By Melissa A. Vitale
Call outs or call ins can come in many forms: comments, standalone videos, duets, press releases and news stories. I’ve seen accusations thrown at friends and clients ranging from racism, sexual harassment, abuse, addiction, and even more severe federal crimes and varying from real to fabricated. This post is not about determining the validity of accusations and allegations. Neither is this post to belittle the severity of the accusation. Some people and businesses need to be called out or in.
The following is a combination of any advice that I’ve advised to the humans behind the brand in these situations. We humans are emotional beings and sometimes our emotions, especially when heightened, can make us react outside of our best interest. When you're a public figure, it's an especially precarious road to navigate. There are ways to circumvent even the truest and worst accusations in a way that is thoughtful both to a company and anyone harmed.
The whole of the below advice is not applicable in every instance, as I wouldn’t recommend non-response to something that has seemingly caused harm or has wide exposure like a news-story or viral (1M+ Engagement) social media content. However, if you are in a position that cancelling or accusations can have an impact on your business’ or personal success, I do recommend reading all of the options and fitting what applies best to your current or potentially upcoming situation.
Think About Your Mental Health
Before whatever response you’re about to take, whether no response or recruiting a crisis publicist, think about where your mood state is after the call out (or in) and do something that will lift you up regardless of how the scenario plays out. Maybe you want to spend some time with family, exercise it out, hermit away. Think of what could shore up your mental health to help you handle this crisis the best way possible. If it looks like a long road ahead, plan something that can help lift your mindset in the long and trying days to come.
Take Your Time [...if Possible]
An immediate response can devoid the time for consideration of the most successful approach. When we’re first called out, we experience a lot of emotions. We get angry. We internalize. Sometimes you need to separate yourself from the post before responding. If you have time to, maybe it’s not as time critical and widespread, I recommend doing an activity and going about your day until the extent that you momentarily forget about it. Feel free to make a draft of your response before walking away but don’t you dare post it. When you return to your original thoughts after separating yourself, you often find that that your initial response is often more emotionally charged than impactful. Sometimes you require an immediate response and if you are feeling overwhelmed and unsure of the best course of action and potential outcomes, a crisis publicist could help guide.
Don't Put Your Hands Up
Our instinctual response to criticism is to put our hands up to brace for the attack. When you do that you are blinded by feedback about yourself, leadership style and organization that could be critical. When we put our hands up, we shield the emotional attack without listening to the feedback. Not all criticism should be acted on or even internalized in some cases, however all criticism should be heard as it could help your leadership strategy or brand direction going forward.
Before dismissing the call out or in as false and malicious, do an internal stock. We should always be listening to victims and if someone was harmed by your actions, you need to understand why, how, when, what etc to be able to create a thoughtful response that isn't a thin bandaid on a gaping wound. If there isn't merit to the accusation (specifically, its provable that the accusation is false: a former employee claiming a company doesn't pay on time with timestamped direct deposits matching and fulfilling the contractual obligation), it's still good to think about "how did this accusation come about? Are there times when this could be true for a new employee? Or maybe a contractor with another service provider? It could help you figure out areas of improvement within your organization or personal actions that will create a smoother operation in the future and prevent the need for factual call outs or ins.
Ask for Feedback Internally BEFORE Posting Publicly
At the center of a call in or out, you often have an emotionally-charged response that detracts from what is really required as a response. You want to defend yourself, maybe even lash out in return. A trusted friend or colleague can help you discern how your proposed response will be received. If you disagree with their feedback and feel strongly about including the part they suggest you take out, find another person as a tie-break of sorts. If two people disagree with your approach, you may want to take a step back before starting your defense.
Sometimes the Best Reaction is No Response
Depending on the severity, exposure, platform, and legitimacy of the call out, responding can draw more customer attention than it previously had. If the New York Times accuses you of something with your company (sexual harassment, racism etc) you need to hire a crisis publicist immediately. If however a Twitter account with six (6) followers and no picture is saying you abuse baby kittens in comments on your posts, it probably doesn't warrant a response.
Call outs and ins have a place in society and industry to draw attention to problems when action has otherwise been put off or victims are long-ignored. Call outs and ins can also produce powerful results that change culture and benefit many. Personally, however they can be intimidating, stressful, and draining. When managed thoughtfully, the subject of the call out or in can make it through with their reputation, business and social life in tact.
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