When Social Media Becomes A Weapon

by on 07/28/2009 • 46 Comments | Social Media

Let me just get this out of the way now: I totally told you so.

Earlier this month we all met Dave Carroll. Dave was a wannabe musician who felt he was wronged by United Airlines and created a series of videos to tell the world about it. And the videos were a hit. You all broke into simultaneous gigglefits at his genius. It was hailed as the best online reputation attack ever, the perfect example of what can happen when big companies decide not to listen to customers.Way to go, Dave!

I wasn’t so convinced. I didn’t like how premeditated the whole thing felt. At the time, I wondered if we were headed down a slippery slope:

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Where people were using the new tools of social media to purposefully hurt others:

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I was basically mocked, told that I was “lame”, that I should “do some research” and that these kinds of attacks were a sign of consumers taking back power from large brands. All hail consumer advocacy!

Yeah, let’s talk about these “poor consumers” for a moment. Last week, a mommyblogger showed up at BlogHer and demanded that a representative from Crocs either give her a free pair of shoes or she’d use her blog to destroy his reputation. Essentially, she blackmailed him for a pair of $30 shoes. Classy.

And before you all look so stunned that someone, a helpless MOMMYBLOGGER no less, would have the audacity to make that claim, remember that we’ve created this behavior and the environment where this is okay. We, the Internet, actually enjoy these attacks. We created a world where consumers are praised for using social media as a weapon and for making big corporations “pay”. Oh, and don’t go feeling too badly for the Crocs representative either. Because how did he respond to the blackmail attempt? He threatened her right back, quipping he could make her too fearful to ever touch her blog again. And he was so proud of his response to her that he blogged about it.

[headdesk]

Everyone stop!

What are we doing? What have we allowed ourselves to become in the world of social media?

As a whole, we have gone apeshit crazy with social media. We’ve shown consumers how to turn great tools like blogs, online video and Twitter streams into weapons of mass brand destruction, regardless of whether or not they have a valid complaint. That David Carroll character that was immortalized on the Web? He was so heartbroken over his guitar that he didn’t even evaluate its condition while still at the airport like he was supposed to. Hell, he was reckless enough to not even check the thing at all. He wasn’t a victim. He was stupid. And yet we reward him in social media.

We give trophies to the stupid.

I don’t know what the answer is. I’m not going to start talking about social media ethics because conversations about ethics are for people who have none (excellent piece by Aaron there). But I will start talking about responsibility.

When you get your drivers license, you have a responsibility not to purposely impale someone with your vehicle. I mean, I’m pretty sure that’s in the fine print somewhere, right? And when you create that WordPress or YouTube account, you should have to (at least mentally) sign off on the fact that you’re not going to use it to hurt someone else for no other purpose than your own amusement. There should be a check box or something that says, “I, angry blogger, promise not to blackmail an innocent man for ugly, plastic shoes”.

But there’s not. And until that clause is added (I won’t hold my breath), it really is up to us to demand better. To recognize a manipulative social media attack when we see one and to NOT support it. Because celebritizing bad behavior only breeds more. And just because a tool exists, doesn’t give you free range to do something horrible with it.

The Dave Carroll situation caused me to raise an eyebrow. It was too staged, too manufactured, and wasn’t he wasn’t near “guiltless” enough. But the masses didn’t care. The more we praise people who use social media as a weapon, the more we’re going to see situations like the one that occurred at BlogHer with two, probably otherwise intelligent people, both threatened to blackmail one another.

Use social media to connect with your customers or the brands you love (or hate).  Use it to spark conversations, to reach people in a new way, to do cool stuff.  Don’t use it for blackmail, extortion or to “get back” at someone.  We have reality TV and divorces for that.

How long until one of your customers starts demands free products with threats of retaliation? How are you going to handle it?

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

46 thoughts on “When Social Media Becomes A Weapon

  1. You do have a valid point. The “mommy blogger” was nuts – however, I’m not surprised to hear about something like that. Someone somewhere always takes it to far.

    However, in consideration of the “United” video, I have to offer up a bit of a rebuttal.

