We’ve seen this happen in schoolyards or on athletic teams. A bully targets an individual and goes out of their way to harass and belittle that person. While a parent or teacher may step in and intervene, in many cases the bully is not ever held accountable for their actions.

Today, the pervasiveness of social media allows individuals and organization with personal agendas to have their own social media brand bullying pulpit, taking on companies and brands.

Sometimes the cause for a public attack is related to bad decisions or poor service on the part of the organization being targeted. For example, an airline that badly mishandles flight delays or a cable company that consistently provides terrible service.

More and more often, however, we see social media brand bullying targeting a brand because of a perceived political slight. For example, Kellogg’s pulled advertising from the Breitbart network because they didn’t want to be associated with the alt-right views expressed on Breitbart’s sites. Breitbart in turn chose to bully Kellogg’s by encouraging its readers to boycott Kellogg’s brands.

Last week, Nordstrom’s dropped Ivanka Trump’s clothing line because of poor sales. President Trump took to Twitter to chide the store for making what was, in his mind, a poor decision related to his presidential policies.

Five Actions to Counter Social Media Brand Bullying

Could social media brand bullying happen to your brand? Here are five actions to consider if you find yourself the subject of brand bullying.

  • Understand the business issue at hand.
    If the controversy is due to poor actions or inactions on your part, you have work to do. Investigate, correct throblem, then publicly close the loop to let customers and prospects know the situation has been resolved.
  • Be clear as to why you’ve taken a particular position.
    If the situation occurred because of a business decision, clearly state that. Then stop talking. Let your actions stand for themselves. Nordstrom’s was clear that the Ivanka Trump line wasn’t selling well. Kellogg’s (and several hundred other brands) didn’t want to be associated with the political views espoused on the Breitbart site.
  • Don’t throw fuel on the fire.
    It’s not possible to discuss business issues rationally with someone who is incensed and emotional. Jumping in and defending your actions will likely just make the situation worse. Control the desire to step in and argue your point.
  • Don’t give in to bullying.
    This isn’t successful on the playground, and it doesn’t work any better in the business world. The bully that gets what he asks for is only empowered to continue this behavior and make additional demands in the future. However, behavior that doesn’t achieve the desired outcome will likely not be repeated (though the bully may move on and look for another easy target).
  • Understand that this, too, will pass.
    While there may be a temporary hit to sales or stock price, recent events show that not only is the social media brand bullying effect short-lived, but there’s often a bounce-back with a rebound that well exceeds where sales were when this started. The public controversy surrounding an attempted social media smear often draws sympathetic attention to a company or brand, causing sales to rise dramatically. Kellogg’s continues to sell food products, Nordstrom’s stock took a temporary hit and recovered, and Vanity Fair subscriptions hit an all-time high after President Trump dinged them for a bad review of the restaurant at his new Washington, DC hotel.

None of us look forward to being bullied. But the good news is taking the right steps when facing this kind of situation can help build brand value, increase loyalty, and even attract new customers. Take that, bullies!