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Shame: The Dark Side of Social Selling

By Sander Biehn | Apr 2, 2015

When I first started in social selling, I was shocked to find that some sales people didn’t want to be part of it. They told me they were afraid of making mistakes online.

I was even more shocked to find companies were reluctant to give it a try for the same reason.

What are they thinking? Did they want to live in the old world forever? Or were they afraid of taking a risk on something new?

There’s more to the story…

I just finished reading “So You’ve Been Publically Shamed” by Jon Ronson of “Frank” fame.  His book catalogs the effects of  social media on shaming. One of Jon’s central stories sheds some light on the issue.

In 2012, Justine Sacco authored a single misguided Tweet that effectively ruined her life. Because of her 140 character blunder, she ended up losing her job and becoming the target of millions of online haters.

The more I read about Justine, the more I understood the fear those sales people and marketers had about social selling. Here is what you need to know to face your social media fears and start living in the present:

The power of social media to reach an audience has a dark side. There are people who are waiting to hate you and waiting for you to make mistakes. The better your brand’s reputation, the more haters you’ll encounter. People love to see the high and mighty stumble.

Shame is a  powerful emotion. We avoid it  at all costs. It discounts our value to our fellow man whether we are an individual or a brand… it’s why haters exist in the first place.

A client of ours recently launched a new social site in conjunction with a new marketing campaign. We were shocked by the number of haters who joined the party on day one. They threw rocks and riled up others who laughed and jeered at us.

But then a single brave customer stood up for  us online and something magical happened.

One of the haters tried to shout her down, but he had his facts confused. The mob turned on him and kicked him while he was down for misinterpreting what was being said. People laughed at him, and quickly he disappeared into the ether along with much of the vitriol.

Meanwhile, we stayed the course and the conversation got much more reasonable. The brand loyalists saved the day.

This story has more in common with Justine’s tale of woe than you might think.  While we didn’t say anything overtly wrong or stupid, we did make claims that others didn’t agree with, and the masses were loaded for bear.

Like Justine, we took an immediate and exponentially magnified beating. But it is how we reacted afterwards that set us apart.

Justine shied away. She shut down her social media and claimed to be a victim. This made people hate her even more and the shame factor was put into overdrive.

In our case, we stood tall and listened. Even though we didn’t agree, we didn’t start an argument.  And our intended audience eventually appeared and came to our defense.

Let’s not kid ourselves, social media can backfire on you. But handling it properly is the key to saving your integrity.

Here’s what you can do to handle it:

1. Don’t change your messaging based on what is being said. Continue to be who you are in the market.

2. Don’t engage or try to justify yourself to the haters. If you make a bonafide error, it is ok to say you are sorry as long as you really are.

3. Don’t act out of shame, act out of responsibility. Don’t take down a mistake unless it is somehow hurtful (in your mind) on second glance.

4. Use your own voice. Just because you like that snarky late night talk show host, doesn’t mean you can copy him and get away with it. You need to figure out who you are and plow your own path.

5. Operate with purity of purpose. If you mean what you say even when your message is not appreciated, it is hard to be shamed. Trying too hard to sell or sucking up to others is a recipe for disaster on social. The haters will see it and turn up the heat.

Teaching sales people and marketers how to deal with social media shaming is one way our social selling program is different from most others. During the process of learning how to handle the shaming, sales people and marketers often find their own voice, and go on to openly embrace social media and the global online conversation.


Sander Biehn is the founder of Thought Horizlon, LLC.  Thought Horizon provides strategy, execution and training for business to business sales and marketing.  See for more details

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