On February 16, 2014, this post was made on r/CounterStrike which claimed that Valve, through its Steam platform, is documenting the web activity of its users. This “news” quickly made its way to the larger community at r/Gaming through another post. The r/Gaming community has over 4.5 million members, so a provocative headline could have quickly become “fact” for many people.
On February 17, 2014 Valve CEO (and beloved internet figure) Gabe Newell penned a response directly to the community and posted it on r/Gaming. I urge you to read his response to the controversy in full because it is the way that every company should be handling bad PR in this era. Be direct, transparent, and speak to your audience where they will hear you.
He was able to put the claims into context. After reading his reply, it is clear that Valve was only tracking cheating software and then tracing it back to its source to ban players using it and try to prevent similar hacks in the future. At its core, something that was seeking to improve the lives of Steam users. They were not documenting user behavior through their platform.
Why This Matters
Valve could have so easily passed the issue off to a lawyer to write a cold, but legally acceptable response and then push it out as a press release on their blog. The Reddit community would still have seen it and the matter would likely have settled down quietly.
A personal response from a man who means a great deal to the community however, that is a game changer. It reminds everyone in the community, Steam user or not, that they have the company’s ear. They know that Valve is listening to them and participating with them in furthering the goals of the community. This action takes what could have been a bad situation and not only made it right, they gained huge points by being direct and offering the response directly to the people who matter most.
A Formula Going Forward
Social Media is an amazing tool that companies so often use incorrectly or fail to take full advantage of either because they don’t understand it or they aren’t creative enough to get the most from the opportunity. The internet certainly has its negative attention seekers, however it also has a lot of people who respond very positively when they feel included. Make sure your audience always feels like they are important and that their concerns are being addressed.
It is funny that such a simple concept is lost on so many, but just be good to the people who are trying to support you. The internet is often blamed for making people less social… less caring about one another, however I think just the opposite is true. The internet culture does not tolerate secrecy or lies; it doesn’t allow companies to be jerks. News spreads quickly and people always want to be part of the feel-good wave that emerges from positive stories. People want to share that information and they want to throw their support behind people and brands that they feel are worth supporting.
The internet is a meritocracy, and too few companies seem to realize that they cannot take their place for granted. The internet has given us choice: we chose who to follow and where to spend our money. The only companies that will survive through the long haul in the internet era will be those that deserve to; those who value public relations and work to have a constructive dialogue with their users.
Valve is worth supporting because they get it, and they make a genuine effort to be the good guys in gaming.