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Owning Bad Publicity

I remember a few years ago back at Gnomedex in 2007 when Vanessa Fox spoke about owning bad publicity. It wasn’t called that. I can’t remember what I had to eat yesterday, much less what the title of a session at a conference four years ago was. But. I do remember the gist of her talk.

The idea was that some things in life, especially on the web, you can control. Companies hire marketing firms to try to spin a positive message for them in the social media outlets as well as hiring search engine marketers, brand consultants, etc to curate their brands.

Sometimes that works. Other times, the reputation and image on the web is controlled by other people. You can’t control the fact that you suck at times. You also can’t help what people might think, even inaccurately about you.

As the story went, Vanessa ran into an uncontrollable problem where people were googling for “vanessa fox nude” – damn perverts. Instead of getting upset and worrying about how people were valuating her, she went out and bought the domain vanessafoxnude.com and redirected it to her site.

To this day, that story resonates with me. I’ve personally had people disparage me. To this day, if you google my name, you will find one such article on the front page of Google. Hint: It has to do with a weasel. As a result, I’ve considered buying branded stuffed weasels to give away at events.

A long time ago, I acquired a reputation for being extremely honest to the point of sometimes offending people or putting them off. Is this really how I want to be seen? Probably not. Since embracing that, has it been successful for me personally and professionally? So far, I think so.

Don’t let negative press get you down. Own that shit and move on. Make it a part of your brand. If you’re wrong, own up and be transparent. If you’re not, just incorporate it into your offering.

Photo Credit: mushon.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

5 thoughts on “Owning Bad Publicity

  1. Very true. Easiest way to rationalize: any energy spent trying to iron out bad publicity = less effort making something meaningful out of it (new posts, new code, new travels, etc.)

  2. Aaron, this is a really good (and concise) take on the matter. The first time I got seriously called out on something (inaccurately so but it didn’t matter) it really took me back. Since then I’ve frequently had to remind myself that if someone isn’t disagreeing with me I’m probably not doing it right. In a sense I took it as a sign of validation. That may not always apply but since taking that attitude I’ve gotten much more bold (perhaps confident) is a better word about doing what I want, how I want and just throwing it out there, not recklessly, but not by over-thinking it either.

    All of that said, there is something to be said for knowing when we actually screw up and being reasonably apologetic for it if appropriate. Been down that road too..

    Either way, once we experience that kind of thing a couple of times is when we start to get over our fear of it and that is very liberating and empowering.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. A coworker of mine in a new city knew me well enough that he felt comfortable teasing me about my name.

    “Pig – pig – piggy piggy piggy!”

    I replied, “Is that the best you can do? In junior high, they called me I-suck Pig-nuts.”

    He thought about it for a moment, shook his head, and said “Nope. I can’t top that.” And he never tried.

    Owning it diminishes the impact, and makes it eventually evaporate.

    Besides… there are several types of Social Media Weasel that are positive role models: http://ike4.me/osmw

  4. hi Aaron,
    Usually companies deserve the bad rep they may get, but sometimes it is truly just a case of mistaken identity (like picking the same name as another company in a different field that has a bad rap) or it’s the case of a nut-case customer that gets angry no matter what you do…
    That said, you can either whine about it… or do something about it.
    Reading your post brought the old saying to mind, Making lemonade out of lemons.
    Steve
    PS. I really like Ike’s comment above. As he says, own it!

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