To abuse or not to abuse your power on Facebook? Social PR pros weigh in

2013-09-02 03_02_34-Jan Rezab - Guys, probably the worst experience and treatment I...

Recently, the CEO of a social media firm ranted publicly about a brand we all know, calling their reps liars on his blog and in social channels. Neither the name of the CEO nor the name of the brand is important here.
What matters is if or when he should do this, using his prominence to draw attention or get satisfaction through a Facebook post. I asked him about it publicly, to which he said “We need to — it’s how it should be used.”
I’ve been guilty of using social to “jump the line” in customer service, but only after trying all the regular channels first. Does complaining personally also reflect on the company you work for, as Adam Smith discovered when he filmed his anti-gay diatribe at a Chick-Fil-A drive through?


Should CEOs and Facebook practitioners be held to a higher standard? Should police officers get stiffer fines for breaking the law? But anyone with $5 can get the same level of influence, as demonstrated by this frustrated flyer:
We asked experts to weigh in. LiveWorld’s Mark Williams, Heyo’s David George, and GoDaddy’s Alon Waisman shared their thoughts:

Mark Williams is the director of Social Strategy and Content Programming at Liveworld

Doesn’t it seem like most of us overreact and act like spoiled children with a misplaced sense of entitlement when something doesn’t go our way these days?

I’m not calling out just one person out for that. I know that I’ve done it too, and I feel pretty ridiculous afterwards. It’s a cultural thing in our always-on, instant gratification world, this sense of self-importance that my problem is the only problem that matters in this world.

My first reaction to these things (even when they happen to me) is get over it, and quit yer complaining. Stuff happens. If there is a problem, let’s fix it. But lets tone down the emotionally-charged whining and treating every problem like it’s a major catastrophe and put a little perspective to it, if you will.

Understand that I think it’s good to call out companies that fail to deliver because that info needs to be put out there to go into a larger data perspective.

If a company is delivering on time 99.5 percent of the time, then .5 percent of the people are still very unhappy, but that’s a pretty damn good track record. So the .5 percent taking to social channels to throw a tantrum, accuse people of lying and swearing ‘I’m never going to use them again’ and expecting that to have an impact is a bit absurd. Are you really looking for revenge for being disappointed, or to get your problem solved?

If the data suggests that the company is only delivering on 85 percent of expectations, though, then that’s a different set of information to use when choosing a delivery service. But frankly, expecting anyone to deliver to expectations 100% of the time is simply unrealistic.”

On a very personal level, I don’t expect any company or person to be any better than myself. I try to be right always. I try to always do the right thing. I try to always do what I say I’m going to do, and I spend a lot of time and effort in achieving those goals. And sometimes, I don’t. I’m wrong, take a shortcut or am otherwise imperfect.

When I fail, I expect to be accountable, but I also expect the opportunity to make amends. And I expect the accountability to be commensurate with my failure. Do I take my business away from a company because they failed me once?

No. It takes a repeated pattern of failure for me lose trust.

So I personally find it easy to take service delivery failures with a grain of salt. My motto in life is ‘if nobody is really dying, then it’s not really an emergency.’ and I try to keep a healthy perspective. I’m not interested in assigning blame or taking my emotions out on someone else – I’m more focused on solving the problem, and reducing the likelihood of it happening again. If my delivery didn’t get there on time and that impacted me in some negative way, then maybe I shouldn’t have relied so heavily on a third party for my personal success.

I definitely do not think I deserve any special privileges or treatment for being a ‘social media expert’ or an ‘influencer.’ In fact, just the opposite. I’m the kind of person who thinks if you have superpowers or a position of influence, it is an ethical responsibility to use that only for good. So rather than calling someone out for bad behavior or service on a personal level in order to get my problem resolved, I would offer constructive criticism on how to handle it better.”

David George is the chief content creator at Heyo, who had the following thoughts:

I think he is right when initially taking to Facebook to alert the company of the problem. Online CRM software isn’t always the most fun to deal with, and a large company like the one in question should have an agency or in-house team monitoring their Facebook — at least some college interns, right?

Here’s why I don’t agree with him:

For starters, it seems like he immediately jumped to the conclusion that someone was ‘lying’ to him. My biggest question is: what does a customer care rep get out of lying? He doesn’t get a promotion. He doesn’t make a commission on customer happiness. It probably wouldn’t even make him intrinsically feel better, since he is lying after all.

The only thing I can think of is that maybe he avoids an angry ear-full from a customer; deferring that experience to the lucky rep who picks up the customer’s next call when the package still hasn’t arrived. Doubtful, since again, it’s not very beneficial to lie to a customer.