    United is not some tiny business, nor it is a medium sized business that can be damaged by simple threats of “I’m never shopping here again” or word-of-mouth damage…and they know it. It’s a BIG corporate entity that – from my perspective (and from many others I know) – has the emotional depth and empathy for their customers as a frog does for the fly he’s about to ingest. I’ve had to fly United for several years because in my hometown, it’s the only choice you have. I know a ton of stories about terrible things that have happened on United Airlines (and we’re talking pre 9/11 here), and how their employees treat people. I realize that a company shouldn’t be expected to “have feelings,” but even just a little bit of care for their customers would go a long way – but they only seem to care about the bottom line.

    i think that’s why this was so popular. Yes, it was an attack, and yes, he wasn’t guiltless, and yes the song sucks. (Really, it does.) But I think people rallied around this simply *because* Untied *is* (in my experience) the type of company who DOES throw it’s weight around to place the person spending money at their counter in their place. If you try to file a complaint, you are ignored. if they damage something, they don’t care. (Indeed, I flew with a friend once who had a similar experience: they tossed her luggage around and busted it. She went *directly* to the counter to file a complaint after she got the remains of her luggage and they told her – and I’m an eye-witness to this as I was standing right there – that if you checked baggage, they take absolutely no responsibility for anything that might happen to it, and sent her on her merry way. They wouldn’t even allow her to file a complaint – they basically said she was SOL.) I won” even go into my own personal (and extremely embarrassing) experience, to which they treated me in a similar manner.

    I think the video is one case where this type of “attack” is okay – simply because there really is no other recourse with someone as large and uncaring as United (and quite frankly, other airline companies). You are right though – it opens a door to bad things. But I think that in anything we do, things cross the line. IMO the mommyblogger did, because she was only looking out for her best interests, and wasn’t looking out for anyone but number one. However, in Dave’s case, he was shouldering anger that *thousands* (and perhaps millions) of people have with United, and he had the means and motivation to express that cumulative anger, and used his own experience to share it. He was speaking on behalf of a lot of people who were silenced by red tape and apathy, and didn’t have the ability to get the backup he did. So in that way, he was doing something *good*. But you are right – for every good thing, there’s a bad…and we ALL have to be wary.

  2. This is a very tricky subject – a lot of grey area here. I think you’ve made a great point about personal responsibility and keeping a sense of entitlement in check. When consumer experiences go sideways, it’s rarely because one particular party is totally to blame. I think a more useful aspect of social media is the negotiation between the parties to solve a problem, rather than who ‘wins’, and who gets crushed on the Internet. It does get complicated when one party doesn’t wish to participate in those negotiations because they’re hiding behind the ubiquity of their brand, or indeed when one party decides to ‘release the hounds’ via their blog without outlining their own part in what went wrong.

    I think this points out that social media is really a double-edged sword, in keeping with the idea of it being used as a weapon. There are always customers who make unreasonable demands on companies and then throw a public tantrum when they don’t get their way. Trust me; I’ve worked in retail. This isn’t a new phenomenon. And there are company cultures that are too arrogant or too slow to really engage with their customers on these types of individual experiences. It’s an old problem, and new technology isn’t going to be the silver bullet to solve it. Ultimately, it comes down to people being willing to collaborate in order to get a problem solved. Otherwise, all of the page rank or viral videos in the world don’t mean a thing. Social media has a tremendous potential to serve people well. But, it’s only as effective as the people using it. This isn’t a new idea either, of course.

    Cheers for the post!

  3. Shelly: You definitely make a lot of very valid points. I get that United is a big brand and that lots of folks may take issue with how they do business. I’ve had to fly United a lot. Personally, I don’t care either way about them. Dave’s video still rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe he did voice complaints a lot of other people had — but he did it to promote himself. Not because he cared about his guitar. Perhaps that’s what didn’t sit well with me. He found his golden egg and used it to manipulate the system.

  4. I’d just like to point out that the incident at BlogHer should not be viewed as indicative of mommy blogger behavior in general. There are many of us (because, yes, I live a double life) who are intelligent, rational people who would never even think of stooping so low for swag. (Let alone a crappy pair of Crocs. I am not a fan.) Media attention (and, er, Lisa attention) tends to frame mommy bloggers in a very negative light, and it’s incidents like these that reinforce the blatantly false generalizations that have been made about my demographic. There are bad apples in every bunch. But they aren’t representative of the whole group. Many of us are very sweet. ;-)

  5. Really interesting take.

    Social media has completely redefined the ways consumers and brands interact. Many are quick to equate this with a David and Goliath type story, where consumers now have the tools to take down the “evil” of big corporations.

    As social media has grown, brands are learning to navigate and respond to social media in a way that both expands their business and protects their reputation. No longer is social media some club where consumers can riot against brands– It is now an established avenue of communication that brands and consumers both utilize to their advantage.

    Social media has not leveled the playing field between consumers and brands– it has merely changed the way in which brands and consumers interact. There are going to be bad apples on both sides. The good news is that social media makes it easier for both consumers and brands to be held accountable for their actions.

  6. Christina: Yes, yes, we know. Not all mommybloggers are as ridiculous as this one was. Or Jessica. Graywolf is an excellent person and human.

