Your reputation is at stake in how you respond

ATLANTA — If Bob Dylan were to write “Idiot Wind” today, he might lament, “Someone’s got it in for me, they’re planting stories in their tweets / Whoever it is I wish they’d cut it out but when they will I can only guess.”

Without a doubt, we live in an age of anonymity. People can hurl insults, post reviews and opine incessantly about pretty much any topic with little or no fear of blowback.

For business owners large and small, this can be frustrating. It can severely damage a reputation, and that first negative review can be difficult to swallow.

But, how a business responds to an attack — whether real or perceived — is most telling. There really is a lesson here — a “teachable moment,” to use the vernacular of the day.

There is no one perfect approach for how to respond. But, how a company proceeds says a lot.

For starters, engaging an anonymous author may be an appropriate recourse, depending on the level of animosity, what was said and whether there is truth to the initial post (a bitter pill to swallow, for sure). The danger here is jumping into the fray and engaging with someone who isn’t eager to engage and will only continue a barrage of insults.

In that case, what is gained? Honestly?

It is equally tempting to spread your own side of the story — both online and offline. But, tread carefully, and always stick to the facts.

You own your story, and no one can tell it for you. But, never spread misinformation and never assume about an anonymous post you read online. You know what happens when you assume.

Lastly, and this is the toughest, is there a moment for self-reflection? Is there any truth to the post?

Few like to admit when they are wrong. But, with any customer or employee feedback, it is vital to take a step back and assess whether there is any validity to the claim.

No public proclamation or apology may be necessary. But, the best way to grow is to learn from one’s mistakes and how others perceive you. The perception may be wrong, but perception is reality — for better or worse.

The lesson is proceed carefully. It’s a dangerous world out there.