People don’t ask questions; they just pass judgements.
–Marc Messier, Ottawa Fire Services in a guest presentation to a digital communications class

If social media have done nothing else, they’ve given rise the great Internet pile-ons of the digital era. There have been several examples of these over the last year.

Everyone loved Invisible Children until people found a reason to criticize them, causing the mega-positive pendulum to swing to the other extreme. Amanda House’s video calling out Loblaws for personal injustices she felt were waged against her and her partner in a failed business deal involving their YoPro product attracted a significant groundswell of anti-Loblaws sentiment. The ricochet pile-on began the following day when people started to question Ms. House’s business savvy and scruples in light of not paying a designer for work done that Ms. House criticized then used on YoPro packaging anyway.

As a sidebar, I believe both Invisible Children and Loblaws handled their respective crises very well.

There are two new players. Ottawa photographer Barbara Cameron kicked off an online hazing of local radio station Hot 89.9 and its parent company NewsCap Radio for illegally using one of her photographs as part of a contest promotion. Shuttercliq has published one of many blog posts on the dispute. A counter pile-on has now erupted after the public became aware of a prior fraud conviction against Ms. Cameron.

I don’t want to get into the minutae of the dispute. I believe both sides have mishandled themselves. However, Hot 89.9 has probably been the biggest loser despite any support they may have from the larger community. They’ve made three critical mistakes which I’m fairly certain have cost the station significantly more in wasted productivity than any amount they may have been required to pay in advance or as a negotiated settlement beyond the watchful public eye (including the reported $2,000 Ms. Ann requested in an email exchange which a Hot 89.9 respondent allegedly said was ‘extortion.’)

  1. It was sloppy on their part to not source valid licensing before using the photograph in question. It looks very uncommunity-like for a community-minded radio station.
  2. They appear to have dug in rather than tried to come to some mutually-acceptable solution which could have worked to their advantage, turning an otherwise irate photographer into an accidental ambassador. It reminds me of the “consider yourself embraced” event.
  3. They haven’t addressed the issue on their Facebook Fan Page (as of this writing) and have disabled comments. Undeterred, the public is taking their anger to the recommendations section of the page.

Here are some key lessons from this experience.

  1. Don’t cut corners when it comes to intellectual property.
  2. Mess up, fess up. Own the mistake and own the process of achieving a solution.
  3. As hard as it may be, always be the better person. Digging in is adversarial. It will make you look bad eventually.
  4. Finding a solution outside of the public eye is better PR. And, it probably costs less.
  5. If the problem is in the public domain, don’t hide from it. Highlight your mistake (or publicly-perceived mistake) and what you are doing right now to correct it. Don’t complicate the story with details people won’t read.

PHOTO: DSCF1120.JPG uploaded to Flickr by EmmyMik.