    Daniel: Has it made it easier for people to be held accountable? I ask that genuinely. :) I don’t know that social media has given us accountability. I think it’s given us really big mallets to beat one another with. Some excellent points, though. Thanks. :)

  7. Hey Lisa, if you don’t send me some cool stuff I’m going to destroy Outspoken!!! I have a blog that I haven’t touched in about a year with 0 readers and about 30 something Twitter followers, so I hope you know how serious I am!

    I don’t know whether this makes me want to laugh or kick someone in the throat??? Seriously, what would the “mommyblogger” say to her readers…”Hey I got these new crocs by blackmailing one of their reps, but MAN ARE THEY COMFY!”
    #spon

    I agree that as users of social media we have a responsibility not to use any of the influence ( or lack of in my case ) to threaten the online reputations of others even if they are an evil corporate brand. If you have something to say about a product or brand that is good or bad, sponsored, free, or your own opinion that is fine. But trying to create leverage by using social media as a weapon isn’t cool.

    Now I’m off to tweet about how much I hate Sony…unless they want to send me a Playstation 3!!!

  8. Lisa: That’s a great question. I think social media has definitely made it easier for brands to be held accountable for some of their actions, or at the very least has inspired them to have a more genuine and transparent public image.

    In terms of individuals, you may be correct that it has “given us really big mallets to beat one another with.” But, call me an optimist, I like to believe that it has also increased our ability to organize and at least attempt to make the world a better place.

    Social media isn’t the answer to the world’s problems, but it can be a catalyst for rapid and drastic change. But, like any other medium of communication, it can be used for negative purposes as well.

    I think it’s up to us to decide. Do we want to use this powerful technology to try and make the world a better place, or do we want to use it to wage personal attacks?

    What would you do to make sure that social media was used for “good”?

  9. Evan: Uh, er, crap. I have a half-eaten sandwich I can give you? One of my cats?

    I imagine she had no plan to tell people *how* she got the Crocs. She probably wouldn’t have even blogged about them. She just wanted a pair of plastic shoes. I agree, though. Use social media to get your own message out there, but once you start down the line of turning it into a weapon — we all need a reality check.

  10. Daniel: Truthfully, I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to “regulate” it. You just have to count on people to be GOOD people and not douchebags. Which…is sadly hard to do on the Internet. Not everyone holds that same sense of personal responsibility.

    If you’re a brand though, you have to make sure you’re not perpetuating the bad behavior. That Crocs rep really shouldn’t have responded with another threat.

  11. All I can say is it’s a damn good thing I don’t have a blog. Every time I get tempted, something pulls me back, and that’s a good thing. Because 90% of it would be full of rants about Google, GoDaddy, Verizon Wireless, Comcast, and whoever else I felt screwed me over that day. I was just on twitter today calling one company’s employees syphilitic wage apes; that’s bad enough, but at least it will shortly be buried in the teeming mass that is twitter noise.

  12. Excellent post Lisa. I could not agree more. It seems too that along with the viciousness, there seems to be a comfort that once the issue is resolved, all is forgiven and fine and dandy. It doesn’t always work that way. Twitter is rife with that behavior. Slam the brand in hopes of CS responding to your complaint.

  13. I don’t have time to read this whole post…promise i will come back later and read it….but for now i would just like to point out that in the original comments of the post that Lisa linked to, she said i was right! Yes, i am a rock star worthy of your admiration and praise.

  14. Where’s the sandwich from? Actually, nevermind! That’s not good enough. However, I just checked and some of my followers seem to be spam or porny type people so it looks like around 25 people are about to know how much I despise the intelligent, humorous, insightful, and just plain good posts on Outspoken’s blog!

    See what I did there? (turned the insult into a complement) Ok I’m going to quit while I’m ahead, because I’ve got work to do. Nice post Lisa is the overall theme I’m shooting for here.

  15. Let’s not forget that the reactionary attention grabbers who scream “I WAS WRONGED!” via Social Media channels these days are the same people who used to feel the need to call a company with their nonsensical and irrational, “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer!” threats to whomever happened to answer the phone. They didn’t have lawyers then and they don’t possess much self-control or perspective now.

    There will always be some who game the system – whatever it is – for their own personal gain, with little consideration for the impact their actions have on the world around them. For every legitimate lawsuit against a big business for wrongdoing, there are hundreds pulling nothing but self-serving, stick-it-to-the-man shenanigans. Today, though, the landscape has changed. They can broadcast these shenanigans to a much wider audience and the ability to significantly tarnish a brand is much greater – whether the claims are accurate or just a means to shuffle into a spotlight.

    As for using Social Media as a tool to make the world a better place, I’d like to think most people would subscribe to that school of thought. On the other hand, we all have to accept the reality that for everyone out there trying to do good, there are likely far more just trying to get something for free or to profit from a bad situation without taking a moment to consider the role they’ve played in what has occurred.

