Anybody can post nasty comments on your Facebook page. Some words of comfort for the guardian of your organization's public image.

How can I justify risking embarrassing my organization by going social?

The real issue: somebody has told you that absolutely anybody can post on a Facebook wall or mention you on Twitter. You’ve safeguarded your organization’s reputation for a long time, and intentionally putting it in that situation sounds absolutely irresponsible. After all, people could publicly complain about you!

The answer: if people are going to publicly complain about you, wouldn’t you rather they do it in a place where you can respond?

The idea that you control your organization’s image is a myth. You can do a lot of things to influence it, but ultimately, if people are badmouthing you in large numbers, your problem might be with your organization—not your PR strategy. Your reputation isn’t a china dish waiting to be broken at the slightest touch; it’s an organism that thrives on positive interaction and word of mouth. You don’t get those things if you refuse to interact with people, and if you cover your ears when they’re complaining about you, you won’t like the results.

I’m not aware of a single example of negative comments hurting a brand’s image on social media—even in cases where the organization itself was lousy and deserved as much negative publicity as it could get, people were saying those negative things anyway. Getting on Facebook didn’t create the problem.

If you’re interested in exploring this further, Gary Vaynerchuck’s excellent (and short) book, “The Thank-You Economy,” explains this in much more detail. He has some great examples from Ann Taylor and other major brands that were able to turn criticism to their advantage due to the fact that social media allowed them to control the space where complaints were happening.