Social media is not a weapon

troll with a maceI’m well aware that there is a huge amount of cyber bullying going on out there, particularly with our kids, but that’s not what this post is about. Not entirely anyway. This one is about people using social media as a weapon to bully brands and service providers into getting what they want.

We’ve all heard the story about the blogger at a Blogher event who threatened the Crocs shoes rep with retribution on her blog, waving around her legions of followers as a reason to give her free shoes, and there are a lot of these stories, more every day. “”Ya know, if you don’t give me shoes – I could totally write something bad about you on my blog.”

Or the mega Twitter user who spoke the magic words: “Do you know what Twitter is? Because I have over a million followers on Twitter.” against a Maytag customer service rep.

Today I was talking with a volunteer at a local cat shelter. She had helped a client connect with a lovely cat, told them the cat might need some adjustment time and sometimes cats get the sniffles when they’re stressed–like moving to a new home. She went through the several pages of agreements and such and spent over 2 hours with the client so they would understand all the potential challenges of adopting a rescue.

As luck would have it an issue developed with the cat and the volunteer had given them her email, so instead of contacting the shelter they contacted her. They proceeded to demand that she personally solve the issues and just to add that extra weight to their influence they informed her that “We’re tracking all of this on Facebook” implying that if she didn’t solve it they’d be talking about her personally with her neighbors and trashing the shelters reputation to boot.

She never even had time to offer to resolve it before he brought out the heavy social media artillery. This means that any resolution can be perceived to be because of the threat, not just because she did the right thing. I happen to know her quite well. Trust me, she would have done the right thing and she did.

These are not at all unique stories. Everybody seems to know one. We’re becoming a culture of instant gratified “or else” and even litigation over interactions on social networks is common. When did we become so rude? Just because you have access to social media doesn’t give you license to swing your social network around like a mace.

Some things never change. There are trolls out there still who love to vent their inner curmudgeonly spleen on anyone within reach. We all know at least one. But what is your personal perception of the person who is constantly complaining and throwing their weight around?

That’s right, you think they’re jerks.

Well, unless you ARE them–and if that’s the case, this message is specifically for you– social networks go both ways.You may think you can use your network as leverage to get what you want but your network sees that too. They’re watching. Sometimes it backfires on you to be obstreperous with a brand your network thinks highly of.

How do you want people to perceive you? How do you think people perceive the people in the examples above? Can’t we just all get along?

  • If they’re a big enough jerk, that’s a criminal offense. At least, in the UK:

  • Yes, and there are a lot of these cases coming to the courts here too. We can’t expect humanity to change their ways for the venue I guess. (wishful thinking)

  • Hi Janet,

    Your article really resonated with me because I have used my own blog to get results after very bad company service, and being ignored. Please read it:

    I would value your opinion. Do you think I “bullied” them, or merely was so frustrated at getting no response to my valid concerns, that there was no other avenue to explore?

    Many thanks,

  • Honestly John it sounds like social media didn’t solve your problem, your repeated contact with the company did. 

  • I think I agree, actually. In the old days repeated faxes may have got the same result!

    Thanks, and have a good day.

  • You know at the end of the day, all we have control over is ourselves — our actions and our thoughts.   Not what others say about us or think about us.  Yes it can be intimidating to think somebody can “trash your reputation” just for revenge or to have leverage or for manipulative or whatever.  But it’s an illusion to think that we can control what others say or publish.  So I guess the old Shakespeare quote is still applicable “to thine own self be true.”

  • Yes I can understand that from the “victim’s” side but I really want to call out to people to follow another age-old maxim “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. As our world is made smaller and smaller by social media and global communication tools we must understand that acting like a spoilt brat is seen and judged by others who may not do business (make friends, support, whatever) with you because of it.

  • I agree that its not a weapon but at the same time..having done a lot of customer service stuff – I think social media reminds the brands – small or large — that they need to be on their game. Deliver on your promises, treat people well and work harder to resolve the things that can be resolved. There is something to be said for consumer empowerment. 

    The thing is: its one thing to tweet out on a bad flight, bad hotel but simply assuming you deserve something isn’t good. I think of the people I know with high klout scores and some of them are pretty humble about it. Last thought – In the end its about the relationship between the people on both ends of the phone or tweet. (Janet – you made  this point too…about treating people the way you want to be treated).

  • I agree in general. There is a definite difference between complaining about something and doing it with the intent to make somebody suffer to get something you may not even deserve.

  • Robert James

    Our company has been the subject of a Internet troll ,who has gone past bullying to what I would call internet terrorism.The sad little man owes us a 6 figure sum ,he is a solicitor who hides behind his fake identity ,Dr James tricks. He uses his legal background to create unbelievable lies & untrue s that are so full of legal double’ talk that it can scare our clients. He is a master of lies.The legal process is long and the internet Blogg providers  help the trolls keep hidden. The police are unsure how to approach this type of stalking , As a company we have to openly disclose the owner of our sites until this is the norm for everyone ,the trolls ,the bullies and internet terrorists will run wild and everyone can become targets. Social Media certainly does have a dark side Janet.

  • Yes, social media definitely does have a dark side. We like to think it’s gotten better because there is more transparency in many cases, but if someone wants to use it against us it is very, very hard to stop them.

  • Robert James

    I have also seen family friends kids attacked and our own kids have experienced this evil cowardly behavior. We all have to stand up to this internet terrorism .But, as English philosopher Edmund Burke said, ‘The only thing necessary for the evil to triumph  is for good men to do nothing.’ 

  • Vicki

    Hi Janet, great article.  I am currently being threatened by a person that if I dont pay them money (which I dont owe) they will go to all the TV,ACCC etc etc and tell them what a bad person I am.  I receive these threats weekly, which include “I,m coming around to your house”, I  know where you live,.  etc.  He is trying to scare me into giving him money.  The accusations are all false and now the police are watching, but its been going on for 18months and becoming tiring.

  • Robert James
  • Thanks for the update Robert. It’s a good example of how powerless some businesses are to control their brand online. 

  • Thanks for the update Robert. It’s a good example of how powerless some businesses are to control their brand online.