  16. Damn fine post Lisa…

    Whenever I hear about selfish people like the Crocs lady, or the guitar guy (because of his motives, like you well put it), I can’t help to think the same thing everytime:

    There’s not enough guilt in the world.

    Clearly some people have a lack of it, otherwise I don’t understand how they can sleep well at night.

    This is the part that worries me the most about consumer empowerment. With so many people that have no problem destroying someone else’s life, reputation or happiness, we are in for some big disappointments.

  17. I’ve been following your blog for a while, Lisa. Great stuff.

    I think your overall take on the dangers of attacks via social media is sound, but I’ve got to defend the reaction of the Crocs rep in this case.

    If you think about it, he was facing an interesting situation. He had to figure out how to make two things happen: 1) not reward the mamarazzi blackmailer with a free pair of shoes, and 2) keep her from assassinating his brand on her blog (regardless of the reach of said blog). What else could he have done that would have accomplished both of those goals?

    I believe this particular dilemma was already faced (and solved) by Mel Gibson in “Ransom.” Once the baddies had his kid, he had three options: 1) refuse to pay the money and let the kidnappers do what they would with his son, 2) pay the kidnappers off and hope they give the kid back, or 3) announce on live television that he was offering the ransom money as a bounty on the heads of the kidnappers and take the fight to them, thus saving his family, his money, and his sense of self-worth. The obvious choice is #3 (plus, it wouldn’t have been much of a movie if he’d chosen 1 or 2). :)

    Back to reality, if our Crocs rep gives her the shoes, the forces of evil triumph and we all die a little inside. If he politely (or impolitely) declines to give her the shoes without taking any other action, we have to assume that she’ll at least attempt to launch a social attack on Crocs’ image. In order to both hold his moral ground and protect his brand, he had to do something to incentivize her not to use her blog to retaliate. I know that a counter-threat is hardly desirable, but did he really have another option?

    Seriously, what would you recommend he do instead?

  18. When they kick at your front door, how you gonna come? With your hands on your head or at the trigger of your gun…

    I couldn’t agree with your post more. Even more ridiculous than the Mommyblogger demanding free Crocs has got to be Aziz Ansari (the Indian guy from Parks and Recreation)’s rant about how he wanted a refund after watching Star Trek in IMAX because it was in digital IMAX and not 70mm IMAX. I don’t have a link, but in it, he threatens the theater manager while demanding a refund “Do you know how many followers I have on Twitter??”. Epic.

    Social media should not be used to spit venom at businesses. That’s what Yelp! is for.

  19. Netmeg: Haha, that’s why I’ve been reluctant to start a personal one. If I write like this on a “business” blog, can you imagine what I’d do left to my own devices? :)

    Joe: [throws rocks at you]

    Jimmy: I…don’t even know how I combat that awesome analogy. Seriously. [stands up, applauds] :)

    I guess I would have wanted the Crocs rep to have been the “adult” in the conversation and talked the crazy off her crazy ledge. Or at least attempted to and saved the snappy comeback for a last resort. I’m not sure how I’d feel if I was Crocs and my employee just threatened to scare someone off the blogosphere. Because now the crazy lady DOES have something legitimate and hurtful to blog about Crocs.

  20. Crazy Crocs lady may not WANT to blog the mean old Crocs man now… because she’ll be branded as the crazy Crocs lady. Not the type of reputation I’d want, that’s for sure! Especially if she hopes to get sponsorship deals from ANY other company EVER in the future.

    And seriously… Crocs? If you’re going to go all crazy about something, go for a real pair of shoes or some electronics or something. Not that I’m condoning the behavior under any circumstances, but if you’re going to shoot yourself in the foot, make it worth something to you!

  21. Lisa – I never discuss this…but I wanted you to know that not all of us that use the “internet as a weapon” are bad people.

    I had a similar car buying experience and setup a website telling my story. I don’t know if you know this, but the tags that they put on cars that state it’s certified pre-owned does not mean that they have even put that car through inspection. My car that I thought was inspected ended up being a fire hazard. It had been in the shop 8 times in the first 3 months that I owned it. The car dealership would not fix the problem instead they basically told me to never come into their dealership again and that they would not fix the car. I begged them to fix the situation and they told me basically that I was stupid and there was nothing that they could do. I told them that was unacceptable. They told me that they put pre-owned certified hang tags on all of their cars and that this was completely a normal practice and did not indicate that my car went through any type of inspection.

