward Toyota also faulted my decision to purchase a Toyota. Besides, I don’t buy a Toyota from Toyota – I purchase it from a local dealer who might be my neighbor, friend or community leader. I don’t want to see him or her hurt so I’ll defend him against the naysayers. Think of a social media community as your digital “family.” No matter how much you like or dislike your siblings or relatives, families rally when threatened by an outsider.

I see. That’s the ‘social’ part of it. And what you’re describing is exactly what happened on the Redding, California Facebook page administered by Ruben Porras leading up to the restraining order hearing and almost immediately following it. He wrote posts in which he claimed that the restraining order was trying to take away his Facebook page – which was false.

But because he was controlling the message, his Facebook ‘friends’ had no way of knowing the actual nature of the restraining order – which was a business woman said she feared Ruben Porras, and her restraining order included supporting letters from other business women who also said they were afraid of him.

Even so, scores of the Redding, California ‘friends’ – absent any other information – came to his defense after he characterized himself and the Redding, Calif. Facebook page as innocent, baffled victims. They rushed to his defense to protect him – and ‘their’ page. I see what you mean about the supporters taking the attacks against Porras personally. He didn’t have to drum up supporters at the last minute when the wheels were coming off the wagon. They were already on his Redding Calif. Facebook page.

Yes. It’s important to remember that these social media communities take time to build and can’t be created on the spur of the moment. Without the content and an engaged community of followers, legal recourse may be the only other option.

But as I mentioned earlier, the process is slow, costly, unpredictable and likely ineffective in today’s age of fast, if not immediate, communication.

That must be a discouraging thought to businesses who are trying to protect their reputations while trying to run a business, too. Plus, to make matters worse, it seems that because it’s the Wild West when it comes to social media issues, courts and law enforcement may not be up to speed, either. These are interesting times, that’s for sure.

So, as along as we have you, Ira Wolfe, social media expert, I have one more question.

Aside from this issue at hand regarding cyber business-reputation-management, have you noticed any other trends with regard to adult-to-adult abuses on the Internet?

Outside of stalking and porn, nothing comes to mind.

Well, perhaps we’ll discuss that another day.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today on anewscafe.com, Ira Wolfe. We appreciate your input very much.

Ira S. Wolfe  is a prolific author, columnist, business blogger and sought-after-speaker and expert on hiring and workplace trends. He is the author of the new book “Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization: How to Manage the Unprecedented Convergence of the Wired, the Tired, and Technology in the Workplace“. His other books include “The Perfect Labor Storm 2.0, The Perfect Labor Storm Fact Book“, and “Understanding Business Values and Motivators.” He also has been columnist for “Business2Business Magazine” for the past 11 years.

Ira is president of Success Performance Solutions (SPS), a pre-employment and leadership testing firm he founded in 1996. His clients include small and mid-sized businesses in over a dozen industries.

Independent online journalist Doni Greenberg founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Greenberg was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate, Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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