Over on Facebook yesterday, September 20, technology blogger Robert Scoble opened a discussion about Twitter versus Facebook versus Google+, based on an observation by Digg founder Kevin Rose and how these platforms offered different engagement.

One of the commenters, Aimee Giese, left her take, and offered a counter to Robert’s view that Twitter was basically a dead zone now, and all the social media interaction is happening on Google+ and Facebook. To which Robert offered the reply as seen in the image below:

Robert Scoble and Aimee Giese

If you think Robert’s reply to Aimee, and his claim that she can’t have many friends or family members, is over the top, you wouldn’t be alone.

As well as people that continued to have a debate about the merits of Twitter, Facebook and Google+, many offered their take on Robert’s jibe (intentional or otherwise):

Stephanie Quilao

As you can see, the responses ranged from disbelief to anger and disappointment. Yes, we all get riled up, and yes, we say things we probably regret – but that used to be to a limited crowd. Friends down the pub, or work colleagues, for example.

With social media, though, that local crowd has become millions-strong, and everything we say is up for grabs. And if you’re in a position of “influence”, as Robert Scoble is to many, then that amplification becomes even louder (as of writing, the image Aimee uploaded to TwitPic has had just over 16,500 views).

In fairness to Robert, he did apologize to Aimee on Google+, and admitted he had been an *sshole and stepped over the mark (although an apology on the original Facebook thread would perhaps have made more sense).

So can we learn anything from what happened yesterday? After all, it’s a prime case of what many brands are afraid of when it comes to social media – a negative interaction. There are a few things.

We Are Always On Display

You might think that a comment or notification is flippant, or not as important as others might see it. The problem is, people have very different views when it comes to what they see as acceptable and what they see as insulting.

Before we (or brands) make a statement, we need to think a little bit more to see if it will be misconstrued. Many of the people that commented on Robert’s apology feel Aimee took it too personally, and Robert wasn’t in any way to blame. Personally, I disagree with this – I think it’s exactly what Robert said it was in his apology (“way over the line”).

But others obviously disagree.

So just consider if the tone of response is appropriate, and even needed. Brands especially have detractors (customers hate to be let down), so it’s even more important to be on your game when making public statements.

Apologies Are Better When Immediate

When the Facebook wall lit up last night with support for Aimee, it was clear that many felt she was owed an apology from Robert. And, as I mentioned, he quickly apologized over on Google+, and made sure to tag Aimee too, so she knew he had mentioned her.

Too many people and brands leave their apologies until long after the event – this doesn’t help their cause. The belief then is that it’s just a carefully orchestrated corporate PR response, and the intent isn’t really there.

Sure, for some cases an apology and how it’s worded may have to go through legal channels for approval, to ensure more damage isn’t done. But for something like Robert’s gaffe, a speedy (and honest) apology not only helps douse more flames, but shows people you actually admit when you’re wrong, and take ownership.

That goes a long way in reputation management.

Fanboys Wear Sh*t Goggles

One of the interesting/sad aspects of the whole thread was how many people “Liked” Robert’s reply to Aimee (17 at current count). Does this mean 17 people think it’s okay to insult someone, and raise questions about that person’s ability to make friends?

Then on Robert’s Google+ apology, more people are chipping in and saying Aimee (and those that felt Robert’s comment was out of place) are over-reacting, and need to grow up. At least DeWayne Lehman admits to being a professional *sshole…

Yes, healthy debate is good, and that’s the beauty of the web – we’re offered far more open options to have a debate, as opposed to just having the views of one with no option to disagree.

Unfortunately, you’ll always have the fanboys that seem to wear sh*t goggles, as it feels like anything others say is just sh*t (unless it’s from the object of their affection).

We just need to accept that some people’s opinion will more than likely always be skewed, and no amount of debate is going to change that view. So don’t waste your energy there, and move on to where you can have a healthy debate.

We all make mistakes. Or we all say something that can be viewed as a mistake.

Some people handle it better than others. Kudos to Robert for rectifying his. If only more would step up to the plate in the same way…