    I showed them exactly how stupid I was by letting the world know what they did to me. I bought a domain name and put up a website. I optimized it so that anytime you put in anything that had to do with this company’s 32 dealerships my website came up. In fact the manufacturer was just as upset because of this website. The manufacturer filed suit however the attorney broke the law in his suit and we offered to have him disbarred if he didn’t drop the suit from the manufacturer, he gladly obliged. The car dealership filed suit in federal court. I instructed my attorney’s to counter suit for any amount that they wanted to and i didn’t care what they went after. I told them the only thing i care about here is principle. I wanted to walk out of that court room knowing I had won. I didn’t feel that the way they treated consumers was right. There were plenty of people that were probably treated this way and they did not have the means I did to fight them like I did. We won. We had a big Chicago law firm join my team and come in pro bono to help us set precedence on the Anti-Cybersquatting policy act. Needless to say, they went through 4 attorney’s, quite a bit of time and money, and the embarassment and bad media of the situation.

    The judge said that the site I built was in the best interest of the consumer and it is still up today. The judge commended me for my work, he even giggled a little in Federal Court. I felt that I did what was right for other consumers. I did not make a penny off of it, the only thing I lost was time spent fighting them. If I were presented with…would you go back and do it again? Absolutely, sometimes these companies that treat people so horribly need to be called out on it. The company could have fixed the car and I would have went away and been pleased with that.

    The crocs lady I think is an entirely different scenario. Some people live life with horrible intentions on how to get everything in life for free.

  22. I very recently had cause to be quite angry with a car dealer regarding our order for a new 2010 Camaro. I was so angry that I posted a comment on my Facebook using the dealer’s name, so my local friends are familiar with the dealership. I also posted a general “frustration” comment on Twitter…a friend suggested I post the dealer’s name, and he would be happy to retweet the message. I just couldn’t do it. Not because anyone halfway across the country (or the world, for that matter) would even know this dealer, but it just seemed to cross the line.

    Would I take back my Facebook comment? Probably not. Am I threatening to create a website to campaign against this dealership, and write about it on my blog? No, of course not. But it reminds me of something I learned while managing a business: If a customer has a bad experience, s/he will tell 10 people. If a customer has a good experience, you are lucky if s/he tells even one person, because good customer service is expected. Social media has given us the ability to not just tell 10 people about our bad experience, but tens of thousands.

  23. on the guitar issue, from the sounds of things the guitar had already been checked in when he saw it being thrown. You can’t get it back at that point, and to try to do so would probably end up with you in a cell accused of terrorism. Given the way airlines treat people who kick up a fuss, I don’t blame him for not creating a scene at the time.

    As for running and checking on his guitar – once it’s broken, it’s broken. Nothing you can do at that point. You might run and check on it, but that’s by no means a universal reaction.

  24. I really like this article Lisa. I happen to sit here being someone who agrees with your take on it and also someone who has myself, used social media as a big hammer. Some of those uses fit in with Webmistress25′s reasoning. There are just times when a truly legitimate complaint needs to be communicated, and social media is as about as good a method as it gets.

    Before social media existed as we know it today, I had a laptop from Gateway, for my business. $3500 invested in that sucker. And as I always do, I got a full 3 year warranty. Exactly two months before the end of that warranty, the laptop crapped out.
    They initially had us send it in for repair. A week later it came back, supposedly with a new motherboard. Yet after being on for about a minute, it crapped out again. This went on for three weeks.

    Eventually, they SENT a new motherboard to us, and said – please replace the existing motherboard.

    WTF? They expected US to replace a laptop motherboard?

    An ensuing call to customer service said we were SOL – either we do that or forget about it. Except IF we did that, guess what – the remainder of the warranty would be VOID because the laptop would have been opened by the consumer.

    Subsequent calls to the Customer service Supervisor, and HER supervisor, got us nowhere. They wouldn’t budge.

    I was pissed. But I got smart. I called Gateway headquarters and asked to speak to the CEO. Of course, they don’t give out the CEO’s direct line, and they don’t put just any customer through.

    So I did some research. Found a copy of the company Annual report. Made a list of all the members of the Board of Directors. And in that, I found a number to the office of the President. :-)

    I called, and when the receptionist asked who was calling, knowing that she wouldn’t put me through being just anyone, and that I had to know the name of who I was calling, I asked for the VP of Marketing, using his name- saying “I’m returning his call about a service matter for my business…”

    Long story short, I was put through to the “VP in charge of the Presidential Complaint Unit”. Holy Crap. Presidential Complaint Unit? Have you ever heard of such a thing?

    It turns out that for really BIG customers, who spend a LOT of money, they have a special division, at the Corporate HQ level. Little piss-ants get the toll free service number and an impenetrable brick wall. Long story short, when I got this VP, I explained my problem, how completely insane what we had gone through was, and that it had cost my company more money at this point in lost wages than the price of a new computer… And I said that if something REASONABLE, like actually HONORING a warranty, wasn’t done, I would create a web site to rant, using only factual, documented information…

    Well guess what – I was treated with respect and dignity. And we got a brand spanking new laptop a few days later.

