It’s tempting for companies to smack the little guys around. After all, it’s easier to bump off some new startup by spreading FUD than it is to challenge the top dog in your industry! But easy pickings should be avoided, especially when it comes to online communication and social media: It’s far easier for a company to lose mindshare by calling attention to the little guys than it is to gain anything from even the most justifiable argument. That’s why I advise my clients always to punch above their weight.
Pick a Fair Fight
It’s hard to pick the World Series winner before the Major League Baseball season, and World Cup “Futbol” is similarly competitive, but most fields of battle feature mismatched foes. Consider the University of Connecticut’s amazing “Lady Huskies” basketball team. They just won their 89th straight game, an amazing winning streak. Yet commentators were quick to downplay their success, claiming women’s college basketball just isn’t as competitive as other sports.
Spectators love a “David”, and schadenfreude always clouds a “Goliath”. Who wants to see Michael Shumacher drive another Ferrari to victory? It’s much more fun to see him fail to turn in a top lap, let alone stand on the podium! Seeing the Red Sox knock off the hated Yankees after losing the first three games in the 2004 ALCS was perhaps more important to fans than the two World Series victories that followed.
Social Media Lessons
I am always amused when an industry titan decides to go toe-to-toe with a tiny upstart. Sure, they often win these fights. But simply by taking up the challenge they have validated the whippersnapper’s cause, who often leverages the losing fight in the ensuing PR blitz. David and Goliath is a natural news story, after all!
This is even more true when it comes to companies responding to negative coverage online. Often, an up-and-coming blogger or analyst will intentionally pick a fight to get attention. When the victim punches back, they drag the little guy into the spotlight.
Always Punch Above Your Weight
This is an admirable tactic, and the lesson works in both directions:
- Always focus ahead and take on a foe larger than you
- Ignore everyone smaller than you – anything you say or do will weaken your position
When it comes to social media, companies should never respond in anger. It’s a rare blogger indeed who is bigger than the companies they cover! Companies should ignore the specific attack and respond with a reaffirmation of their actual value. And shooting the messenger just looks petty!
Keep this in mind the next time you see an angry response to a blogger or analyst!
Image credit: “Boxing Ring Santa Cruz IMS Academy” by KoKo Krispy
Wise words, Steve. Wise words.
Disclosure – I’m an EMCer (and blogger, and someone who often foolishly fails to follow Steve’s advice).
Jeff Darcy says
I think your advice is good when you’re in a zero-sum game with a competitor, but there are some situations where things aren’t zero-sum. When several new companies are trying to disrupt the old guard’s business, making lots of noise amongst themselves can help them all. CDP in the early days was kind of this way. Cloud storage nowadays might be. Open-source ecosystems are another example where karma you gain by sharing the spotlight with others is often repaid. *As a rule* I think you’re right, but lesson two is about when to break the rule.
Perhaps smaller companies would be better served by forming a conga line instead of a brawl? After all, it’s easy for all the little guys to knock each other out while the real enemy watches and laughs.
This is getting awfully metaphorical isn’t it?