The internet didn’t create trolls. It made them more widespread because it made being one easier. There are many publications that make a living by trolling and, despite what some would say about the practice, it really isn’t that big of a deal. You know that when you go to popular publications like Buzzfeed, Gawker, or Techcrunch, there’s a good chance that they’ve recently published something that was intended to make fun of the actions of others. They’ve even been known to troll themselves. There’s definitely a place for it on the internet and it can be both lucrative as well as informative. I have nothing against them.
With that noted, I would never mess with them. In the world of modern publicity and public relations, anyone who tries to persuade them to take down an article or stifle a picture should be fired because it’s bound to end badly. Case in point: Beyonce’s publicist asked Buzzfeed recently to change some of the “unflattering” images that they used in a piece about her Super Bowl performance.
The results were predictable. Not only did Buzzfeed not take down the pictures, they published the email and highlighted the unflattering pictures in question. The goal was to hide the poor shots of Beyonce, the result was that they were highlighted even more. Again, this should have been an easily predictable response.
Here are three things that a modern day publicist must know if they want to keep their jobs.
Know your publications
This response should not have come as a surprise. The first rule of being a publicist is understanding the medium and knowing the players. Buzzfeed is a powerful player in gossip, celebrity exploits, and just about everything else these days. They are unflinching and would rather mock the desires of a publicist than to ever bow down to them.
Some publications are reasonable. Most are not. If you don’t know someone very well at a publication, never, ever, ever ask them to take something down. If you don’t heed that warning and you’re going to ask them to take it down anyway, do so over the phone. If they ask you to send the request via email, let it go. They only want a paper trail to publish. They aren’t going to take down the pictures or story. They’re going to blow it up and get even more attention to the items that you want removed.
Fight back in a clever way
Let’s say that the content in question has already gone viral. You can’t put that genie back in its bottle, so you have to fight it with a smile. You have to win the battle by being smarter than the publication. It’s not about getting insulting. It’s definitely not about antagonizing them. It’s about diffusing the situation by turning the bad situation into something good.
Nobody in the world would look at the images that were originally posted on Buzzfeed and think, “Beyonce must be ugly.” Everyone knows Beyonce is one of the most beautiful women in entertainment. These pictures were a response to the “fierce Beyonce” mini-meme that they were circulating and it worked. She was definitely fierce.
Rather than try to get the pictures removed, the publicist should have played it up. That’s right – played it up. Trying to stop unflattering pictures of celebrities from hitting the net makes herding cats seem like a simple task. It cannot be done. Instead, they could have turned the focus back on Buzzfeed, given them some kudos, and moved back into the mode of getting the thousands of pretty pictures of the singer out on the web. They could have responded with something like this:
“Kudos to Buzzfeed for finding Beyonce’s fierce side. Good for a quick chuckle… [link]”
When a celebrity can laugh at their own imperfections, their stock in the minds of fans rises. When they get embarrassed and try to censor the unflattering, it highlights the ugly side ten fold.
Know when to simply ignore it
Even if they didn’t want to laugh along with everyone else, they could have taken the very simple and effective step of simply ignoring it. Trolls thrive on attention and once they have the attention of someone in power, they will exploit it. “Look at us, we made Beyonce mad with our unflattering posts. Now they want us to censor the material. Boooo!”
Walk away. Ignore it. Let it go. Again, this is Beyonce. She was performing and the performance itself was extremely well received. She sang it live, danced her heart out, and delivered a win on the biggest stage known to man. As big as Buzzfeed is, it’s still not mainstream enough to be a worry. It was a blip that was made bigger by giving them the credibility based upon a response from the publicist.
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In today’s ever present and hyper-informed world, blogs and publications have power. Social media responds poorly to celebrities who were supposedly wronged and tried to do something about it. If you’re going to play in this game, you have to know the rules of engagement. Beyonce’s publicist did not know those rules and did her client a disservice as a result. From there, it only got worse.