How To Respond To Your Opponents

There are two ways to deal with anti-brand communities, or simply opponents.

1. Negative

  • Ignore – don’t respond in any way
  • Respond – sharply and directly take them on – e.g., argue point by point why they are incorrect
  • Attack – e.g. go further than #2 – try to take them down, through threat, marginalization, or expulsion from the community.

2. Positive

  • Convince – a.k.a. “educate” – of course this is education biased toward one point of view and it involves appeal to logic and emotion
  • Engage – a.k.a “outreach” – this is a more emotional appeal than #1
  • Inform – transmit the facts without bias – on the assumption that logic is the cause of the opposition

How organizations choose their approach:

1. Risk Tolerance

Risk management is frequently poorly understood at the senior level, which ought to be the locus of strategy and therefore suffers from the deficit.

The default, normally incorrect assumption is that some version of a negative approach is preferred.

  • Ignoring the opponent is deemed a way to delegitimize them. It also enables denial.
  • Attacking the opponent is magically believed to engender agreement by the intended audience. The problem with that logic is that defense is by default perceived as an indication of guilt by the public.

2. Communication Savvy

Most organizations:

  • devalue;
  • underfund; and
  • misunderstand


Therefore they are content to…

  • make incorrect assumptions about the discipline and
  • trust technical operational experts as versus skilled communicators.

Smart organizations do three things instead:

  • Understand the nature of the attack and respond accordingly. If your opponent simply wants you “dead,” there is nothing you can do to convince them. You must neutralize the threat in other ways.
  • Respond in the preferred communication style – e.g. emotionally to emotional people; logically to logical people. Some like words, some pictures. Offline or on. And so on.
  • Anticipate future problems and either correct the problem or respond in advance. The first mover (as stated previously) has the advantage.
Resharing my answer first posted on (slightly edited for blog format). As always all opinions are my own and not those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Rocky IV screenshot via, “The Drago Workout.” No endorsement expressed or implied. Screenshot for illustrative/educational purposes only.

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