Sometimes it’s good to take a step back, breathe deep, and realize a few things:

First, customer care reps are humans doing their job, just like you – they are not perfect, but they do their best. Second, even in 2013, technology doesn’t always work the way it should. We experience anomalies with our own platform at Heyo, which happens to one or two of our users. Fortunately it’s rare – but it does happen. If you are that specific user, your experience is probably not optimal. But remember – it could also be completely your fault. Maybe you mislabeled your address, or have a strange plugin in your browser. Ultimately, you are still the 1%, and you are not the center of the universe.

Which brings me to my second point. It seems (more like I’ve witnessed and felt) that with our age of instant gratification and digital soapboxes, our problems must become other people’s problems  in order to be solved. At least your average 123 friends on Facebook (or is it 150, or 230?). What happened to the days of writing a letter to the CEO or staying on the phone until you get through to a manager or exec? Why do we give up so easily and resort to complaining?

I guess it’s the idea that the more the public is made aware of your dissatisfaction, the quicker your issue will be fixed. Which is false. Or maybe you’ll just feel better after you’ve vented to your 50,000 close friends. But at what cost? As Mark said – instead of taking the negative approach to it, why not treat it as a learning experience? Write a story where we can all learn and benefit from, rather than associate yourself with negativity. That alone can hurt your influence and online reputation – maybe even as much as the business you’re originally complaining about.”

Here’s Williams’ follow-up to George’s angle:

Awesome response, David. I’m kind of curious (and disturbed) about the whole ‘lying’ accusation. I mean, it’s a huge company. You can go online and put your information in and find out what happened to your package there. If there is a disconnect between what online says and what the customer service rep said, then that’s a good question to ask. Just because the two systems don’t agree doesn’t mean someone is lying. it’s possible that ‘our system was down’ is accurate and the two systems didn’t match up because of a local outage at the customer service center and the information is simply out of sync.

If someone has spent any time with database and reporting systems, they should be familiar with the notion that two different sources of information may not match each other in real time.

Anyway, what I’m mulling over is what I think the core question is – what responsibility or considerations should a ‘social media influencer’ exert when addressing other brands over a personal experience? Can we disassociate our professional and personal lives? I might really want to complain about a company to make myself feel good as a person, but should I consider the effects of my words for my company and the company I’m complaining about?”

My opinion is that we’re in the business of relationship marketing, and good relationships are built on positive experiences. Influencers who complain loudly might get their problem immediately resolved, but at what cost to a long term relationship for their company? If my name is associated with my company, I want to leave a lasting positive impression – I think that’s the greater good than just getting my problem resolved. There’s nothing quite as pitiful to me as someone who pulls the “do you know who I am?” card to use their influence for personal benefit.

That’s instilling fear into the transaction – essentially saying “help me or suffer the consequences” – when someone is trying to help you. It’s a form of cyberbullying, in my opinion.”

Alon Waisman is the Social Media Operations Manager at GoDaddy, who gave his two cents.

Alon-headshot_500x500 (1)Even though I think it’s a bit off the topic, after reading the blog post, I have to also defend the company a little. He says the reps lied to him. As I understand it, a lie is an untruth that is intentionally so, not mistakenly so. Unfortunately, customer support reps (at any company) are not always equipped to answer the questions presented to them, and a natural failure of the human condition (at least by my observation) is that we feel the need to answer a question even when we don’t know the answer.

Support reps will often make a claim based on what is normal, not realizing that the very fact they’re getting called makes it an abnormal situation. Support reps need to be comfortable saying ‘I don’t know’ and be empowered to get the answer. Of course, in the end, this still falls on the company. It should improve its systems to ensure the proper information is available to the support reps, it should educate the support reps so they’re better about getting answers and being truthful when they aren’t sure of something, it should be quick and confident in recognizing and removing bad reps from the operation, etc.

So, I just don’t like that he jumped the gun pronouncing that the reps ‘lied’ because that implies malice which, to me, is a most extreme allegation.

More to the point of what I think you were asking – Should self-aware influencers make use of their power? – I fall on the side of ‘no’. IMO, using special powers for your own benefit is abusive. Beyond that, it appears petty, which is simply something I choose to avoid for myself. That said, I’ve complained in social before. However, I avoid doing it when I just want to get something. I’ll let a company know that it messed up because there’s value for the offending company, but if there’s really something at stake for me personally, social is a last resort (as you said). Basically, I give them every chance to resolve the issue through traditional channels before ‘tattling to mom and dad’ on social.

Further, if I were ever so disturbed as him, my personal style is to be very careful with my words, making no assumptions along the way (again, referencing the belief that reps ‘lied’) – when you fight in public, you need to stick to the facts… it may sound robotic or dehumanizing to say it, but in most battles, emotion is a horrible ally. This is especially true when your opponent is a corporation. They may be ‘people’ these days, but they sure don’t act like it.”

Readers: Should social media pros use their powers on Facebook to pull strings when they’re dissastisfied?