According to Laura Perry, director of communications for the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Nursing, hecklers are often anonymous and merely crave attention. But responding to a heckler could be a perilous endeavour. “They are experts in shifting the tone and direction of conversation, which can end up making it worse for you,” says Perry.
It is the PR man’s worst nightmare when a detractor (customer, shareholder, community member, football fan or just an activist) publicly attacks the company’s corporate action or product, or services, or ideals on a blog, a forum, Facebook or on twitter.
The complaint may be provoked by an obnoxious experience with a product or service or just willfully misinforming the public. The reality is that most social media executives are clueless as to how to deal with a public slight, perpetuated by a determined cynic, who takes rancorous swipes from the vantage anonymity of the cyber space. This is made worse by the viral nature of this public nuisance, which if left uncontrolled could completely erode brand value in a matter of hours.
Many Crisis Communicators respond to hecklers with equal venom or in the case of most Nigerian corporates, threats. These reactions are most times driven by the pressures from the top management breathing down the neck of the Corporate Communications Manager to act decisively to arrest the public spectacle of the detractor.
On the contrary, Communications experts proffer that the PR honcho reaches out to the heckler and set up an in-person meeting. Take the discussion off the public space and give the brand a human face. Ensure the invited guest gets an opportunity to vent and share point of view. Then encourage them to participate in activities related to shared goals.
This approached was perfectly exemplified by Doncaster Rovers Football Club of the United Kingdom in dealing with a troublesome fan, named Lee Miller. It is a case study worth emulating.
Lee Miller is a demanding Doncaster Rovers fan, who used every moment he had on twitter to moan the lack of new player signings to boost the club playing squad. Lee responded to every tweet from the club with his own vituperative remark. He did this religiously everyday. He was a real pest!
For all the hell Lee raised on Twitter, Doncaster did not attempt to quiet him. They decided to do something amazing instead.
Doncaster invited Lee to exclusively witness the first summer signing for the 2015/2016 season – goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann, reputed to have helped Preston FC get promoted to the Championship football division.
They also gave him the unprecedented honour of being the first to officially announce new massive signing to the world. In ensuring the announcement conveyed officialdom, Doncaster started the conversation via their official twitter account @drfc_official thus: “One fan got really frustrated, tweeted us EVERY day saying “tell Dickov (Paul Dickov –PD, is the club’s manager) to get the pen out”. We laughed, and then decided to ask him in…To be the first EVER supporter to officially announce a signing from their Twitter account. So who is it? Over to @drfcmiller86 to find out”.
Exactly three minutes later, Lee Miller tweeted; “On behalf of @drfc_official I am delighted to announce our new signing Thorsten Stuckmann #DRFC”. Lee who was completely won over by Ryan Murrant’s (Doncaster’s Marketing & Communications Manager) gesture further tweeted from a renewed conviction: “A massive thank you to all the team @drfc_official and @ryanmurrant for today, it’s one I will always remember. PD and TS real nice bloke”.
He adds that the engagement helped to change his perceptive on how the manager is running the club. “Unexpectedly PD completely changed my opinion and I think he is definitely the man to take us forward”.
This case in point is indicative of the power of the in-person engagement and sublimely allocating role-play to stakeholders seeking attention without jeopardizing the structure and the philosophy of a company or the brand value.