Social Duels and the Guide to Fighting with Etiquette

Or: How I Learned to Stop Being a Victim and Love the Battle 

Last week I had the opportunity to speak at the University of Central Florida's COMM DAY, which is a personal-development event for students transitioning into the real world. I was a little concerned that they just wanted me for the “after” example in a before-and-after comparison, but it turned out the whole thing was legit. The students from UCF’s Nicholson School of Communication were a fantastic audience, and even a slightly older dog like me learned a few things.

UCF graduate Heissam “I’m In” Jebailey was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and shared many core truths about becoming successful. And I immediately connected with the incomparable Luke Sullivan, who gave an inspiring keynote speech.

Then there was the beautiful moment when graduating student Karen Acevedo approached me and posed a great question: “You talk a lot about being cordial with brands,” she said. “But what if I want to debate or call out a company for something I'm displeased with?" 

A social duel? A debate? A fight?

Yup – I get the point here. I talk a great game about how it's best to "make nice" and keep an even keel in your social graph. But the side-effect can be that you end up living in a squeaky-clean walled garden that might unfortunately position you as a bit of a spineless kiss-ass.

OK! So you want to start a riot?

Are you sure you want to unleash me? Unleash me ... LOL.

Then let's do this!

Step one: First research your opinion (AKA: bitch, rant, issue, criticism, WHATEVER!) to find out if it's already being addressed in an online forum, and if "they" are doing anything about it. Nothing's worse that showing up late to the party and trying to be cool by piggybacking the conversation.

Step two: If there's no pre-existing social conversation about the issue, or the issue is specific to you (there's a dead roach on my bed and the sheets are not made @hotelnamehere), then you can move forward with said issue.

Step three: Be sure when "Tweeting it up" or posting to your chosen social touch point, that you do so with enough information for “them” to pursue a resolution. If you say "HILTON CAN SUCK MY RUMP!" – then you don’t leave much room for Hilton to react. Therefore, you will be better served with a tweet such as [@hotelname just go to my room #175 at your Orlando branch (truncated web link to property) to find a dead roach and unmade bed – please resolve]

Step four: Give them time to resolve. In the case of a dead roach, I wouldn’t wait at all to get another room. But you owe them some amount of time to make it right. The more complex your issue, the more time it could require. But THAT BEING SAID: If they have not pinged you back within 24 hours of your post, they lack [real] customer service and you can move on to ...

Step five: Begin by writing an intelligent, thoughtful, well-researched post about your situation or position. Outline your issue, and explain that there was no contact or resolution after a reasonable amount of time. Include photos or videos if they are relevant, and all pertinent details. Then publish the post and link to it from all your usual touch points. Refer to the professionalism outlined in step three, and maintain it throughout the process.

Step six: Let the stew simmer. Await feedback.

Ideally by this point the wheels are turning, someone is getting back to you and all is hunky-dory. If not, you may continue to post on the topic no more than once a day to "update" your friends, fans and followers. If you continue to post in a civil tone and maintain your professional decorum while waiting for a response, you will get more buy-in from your social collective as they follow your lead and turn against the brand.

Step seven – best-case: Issue resolution. This is the part we all forget about and brands pay for dearly. If they fix the problem, they deserve public recognition for it. You need to go back and write about what they did to scratch your itch. If the company went above and beyond for you, then make it clear to your friends, fans and followers that your brand loyalty is intact. It's not enough for you to simply get your way, even if it was their fault. You must be humble enough to show great customer service – that's just as much your job as it is theirs.

Step seven – worst-case: Issue never comes to resolution. You have to walk away at some point regardless. It's a waste of time for you to keep going on about one bad experience. Think of your time as money, how much are you willing to spend before it's simply a waste of your effort? Typically, I post publicly that I'm no longer persuing the situation, and thereby am no longer going to purchase, use, buy, etc. said "thing." 

Start professionally and end professionally, and you will be bulletproof.

It's safe to say that anyone who initiates conflict should do it with the intention of finding a resolution. This is important because anything south of that reeks of hostility and misplaced spite. I personally have no room in my heart for that kind of behavior. I want my issues to be FIXED, not simply heard.

That said, the next and MOST important point I can make is that you must understand the best outcome from this type of engagement is the byproduct of truth that should emerge from the debate. You need to be human enough to learn from the process. And if it doesn’t work out in your favor, you must graciously accept defeat. Then return to your social forums and wrap up the saga by writing about the education you received in the process.

Paula Berg, former head of social for Southwest Airlines said their M.O. was to take "real criticism" and post it publicly in a PDF after it was resolved. The document included things said by both sides, along with an outline of what Southwest learned and what the airline intended to change going forward. This, ladies and gentlemen is crisis management at its finest.

We can wrap this up by taking a page out of the Eminem playbook from his final rap battle in the movie “8 Mile:” The best solution is to neutralize your opponent’s ability to attack by going to the core truth of the situation and exposing it before it becomes a problem.

The ideal way to diffuse an issue is to turn it into a non-issue. So how do you resolve issues with social media? Let me hear you!