    So sometimes, having a hammer is needed when dealing with the corporate world.

    On the other hand, I’ve used Twitter like a nasty hammer a few times when I was just so furious that it caused me to become abusive. Blatantly and utterly. I put those moments into the “blind rage” category. They’re totally inappropriate, uncalled for, and inexcusable.

    And each time, I’ve ended up apologizing right there on Twitter. Apologizing does NOT justify the initial insanity though. It only kind-of softens the fact that in that blind rage, I look like an idiot.

  25. Well written, Lisa. It bothers me that there is this trend of “outing” people or companies and this sick need to publicly ruin reputations. Whatever happened to private conversations, picking up the phone, face to face meetings?

    Obama was called to task for siding with one party and doing it in front of the world. He had an opinion and clearly wasn’t allowed to share it because his opinion on anything is inspected, held up, and debated. He got in trouble because it appeared like he passed judgment. He couldn’t, for even a second, vent frustration. I was curious why they rushed to silence his opinion, but yet the social internet craves and seeks anyone willing to push back, speak up, etc.

    This is what social conversations allow everyone to do. We each have our say and can blast it to the world without thought of repercussion, or accepting any responsibility. Companies seek user generated content, but are finding that some people don’t think fairly or act with any integrity. It’s always the loud mouthed attention addicted who make the most noise and get noticed the most. I hope folks get wise and figure out what’s real, like you did.

  26. Lisa, while I haven’t read the many reports of David, UA and his song, but what did sound relevant in the comments could’ve explained why he never got his guitar:

    that if you checked baggage, they take absolutely no responsibility for anything that might happen to it, and sent her on her merry way. They wouldn’t even allow her to file a complaint

    Could this be a factor?

    Then again, if he didn’t even bother and didn’t even attempt to file a complaint, then you have a point.

  27. I feel like I both agree and disagree with your post – using social media to attack or blackmail is definitely wrong, but I’m big on customer service and how I feel I’m treated and respected as a consumer. I talk about my experiences a lot and feel that so many companies (big and small) treat you as a $$ sign and many treat you like a person they want to come back. When I am wronged I express my feelings to friends and loved ones but that doesn’t reach the masses like social media does. I don’t express my negative feelings that way, but how can you get the word out when you’re truly wronged when it should be known by everyone?

    I guess part of this problem is to maybe figure out how serious your issue was, how it was handled, and how much you might be taking it out of proportion just because you’re angry. This is pretty much subjective though.

    My rule of thumb is to first try and settle it first hand with whomever is causing me a problem. If they don’t want to help me, I’ll try management and if that’s a bust I may try writing a letter to corporate. If at that point you’re completely ignored or blown off, I think social media may be a good outlet – let people know that company X not only wronged you, but no matter how many people you tried to deal with to make it right they still could care less – but if you are just pissed off because something wasn’t handled how you like right off the bat and you irately tried to get your way then you don’t deserve any retribution.

  28. What makes something like the United thing stand up and the MommyBlogger not. Public opinion or the discrepancy between the brand and customer service. If United was no-one who would care. But they are big, and it seems have a history of not being nice to its customers.

    What you might conclude is that brands that do not take customer service seriously, could come under serious attack via social media.

    Every single tool can be used as a weapon. So too can a loaf of bread if you leave it a couple of days to go hard.

  29. I agree with Alan and Webmistress25′s take on this. Social media can be a great way to voice a complaint and actually make sure something gets actioned, but only if and when the party involved has actually failed.

    Take Kryptonite bike locks. A high end bike lock, someone wrote to the company to say they could unlock this premium lock with just a broken bic pen. Kryptonite fobbed him off with a generic response a few times saying such a feat wasn’t possible and that their locks were of the highest quality etc.

    So he posted a video on YouTube. Bam, a big PR problem, I believe 1000s of recalled units and a huge pile of embarassment. It spread like wildfire.

    And so it should have. Some people out there have no doubt had their $2000 bikes saved from theft.

    Hackers frequently uncover security holes and force big software companies like Microsoft to stay on top of them (ahem… cough cough), which protects people from malicious crackers. Yet there is a big misconception about hackers being the enemy.

    I think where it is appropriate and where the company has failed to address the issue to fight it on principal. If this means weaponising social media, bring down the hammer with all your might. It will force them to think twice before screwing the consumer and ultimately everyone who they mistreat stands to benefit.

    Perhaps Caroll was not just in his actions but I don’t really know enough of the story to comment on that case specifically (I did find his song amusing though).

  30. There is definitely validity in questioning the motives of some consumer “advocacy”. In many ways Social Media platforms are just exposing how petty and demanding some individuals can be, miniature Napoleons (that is a major oxymoron).

