Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
When your business operates in a niche that can sometimes experience controversy or deals with controversial subjects, such as cannabis or art, you’re bound to come across a few naysayers along the way. While you can’t prevent this situation from happening, you can control the way you respond.
In a public space like social media, the way you conduct yourself in reaction to any “hate comments” or “trolls” can have a major impact on the way your business is perceived by current and potential customers. So before you hit “reply,” consider the following 10 strategies recommended by a panel of Rolling Stone Culture Council experts for responding to any controversy that may arise.
Be Forthright and Respectful
Be forthright. Communicate in an honest, direct and respectful manner. While close-mindedness may hinder a rational conversation or back-and-forth on social media, how you communicate is what is important. The delivery, the tone and the content all being equal. Anything deemed negative or “below the belt” completely disparages your message. – Jessica Passman, Hunter + Esquire
Engage with Empathy
Outrage seems to be popular right now, and it’s ultimately fueled by folks feeling like they don’t have control of the world around them. Engaging directly with empathy is always a good first step. Good or bad, someone willing to criticize your company publicly in some way has to care about what your company is doing. Finding common ground in conflict can lead to some pretty interesting innovations. – Chris Murray, FoxNRTH Inc.
Stay True to Your Offering
You need to be true to your offering and audience. Your offering will not appeal to everyone all of the time, so why even try to make it a cookie-cutter solution for the masses? I struggle with this every day, but remind myself that there are specific audiences out there for my stories, product and services and brand. I just need to go find them and direct my social media activity to talk to them. – Reenita Malhotra Hora, Chapter by Episode Productions
Meet audiences where they are at without judgement. Invite them into a conversation of shared discovery. A tone of curiosity helps. – Erik Oberholtzer, Cohere
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Focus on the “business” side of your business. For example, rather than just posting a picture of yourself at your gallery or dispensary, talk about your sales for the month or a new artist you’ve discovered. When viewers realize that niches like art and cannabis can be real business categories run by real entrepreneurs, they may gradually change perspective. Speak business, not woo-woo! – Nancy A Shenker, theONswitch
Stick to the Facts
More than 90 percent of our agency’s clients are in the cannabis industry, so we’re constantly engaging with conflicting opinions — many of which are flat-out wrong. We are lucky to work with cannabis, as we only have to employ the facts and science, including the many polls and surveys conducted in recent years, because they make our points for us. – Ricardo Baca, Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency
Offer Another Point of View
Don’t get hooked. Instead, use the moment to educate and show another point of view that others may not have considered. If you remain authentic and true to your brand and mission, you may convert the naysayer to a fan. – Michael Klein, Miraculo Inc.
Control the Negativity
Don’t let the naysayers get to you, and know that, no matter what, you have the ability to delete negative comments. Make your social media a negative-comment-free zone and keep a zero-tolerance level on it. – Nicole Rodrigues, NRPR Group
Let Your Customers Speak for You
I’ve always let my customer base and their testimonies rule the conversation. The best part about our niche is it’s for people. If they enjoy the products, they share! Word-of-mouth has built our business, not millions in marketing or advertising. Consistency, transparency and an open door policy is how you can “Start Your Day the Hempful Way!” People just want to trust who they’re doing business with. – Chris Martin, Hempful Farms
Emphasize the Positive Impact
Controversial industries often have a silver lining whereby they do some social good. For example, even tobacco companies help regulate the sale of tobacco products, curb the black market and ensure that those who decide to use these products have access to safe and untainted products. These are the positive elements that need to be communicated to their detractors. – Tyler Gallagher, Team 33
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