A little bit over a year ago, Sara Christensen's business, Kickass Masterminds, went up in smoke. Not literal fire, but in the fire of an angry virtual mob--a mob that forced her to go into hiding (she's still not comfortable sharing her location), threatened her life and attacked her clients. The death threats were so credible that the FBI began investigating.
Because she made a social media mistake. Granted, it was a big mistake. While Christensen maintains she only meant to give future job seekers guidance, what the rest of the world saw was an attack on a young job applicant, Emily Clow.
The backlash was swift. In a matter of days, due to the death threats and attacks on her business, she knew her business was finished. Christensen had to leave the mastermind business behind and has started a new business consulting with business owners on how to avoid being canceled by the mob and how to respond if something negative about you or your business starts to go viral. Here's her advice for what to do if things go downhill for you.
How to prepare
1. Anonymize yourself online. Christensen advises that you make your address and information about your family as difficult to find as possible. You don't want people who make death threats to know where your children attend school or where you live.
2. Nothing goes up on the company's social media accounts without approval. You need more than one set of eyeballs on everything--and you still may make mistakes. Gap, Christensen says, was shocked when people were offended by its red and blue hoodie. This helps stop the mob, but it doesn't guarantee everything you post will fly under cancel culture radar.
3. Plan for an attack. Christensen thought she was giving helpful advice when she posted the Instagram picture. Instead, she's lost her business, and her clients were attacked. If she'd had a plan--it would have gone better. "At the moment," she said, "I wasn't able to respond well because I was trying to figure it out." Plan now. Who will you call? You need a crisis Public Relations Person and a lawyer at a minimum. Have them ready to go. You plan for natural disasters--you need to plan for social media ones as well. She stresses that this PR person and attorney need to be experienced in crisis management--otherwise, they may do more harm than good.
If you fall under social media mob attack
If the worst does happen, you need to respond. If you are prepared and have a plan, it will go much more smoothly. But, here's what she suggests.
1. Assemble your team. Hopefully, you already know a PR person and a crisis management lawyer. You will also need personal support. Do you have someplace you can go if you get doxxed?
2. Appoint a quarterback. When the attacks are coming swiftly, you'll be overwhelmed. Christensen recommends hiring an expert to handle the response for you and coordinate efforts. There's no way you can handle all that comes at you smoothly, she says.
3. Decide on your tone. This is easier if you decide in advance how you'd like to respond to an attack. Will you apologize and take everything down? Will you only apologize if you are actually wrong? Will you push back? This helps unify your message.
4. Reach out to the media. While no one contacts you for your opinion before tweeting, you should have your PR person reach out to the media and make sure you respond to every media inquiry. Try to get on top of the message.
5. Protect your clients. The mob won't just attack you and your business. They may reach out to your clients and your employees. Have your quarterback coordinate and reach out to your clients and see how you can support them.
Christensen's new business as a Cancel-Culture Consultant wasn't the business she planned on making, but it became a necessity after she fell victim to the mob. Make your plan now and be careful, and hopefully, you'll avoid the same fate--or work your way through it. You may say she brought it on herself by her inappropriate Instagram post, but no one deserves death threats for a mistake.