The Ted Williams Story: Handling Your Mistakes Online

The story just won’t die and that, as ironic as it might be, is probably what the editorial staff at the Columbus Dispatch would like. Since pulling down the video one of their readers posted at YouTube featuring Ted Williams (the homeless man with the golden voice), the paper has been widely chastised and slammed as a dinosaur of print by online commentators.

Putting aside all the emotionally charged debate regarding copyright, let’s take a look at how you should respond when you do something online which is perceived as negative or even a mistake.

1 – Have a human explain your actions

According to the Dispatch it took 3 days for YouTube to take down the video. Once it was taken down, all the Dispatch did was post a dry statement about copyright to their website. The response from those commenting was overwhelmingly negative and predictable.

The moment the video came down there should have been an editorial posted explaining their actions and welcoming feedback. In fact, the response should have come from their publisher and it should have been a strong statement of position. In the case of the Dispatch it took two or 3 days for their editor to chime in on the controversy – this was an example of how not to respond.

2 – Have boots on the ground

A discussion has raged now on the Dispatch website for days about their decision and not once has anyone from the Dispatch (officially) participated. It’s hard to fathom why you would not want to be a part of a conversation such as this unless you think ignoring issues or customers is the right thing to do.

When you make a policy decision such as this and people are discussing it, you have to be a part of that discussion. Yes, it’s a resource drain and it can even be stressful, but you need to be a part of that debate, if only to show that you take people’s opinions on the issue seriously.

The old ivory tower POV doesn’t cut it anymore and projecting it simply damages you in social media. Just showing you value opinions by acknowledging them is a positive – the message must be that you are listening to people. You don’t have to agree.

3 – Fanboyz and Fangrrlz are not your PR department

Never and I do mean NEVER let your fans speak for you alone! The Dispatch hasn’t done itself any favours by being passive and allowing their side of the issue to be defended by a handful of supporters on their site. Unfortunately for the Dispatch, that defense has at times projected a defensive and rigid Luddite perspective even if it’s not coming from the paper directly.

Fanz will always be the first boots on the ground and it’s good to have people who love you speaking up, but if you don’t get in there and participate, people will assume those rallying around you are expressing a shared opinion. That can be damaging if those people speaking out on your behalf are either ignorant or let their own passion carry them away.

4 – Brand your content

If you are going to post video online and you want to harness the potential of viral then you should be sure to brand the video with your logo (watermark at least) and URL –through out the entire video. As I recall, the original video from the Dispatch didn’t have very strong branding. As well, you should have your own channel on YouTube and be posting your videos there.


When you run into a situation such as this one, move carefully and deliberately. You can always vigorously defend copyright or you can try to balance that approach with the knowledge that things have changed and there is a difference between someone sharing a video from your site and someone stealing content from you.

We all screw up sooner of later. How you fall is not as important as how you rise. Even if you don’t believe you’ve made a mistake, it’s critical that you address concerns from the community. Don’t waste time justifying. Just explain what you did, what you’ve learned and what you are going to do moving forward to address the concerns your actions caused. People are going to talk about what you do regardless of you being there or not and it’s better to have a voice in the discussion and show you have an ear to the ground.