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Are you fighting social media?

I got a phone call yesterday from the company that services my central air conditioning unit each year. They had called a couple of weeks ago saying that they wanted to come between 8 am and 11 am yesterday, so we made sure someone would be home. But yesterday morning, they called and said they’d come in the afternoon. I told them that we couldn’t be there in the afternoon, precisely because we’d arranged to be home in the morning as they had requested. And she started arguing with me that we had it wrong and that it was written down for afternoon “in her book.” So I asked her if she’d rather spend time arguing about how this happened or solving the problem we both have. If this sounds like a silly question, it is, but it’s how many of us approach social media.

Too often, I run into people who are fighting social media or, worse, fighting in social media.

Have you been asking yourself why you have to respond to all these anonymous people out there? Are you just plain uncomfortable interacting in social media? Have you told yourself that it’s not worth your time?

These kind of defensive reactions are normal. Human beings are programmed to master things, so being thrust into a new environment where you don’t know what to do is unnerving. It’s natural to ask some hard questions about whether you need to endure this discomfort. And, truthfully, social media is not for every business. If you don’t know why you are doing it, you probably shouldn’t be.

But I run into many businesspeople who know they should be doing it but just don’t want to. They resent the situation they are in, much like the woman from the air conditioning company. She is stuck dealing with something that most likely she didn’t cause, and it’s uncomfortable. Her first reaction is to deny it, to push it away, to blame it on someone or something else, even the customer.

I see this reaction to social media all the time. People marginalize the folks complaining in social media as unimportant (“Who are they anyway?”) or unrepresentative (“Just a few nuts”) or unfair (“What are they expecting anyway?”), something they’d never do if a living breathing customer complained to their face. They’d never react this way to a live customer even if they did not know the customer, even if the customer didn’t provide a name, even if the customer seemed to have an unusual point of view, and even if the customer didn’t seem very fair. If your priority is to serve your customers, you might need to be part of social media. However, if your priority is your own comfort, it’s fine to stay away.

But even worse are those companies fighting in social media. It’s a battle you can’t win, because you are fighting in front of your other customers, who are more likely to take the side of their fellow customers than yours. I’ve seen companies lambasting their own customers on message boards, which does far more harm to their reputation than any customer’s complaint did.

These businesspeople would never have a full-blown argument with a customer in their store with other customers around, but they fire off angry missives on a public message board without thinking. In social media, it’s best to stay calm, no matter how angry someone else appears to be. Act like the well-trained call center representative. Fighting in social media makes both parties look bad. The problem is the angry customer is likely anonymous or doesn’t care how he looks, while you care a great deal.

Businesspeople who rise to their own angry defense when faced with a complaint are under the false assumption that proving they were right will save their reputation. In fact, the argument itself dooms their reputation, because other customers get to see you when something goes wrong, and it’s not pretty. Better to see you correct a “mistake” that might not be yours than to prove you never made one. Sometimes I think that “being right” is the real priority here, rather than customer service.

To the air conditioning company’s credit, the woman quickly agreed that regardless of how the mix-up had occurred, that she’d try to move some appointments around to get to us in the morning, which she did. If you’re still fighting in social media and fighting with social media, perhaps you should move a few of your priorities around, also.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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