    I think in Carrol’s case he had some major justification in getting the run around, but I question whether he is brilliant or the airline is utterly incompetent at training their employees how to behave and then subsequently how to interact with humans. I am going with the latter for what it is worth.

    Chronic complainers have always existed, they are more or less a cult. Now rather than having to hear the story through the grapevine via some poor soul trying to work the 9 to 5 at a companies call center, social media allows a sort of Jerry Springer peak at some of the true madness.

    We have all as “consumers” had moments of intense frustration with a company, a brand or a product of sorts. The question we rarely ask ourselves is, did I read the directions? The fine print? Did I really know what I bought? Is this something I should engage the CEO of Best Buy about? Should I be calling the police? A lawyer?

    I mean honestly the women who called 911 due to shortage of Chicken McNuggets? http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/073b7320d7/woman-calls-911-for-lack-of-chicken-mcnuggets

    What is worse though, that she called, or 911 sent an officer to respond?

    I guess here is the good thing about Social Media if it truly gets to 100% transparency. You will know pretty quickly what you need to respond to and who the individuals are who make a career out of being disappointed.

  31. The revolution in publishing and distribution has dramatically shifted the balance of power in so many areas – politics, consumerism, media, etc. I think it is a good thing, but you are right that it can also have its negatives.

    We are still in the infancy of Web 2.0 – most content is still being produced by a very small number of people – and those with the loudest voice or biggest network have too much “influence”. I suppose when these tools become universal, the few lunatics and self-promoters will be taken much less seriously. At the same time, big brands and companies will also treat their customers more humanistically. It’s a work in progress and hopefully for the good.

    Regarding the United thing: who chooses flights based on brands anymore? Does anyone really believe that their most prized possession has a risk-free environment after being checked-in? For me, the interesting part was how this guy was able to harness the medium to create such a big wave. But now he’s being labeled as a wave-hog! Unintended consequences ROCK!

    Unless there is a clear customer service issue, brands should just ignore extortionists and trolls – I think the community is saavy enough to weed those out.

    Love this topic!

  32. It’s like the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit from a while back: everyone seemed to enjoy making fun of the lady who sued because her coffee was — surprise! — hot.

    In reality, McDonald’s had a practice of serving their coffee dangerously hot, hotter than anyone else, to the point where she got, what, 3rd degree burns all over her thighs that required medical attention?

    The Heritage apartments story is interesting, too. It seems like the tweeter may have actually been a bad tenant and started a sort of silly lawsuit earlier this year, and tweeted about mold when in reality there was a leak that hadn’t been fixed yet. I think it’s extra silly because I had a real problem apartment, where there was a leak that wasn’t fixed for over a year and the wall started to crumble from the water damage.

    But the important thing in both stories is that the call to action only gave us a little bit of the story and from only one side. Before we draw a conclusion, we have a responsibility to get the whole story.

  33. Sadly, any form of media has (and probably always will) this double-edged sword. You didn’t like a newspaper story; write to the editor and lambast the journo. You didn’t like a TV programme; go to the media and say how TV is making us lose our morals. Or complain to a radio host.

    We started it all when we opened up the “litigation for all” mentality in the 90′s, when if you were stupid enough to fall when crossing the road, you could sue the local council. Or sue cigarette companies for giving us cancer. Or McDonald’s for making us fat.

    It’s easy money and easy fame.

    It’s all good saying that companies need to change their approaches to customers now that we have so many open channels to speak through. How about customers change their mindsets too, and realize that the customer is not always right?

  34. Don’t forget the (less well publicized) continuous, yet subtle attack that Martin Sargent has been waging on the Murphy-Goode folks ever since he didn’t make the Top 50 in their Really Goode Job search. While not actually making any more outraged claims since his first, as soon as the fervor that keeps his fanboys slamming the winery dies down he tweets, blogs or links to something to get them riled back up again– or gets Leo Laporte or Kevin Rose to do it for him.

  35. Since I don’t know all the facts I can’t say much at all about this specific situation.

    I’ll say this, though… I think some people have a tendency to rally behind the person claiming damages, who’s going up against the “big bad corporation”. I think people sometimes do this without looking critically at the situation; it’s enough to know it’s the man against the big company. So I do like your take on how social media can be abused and used unethically in this way. It’s something we definitely have to take note of.

  36. I got attacked the other day on Twitter. The guy came out of know where and began to slam my character. He didn’t know me or even converse with me. He was a hit man.

    People hide behind their wall of protection and think they can go into the social scape and just start yelling at you and putting you down like a bully- thinking that they can get away with it. It’s the equivalent of picking someone out of a crowd you think doesn’t look right, slamming them up against a wall and threatening them or even hurting them. That’s what I felt like when this person harassed me the other day.

