"Top Singaporean blogger Xiaxue has an exposé on you."
These words are enough to make regular Singaporeans shut down all of his/ her online accounts and migrate to Perth to hide.
But what if you are a real company that has a real reputation to protect? What should you not do?
This is the situation facing Singapore-based blogger advertising network Gushcloud yesterday morning.
Gushcloud received an early Christmas day present from Xiaxue, who wrote a lengthy blog post that accused the company of inflating its revenues and its bloggers' influence.
Gushcloud is supposedly the social media expert here, so we thought they would come up with some revolutionary strategy in crisis communications.
Instead, Gushcloud has provided the online world a lesson on what NOT to do when you are faced with a crisis online.
1. Release a statement threatening to sue their accuser.
What this means: Adopting a legal measure to protect one's reputation has proven successful in Singapore. Just look at how popular certain politicians have become after bringing in the legal hammer. I'm sure Gushcloud wants to be just like them. Not.
2. Release a statement four hours after Xiaxue's blog post, threatening to sue her.
What this means: 4 hours is a long, long time in the online world. For a network that supposedly manages "more than 10,000 top influencers", the least Gushcloud could do was to persuade several bloggers to defend its reputation or rebut Xiaxue's allegations immediately.
3. When a Gushcloud-affiliated site writes about the incident, it could do more than just reproduce Gushcloud's entire statement
At least the platform is honest enough to declare that Gushcloud is a shareholder. Vulcan Post announced on 19 Dec that it received six-figure funding from Gushcloud.
What this means: The article is indeed as balanced as how the mainstream media would cover the news in Singapore. But where were the hard questions, Vulcan Post?
Check out how TechinAsia did their piece: "Gushcloud did not address the specific allegations brought up by Xiaxue, but issued a statement saying that the article is inaccurate".
4. Gushcloud did not address the specific allegations against them when they had the chance.
Xiaxue's allegations that Gushcloud inflated their own earnings, blogger statistics and Youtube views are pretty persuasive for a lay reader. Why? She managed to gather data and screenshots of conversations to support her assertion.
And what was Gushcloud's reply?
"The article is inaccurate".
"The Blog Post was calculated to disparage and injure our reputation".
"The timing of the release of the Blog Post also speaks for itself."
What this means: Although Gushcloud issued a statement to say that Xiaxue's article is inaccurate, it did not provide proof on why Xiaxue was wrong. If you read TechinAsia's article, you notice that Nuffnang, the rival Singapore-based agency that Xiaxue is associated with, is more forthcoming in its replies to the reporter's queries.
5. Rallying all your own social media influencers to ask their followers to just have faith in you.
What this means: It's Christmas but let's leave faith out of this online squabble, shall we?
And sometimes, a hashtag can be more like a lightning rod for criticism:
The solution Gushcloud should have taken instead of a hashtag movement:
To find the solution, we must first understand what Gushcloud wants out of this.
The most obvious would be to preserve their reputation amongst their paying advertisers. These are the people who give Gushcloud money for advertisement content; and if what Xiaxue says is true, they are being taken for a ride with their advertising dollars.
The most damning of 'evidence' that Xiaxue provided in her exposé were the Google Analytics statistics of Gushcloud bloggers which were reportedly lower than what Gushcloud claimed to advertisers.
If Gushcloud stated that the exposé was inaccurate, the easiest and most effective way for them to correct any misconception and end this pointless saga is to provide the accurate figures. Threatening to sue Xiaxue would not repair any damage to Gushcloud's reputation. Providing evidence would.
This could have easily been done within the four hours it took Gushcloud to produce their non-conclusive statement. Dragging this thing out is doing more harm than good for them.
Also, there is no excuse for Gushcloud to say that the viewership figures provided by them are actually inflated by the bloggers themselves. As a network that acts as an agent for these bloggers and selling their services to advertisers, Gushcloud has to do their due diligence to ensure that viewership figures are not fabricated.
In the event that Xiaxue is actually correct in her assertions, a lawsuit is the last thing Gushcloud wants to pursue. Nothing like a nail in the coffin losing a suit and being counter-sued for damages and cost.
*[Update: Dec.24] Gushcloud Co-Founder Althea Lim has responded to Xiaxue’s accusations on Vulcan Post, urging the online world to stand up against Xiaxue's "bullying antics". She provides YouTube statistics but she has yet to address the specific allegations about Gushcloud's inflation of their own earnings and blogger website statistics.
Disclosure: Neither Gushcloud nor Nuffnang is a shareholder of Mothership.sg. This article is produced independently by the Mothership.sg editorial team.
Top photo from here.