Simon Mainwaring Explains How Your Brand Can Jump Back from Negative Social Media

Never Eat Alone co-author Tahl Raz interviewed marketing consultant, author, and speaker Simon Mainwaring about his book, We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media To Build a Better World, for the Social Capitalist. Here’s the audio recording and full transcript. MyGreenlight member and marketing consultant Colleen Newvine submitted this question during the interview:

“You’re building or architecting this community, but what happens when you’re hit with criticism or negativity, or some of the dark side that we hear about, or I’ve actually felt, in social media? How do you deal with negativity in social media? How have you dealt with it?”

Simon: I think it’s a great thing and I’ve had it, too. I get everything from being dismissed as some sort of crazy, commie-idealist, through to being put on the Republican watch list, through to I had a gentleman get very angry with me because I wrote a piece about whether video games increase teen violence. He was very angry with me, which to me rather proved the point. But, anyway, you always will encounter that. As soon as you open yourself up to public scrutiny, you’re going to have those who support you and those who don’t, and that’s fine.

What I do is I welcome it. I’ve been taken to task by people over various issues many times and rather than be reactionary and defensive, what you try and do is say, “Great. Someone is pointing out something that many people are already thinking,” or, “They’re highlighting a way that I need to improve my product or service if I’m really going to be authentic.”

Patagonia is a great example of the best way to deal with critics in their Carbon Footprint model. They highlight what they think is wrong with their process. You put your dirty laundry out there first. If you have somebody out there who is criticizing what you’re doing, or saying, “Listen, it’s great you’re doing this good thing over here, but look what you’re doing on the other side of things,” that’s wonderful news, because it’s forcing you to get some alignment between who you say you are and what you actually do.
Now, that’s not easy. It’s even more difficult for corporations like Proctor & Gamble or Unilever or Coca Cola, these massive brands that have been operating on the basis of this monologue marketplace for a long time. If you’re a small, solopreneur company, it’s actually a lot easier to do.

My approach is that we are now operating in the era of WikiLeaks, of Anonymous, of an inability to bury stuff deep enough. The smartest business strategy you can take is to define your purpose and go to market in an authentic way and really challenge those things that aren’t authentic, because the marketplace will expose them if you don’t.

Now, that’s difficult if your product or service has some negative impact on the world. Almost every product does. You have to get a balancing act between the positive of what you do and the unavoidable negative impact of what you do. Again, Patagonia: Their line is “no unnecessary harm to the environment.” It’s not, “Let’s have a perfect environment,” it’s “no unnecessary harm.” So it’s a realistic position we need to take.

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