  37. Good argument but I have a counter opinion I’d like to share with you.

    What you said here: “As a whole, we have gone apeshit crazy with social media. We’ve shown consumers how to turn great tools like blogs, online video and Twitter streams into weapons of mass brand destruction, regardless of whether or not they have a valid complaint.” is completely valid but up to a certain point. From my own personal experience which developed from using social media for the past 4 months, I have seen that social media has a great power to create unity amongst people, way more than any TV news channel, international world peace summit or a single blog are able to bring about.

    Racism, violence, ethnic bias, wrong use of any online tool or channel will be there, whether we agree to it or are aware of it or not… Yet, social media has widely opened doors for thinkers, giver, artists, poets, writers and so on, to share their their ideas of love, peace, unity and positive energy across the globe in a way that we have never witnessed before!

    Take Paulo Coelho (http://bit.ly/3w5Q1p) for example, see how he uses social media and how he takes advantage of the powerful social media outlets to bring people together!

    Another example is @lagresto on Twitter, a life and success coach who has taken his painful experiences in life and twisted them into valuable advice for his tweep followers.

    Not long ago, I wrote an article which totally disagrees with your point of view. Call me dreamy, but I think that social media does pave the path for a better more united world! I listed many reasons how it will able to do so… Check it out http://bit.ly/11uRtW

    All the best!

  38. I could very well be missing something, but isn’t this post attacking other peoples decisions, actions, etc, isn’t this post calling someone out which may have an affect on their own personal brand?

    I think why I am baffled is because you yourself talk about other people or brands that you perceive as idiotic, how is that any different then what you are advocating against, or is this something you did too, and now this recent situation opened your eyes to what is going on?

    I agree with this below comment by Daniel Prager

    “I think social media has definitely made it easier for brands to be held accountable for some of their actions, or at the very least has inspired them to have a more genuine and transparent public image.”

    I think this is more of a good thing than not.

    I also think you can vent about a frustration in general without pin pointing a brand or person.

  39. I agree that blackmail is crossing the line, but I think your comparison of the mommyblogger to Dave Carroll is like apples to oranges. The mommyblogger was fundamentaly in the wrong. Dave Carroll was fundamentally in the right.

    There are so many parallels the the 2nd amendment here… social media doesn’t destroy reputations. People do (lol).

    You can’t just expect people not to voice their disdain for a brand in the social spaces just because there will be a few bad eggs that take advantage of it. Media covers everything, good and bad, and social media is no exception.

  40. Holy cow – I decided to come back and check, and wow – there’s a lot of responses here LOL

    By the way – because I feel like being annoying, I’m posting a retroactive “first!” ;)

    Now, Lisa – yes. I agree with what you say about him using this experience to promote himself. I was addressing the question to why so many people supported it – and it’s simply because he apparently had a bigger voice than others – so by supporting him, the voice got even louder. Yeah, he got something out of it personally, and his marketing trick worked. But on the flip side, United has now heard a lot of people who weren’t heard before. Maybe – just maybe – they’ll start to pay attention. Like Daniel up there noted, it’s a way for them to start paying attention better than they ever have before, and a chance to really hear what their customers have to say. There will always be abusers of any system, I prefer to err on the side of the “good” (even though my own years of retail experience know what people are really like LOL)

  41. Isn’t labeling someone a “wannabe musician” considered an “online reputation attack” ? Just wondering.

  42. Lisa, this has been a topic I’ve been pondering for quite some time now. So thanks for writing a great post about it.

    As great as social media is, it’s also being abused. People and brands alike are all wanting to be the next big hit . We want real-time information, we want accurate information – this is the problem. Everyone wants to be the first to break news and we have this sense of entitlement. That sense of entitlement has carried over to SM where, in an effort to find the next Dominos or United, we use SM as a tool to call people out and complain.

    Look around, the ratio of compliments to negative comments is heavily shifted toward negative. We feel the need to broadcast the littlest obstacle and have a “I know people, I’m connected. I’ll show them” attitude.

    The problem is, this is a much bigger issue than simply SM. It’s a sign of our society and how our ego has expanded to form a sense of entitlement.

  43. James, I couldn’t agree with you more: “Isn’t labeling someone a “wannabe musician” considered an “online reputation attack” ? Just wondering.” And moreover, how is that so many here are quick to state with some semblance of authority that Carroll’s motives were sneaky or sinister in some way. A bit arrogant, I would say.

    Jlbraaten you are absolutely correct in your synopsis. Mommy blogger and Carroll should not be compared. Thank goodness for creative and intelligent people that are willing to stand up for themselives and by doing so, give us all a voice in this world of corporate, nameless, faceless giants.

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