There’s an old maxim in blogging that you are only as good as your last post. But what if your last post was utter garbage?
What if, rather than turning out your best work of all time you published something that immediately wish you could disown, set on fire and bury? Maybe it was riddled with factual inaccuracies that, in hindsight, seem obvious or maybe you said something without thinking that turned out to be offensive and/or insensitive.
No matter what your error ends up being, every blogger will make mistakes and some of them will be quite ugly. Even when we are careful, we sometimes say things we don’t mean, get facts wrong and generally screw up.
So with it being a question of “when” and not “if” you make a mistake, the question then becomes what do you do about it? If you can’t avoid mistakes, only minimize them, you have to be able to recover from them, otherwise, one blunder can turn into a landmine that can sink your site.
The problem with mistakes is that everyone makes them. However, one bad mistake can easily wipe out years and years of good work, at least in the minds of readers.
If all that people know about your and your site is the one dumb thing you did, it doesn’t matter how many great posts you’ve put up or how consistent you’ve been over the years. If your reputation is sunk, you’re essentially starting over with your audience or, even worse, claw your way out of a hole.
To be clear, this can be just about any kind of mistake a blogger can make, ranging from something said in a blog post, having their site get hacked due to poor security practices or just making a decision about the direction of your blog that upsets your readers. Anytime you screw up on your blog (or elsewhere for that matter) it can reflect on your work.
However, the problem usually isn’t the mistake itself, but rather that the site fails to recover from it and move past it. This causes the mistake to grow from being an understandable but momentary lapse to being a defining moment for your site, something that becomes identified with it.
As a blogger, you can not let this happen, not if you want your blog to be a positive force in your life.
How to Avoid It
The first key to handling mistakes is to work hard to minimize both their frequency and significance. Be constantly fact-checking your stories, following good journalism standards and striving to avoid major missteps. No matter how dexterous you are at handling mistakes, you can’t do much to save your reputation if they become a recurring theme.
But, assuming you’ve done everything you can to avoid making a misstep and still found yourself making a blunder, here is what you need to do to ensure it doesn’t become a weight around your site’s neck:
- Be Transparent: If you made a mistake, be honest about it and don’t try to cover it up. In PR they talk about “oversharing”, which is a process where you give more information than requested to ensure that you appear transparent. People don’t want to believe that you are honest after a mistake so you have to be so over-the-top honest that they have no choice.
- Correct the Mistake: Do whatever is appropriate to fix the mistake, whether it is posting an apology, correcting the article (in a transparent way of course) or just doing a follow up work.
- Break the Tension: Whenever someone makes a mistake, there is a moment of tension between that person and those who witnessed it or were hurt by it. Break that tension quickly by offering a good apology and then extending a hand to the other side. In some cases, you can even use self-depreciating humor here to help break down the walls.
- Respond to the Inquiries: If people have questions about what happened, answer them within reason, keeping with the spirit of transparency. Try to do this quickly and completely though as you’ll want to begin shifting more of this conversation to private channels over time, encouraging those upset or concerned to email you or even call you.
- Move On: Once you’ve handled everything the best that you can, you need to move on. You had a bad day on your blog, now it’s time to pack it in, get a night’s rest and come back the next with a new post. Keep whatever lessons you learned close, but keep what happened in your rear view mirror.
It’s the first and the last areas that many bloggers struggle with. First, many assume they can just deny or cover up a mistake and never actually suffer for it. While that may work in some cases, when it is caught, which is inevitable, the problem is twice as bad and there are two messes to address.
However, it is the moving on part that is the most critical. Once you’ve done everything you reasonably can, you need to switch the conversations to a more private mode and then move on with your site. If you keep talking about the mistake day after day it will never die and it will. This includes feeding tolls who simply re-raise the issue to get under your skin.
If you let it, a mistake can define your site and you can not let that happen. You need to take the situation in hand, respond to it, deal with it and then move on. It is that simple.
Nobody likes making mistakes and no one likes admitting them and dealing with them. But the fact is we all do and that is why people are inclined to forgive errors if they are handled correctly.
If you handle a mistake well, it can be just a few rough hours or a trying couple of days at the most. Handle it poorly, it can be an anchor that will drag your site down no matter what good things it goes on to do.
To be clear, there are some major mistakes that you can’t recover from no matter how much damage control you run, but those are exceedingly rare. As virtually any major politician is proof of, proper damage control can keep even some of the biggest blunders from being career-killers.
It isn’t easy and there certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but if you approach mistakes from an honest position and move on when you’ve done your best, you’ll likely find you can recover very quickly indeed.