Social Media: Weathering the Storm

Social Media is considered the future: the connection between companies and their customers; individuals and their families; work and work colleagues. It comprises the traditional web sites, personal and company web blogs, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter and a wealth of different forums covering every subject imaginable. Social media, in which ever form may be chosen, is the ideal communication platform to get a message across, the highlight new products or just to chat and publish the latest news. Everyone who partakes dreams of riches, of countless followers, of comments and discussions without end.

The Internet, platform of all modern social media, has a downside as much as many advantages. It can be used for propaganda in all religious and political directions as much as a source of information without the need to show exactly where information stems from, who is providing the information or what the end result may be. It is a medium filled with faceless people as much as a medium which brings the unknown out and shows who they may be, who they claim to be. Modern technology allows most users to see exactly who they are conversing with but, at the same time, it allows users to hide themselves behind a faked identity, behind stolen or falsified photographs and images. It allows the creation of multiple identities, none of which may be the person using the systems available. It allows, above all, commentary and conversations, comments from anyone and everyone.

Being a mass media, the Internet also brings people of diverging interests together who, in their normal social environment, might never have met, never have found others with the same interests. It also brings the lower level of society out into the open, masked or with faked identities, and allows them to give full vent to their beliefs, their frustrations, even their sexual urges. The end result, for an ordinary person or a company, can be the Shit Storm.

The term is reputed to come from Korea. Here a woman was seen allowing her pet dog to defile public transport. She refused, it is said, to clean the mess up and was photographed. The photographs and information on this woman was then placed in the Internet and went viral. Her personal information was discovered, including the social media she used, and the Shit Storm began.

A Shit Storm is a massive attack through comments on a post, a blog entry, a news report or similar. It is always negative and can take on massive proportions, with hundreds if not thousands of negative, critical or even abusive comments being posted within a short period of time. Examples of minor Shit Storms can be seen on major news sites such as Yahoo, where comments are open and anyone can create an identity and then post at will, without any form of moderation. The Storm can be organized or simply brought about by one or two people publicizing what they have read and gaining the attention of others. A simple post on a controversial subject, a photograph where it appears animals or children are being abused – in a mild sense – right down to open support for an unpopular theme can bring the first entries. Once the Storm escalates it is almost impossible to end, until the next web site or blog becomes a target and interest fades.

The end result of a Shit Storm can be the loss of standing in the community or, for companies whose business relies on the Internet, a loss of face and prestige which, I the worst cases, can damage the bottom line; sales and public relations.

At first glance it is impossible to weather such a storm. The comments posted are continuous and mainly anonymous or untraceable. A Shit Storm can result, through overload, in a Denial of Service, in a web site crashing or, in milder forms, in the server slowing down under the pressure of clicks and views. For private individuals operating a personal web blog it can also result in severe psychological problems, in stress and health problems.

Is it possible to weather a Shit Storm or use it to your own advantage?

For private individuals the solution is simple: comments should be set to moderate and anonymous commenting disallowed. Comments which are pure abuse and contain nothing of use or relevance should be deleted and, where possible, the sender blocked from creating more comments. A good spam filter is also recommended, as some abusive comments come from semi-professional Trolls – people whose sole aim it is to create problems, to create abuse with the help of others who do not necessarily see the whole picture but are caught up in the flow. Comments with relevant content can and should be answered, but in a conciliatory tone, with an explanation and further information if available. Any form of abuse or the use of insults should be avoided at all costs. It is important to remember that a Shit Storm is not necessarily personal, and comments about the blog owner, their family, lifestyle or beliefs should not be taken to heart. Many people write without a great deal of forethought and seldom consider the consequences of their actions for others. The ability to leave a subject or topic alone and move on is a sign of strength, not of weakness. The ability to admit a mistake is also a sign of strength and should never be under-estimated.

For news services, where an open forum for commentary and discussion is vital there are few remedies. Riding out the storm means ensuring that new articles and reports and published. The comments section of a particular news item or report can be closed after a set period of time, to prevent further abuse. This policy should be employed throughout the entire site, however, and not limited to one or two items: singling out specific posts or news items and closing down the ability of readers to comment may result in the discussion being taken elsewhere, where the proprietors have no control over content.

For business web sites a set period of time for comments to be added should be included throughout the site as a matter of policy. Comments and the ability to comment should be moderated and anonymous commenting disallowed. Where a misunderstanding has caused a Shit Storm the facts of the case should be laid out clearly and concisely and specific comments may also be answered in a calm and conciliatory manner. Any form of abuse, insult or similar should be avoided at all costs. Articles which have brought a Shit Storm down upon a web site should be carefully checked to see exactly what has caused the problem, and lessons learned for the future. It is one thing to have a mass of visitors clicking through to a site but quite another to have them leaving with a bad impression.

It is possible to weather a Shit Storm so long as each comment is viewed calmly, each reply is made with care and due attention and nothing personal against the people making the comment is allowed to intrude. It can, for a business, take a good deal of time and patience but, handled correctly, but will show an interest for those who have made comments and bring a more personal and acceptable face to what may otherwise simply be a faceless company or business selling itself in the marketplace.