Unleashing Negativity Online

Understanding your role and responsibility in social media  

Social media levels the playing field between consumers and brands, readers and editors. Big or small, our voices matter. We can create, share and communicate with people we never otherwise would have reached.

With the power comes the curse. Sharing irresponsibly is nothing new – Phil Donahue on daytime talk shows proved it has the power to be a national sport long before social media. As our voices grow and our messages carry further, it’s a topic worth revisiting.

Ranting about a businessOnce negativity catches hold, it’s a like an out-of-control virus. Online, it has the power to wipe out communities, ruin businesses and kill reputations. Thoughtless, hurtful comments on forums and review sites are the biggest reasons why many companies have resisted joining in the conversation – who wants to open their doors to that?

But just as companies and brands now understand how important it is to join in the conversation, consumers and community members must understand and accept their role in this relationship.

Ranting about a business

Bad service at a restaurant, quality issues on a newly purchased product – great reasons to go back to the company and demand attention. You paid money and satisfaction is the company’s responsibility.

But whatever happened to talking to a real person first? I’ve seen countless restaurant reviews, punched into a smart phone while still at the table – in the restaurant. Did they talk to the server? Did they ask to speak to a manager. When I worked for Restaurantica (now owned by Yellow Pages), the answer was usually no – it’s always easier to rant than to speak up, face to face.

For many business owners, the biggest complaint is that they can’t fix something if they don’t know it’s broken. As Scott Stratten says: “people now default to complaining on social media instead of going directly to the business first. I try to treat screw-ups as if they happened with my business, meaning I’d want to know to have a chance to make it right.”

We want businesses to be accountable for their actions and products, but accountability goes both ways.

Ranting about a community group

When people post their frustration online about community groups, a little piece of me dies inside. This is one area of social media where the face-to-face discussion is not only imperative, it’s the right thing to do.

Community groups are often run by volunteers who give of themselves to make our communities better. Whether it’s bringing an event to your area or serving in a soup kitchen, our cities are better because of those who give. But when something goes wrong or falls short of expectations, social media can become a stomping ground of frustration.

Don't feed the negativityBut remember, the finger is pointed at people who volunteer. Wouldn’t a phone call or a face-to-face always be better in this situation?

Ranting about a person

We’ve all met that one person at a networking event who glad-hands everyone he meets (puts his card in the hand he shakes just to make sure you don’t miss it). Some people online take glad-handing to the podium with their constant self-promotion.

But what about the person you’ve known for a while who’s generally congenial and fun to be around – but one day slips and says something that rubs you the wrong way? Do you shout your frustration into your twitter stream? Or do you take a gentler approach and send a DM? Even better, if you have a real life friendship with the person, do you pick up the phone and just talk?

My love of social media is no secret. It makes our big, scary world a smaller, gentler and gives a voice to those who would otherwise be silent. But it has an ugly side to it too. And much of that ugliness comes from us neglecting our humanity, with all its messy hopes, fears and insecurities.

Dealing with problems face to face is always (and will always) be the best course of action.

Twitter, Facebook, Yelp – whatever platform you use – is still only a black and white communication. It misses the nuances of our body language, tone of voice, our tears and our laughter.

LOL will never replace seeing a friend laugh out loud with their whole body.

What does social media responsibility look like for you? Follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook or connect with me on LinkedIn – I’m always on.

25 Responses to “Unleashing Negativity Online”

  1. John Lusher says:

    I like this post for several reasons. People always ask me why I am so positive online and if things are always sunny side up in real life. My answer is that no, things are not always happy and sunny in real life, but I know from years of experience that if I promote negativity, it will breed more negativity! I have had my moments of ranting online about a product or poor service, but only after attempting to resolve the issue in person or on the phone. The most powerful part of this social, online community that we live in, in my opinion, is that individuals have an ever increasing base of followers that will listen to what they have to say about businesses. So, to tall of the companies out there, pay attention and respond to your customers and their concerns. Trust me, even the smallest voice can make incredible ripples in the world.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Hi John,
      Beautifully stated – thank you for contributing! I love what you said about the cycle of negativity. Once it begins, it develops a life of it’s own and follows it’s own course. There are times when it’s needed (we’ve all been to the edge of THAT frustration) but more often than not, it can be solved by a simple phone call or face to face chat. And yes, even the smallest of voice can be heard – which is why it’s so important to be accountable for all we say online.

      Keep up the sunshine song – I’m loving it!
      Julia

  2. Great outlook! Face To Face is always the best way to deal with a situation in my books!

  3. kelly says:

    Julia – how do you explain legitimate complaints + opinions. Lets use Bell Canada for example. After 1.5 yrs and 2 dozen calls ( that’s 24 calls ) they finally returned $144 they had over charged me. Every one of those 24 calls – the rep passed the buck and blamed a manager or another dept.

    At that point – would an intelligent comment on twitter not be appropriate ? They had time to fix it – 1.5 yrs. They failed on all levels. Maybe just maybe they look at twitter now – or we would hope – to read the pulse of their customers ? ?

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Kelly, there is a place for legitimate complaints – no argument from me there. It sounds like Ma Bell has given you just cause to vent your frustration and kudos to you for sticking to it and making her come through on the right side. I don’t think I can answer your question though about the *right time* to out a company – that would be different for every situation and every person involved.

      For me, when I vent online about a business, which I recently did on Twitter, I think carefully about what I want from it. Is my vent merely an airing of my frustration or am I trying to get the attention of someone at the company. The business I’m talking about continually ignored my emails and calls to their customer service line. They reached out at one point with a form letter and no phone number. When I mentioned them on Twitter, they responded within 24 hours and gave me an email – which was also ignored. I mentioned them again on Twitter and made it clear they had one last chance or the relationship was over. Then I DM’d my phone number and told them to call me if they wanted to resolve the issue. Not only did they call, they refunded and took a full account of my story. They wanted to know what exactly had gone wrong initially and where the communication broke down. The apology was sincere and the conversation with that one person changed my mind about the brand. In case you’re curious, the brand was Radisson Hotels.

      Social media makes us all accountable for our actions – brands and consumers. My point is that a phone call first is always the best course of action. And when things go really wrong (which the often do) a phone call is always the next best course of action.

      Just my two cents….

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a thoughtful comment – love the discussion here!
      Julia

  4. Luma says:

    Thank you so much Julia for such a humane and empowering post/replies.

    As someone who’s just dipping his big toe into the massive social media pond, your comments are incredibly inspirational and thoughtful.

    What I loved most about the way you’ve outlined the responsible use of social media is that with your suggested due process we build our humanity, community and accountability.

    There is nothing empowering or humane about passing judgement on a business or individual on-line without any real way for the people concerned to address your dissatisfaction.

    Such a misuse of any communication only creates fear, defensiveness and poor outcomes. It’s a lose, lose situation for all, and a boon for our destructive egos.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Hi Luma, thanks for stopping by and for your compliments – I’m so glad the thoughts in here resonated with you! As we become more digitally connected, it’s important to hold onto our humanity and to never to lose site of the fact that we can do the most good when reach out and connect with each other.

      I noticed you’re on Twitter as well – hope you’ll say hello there too! You can find me at @JuliaRosien

      Thanks again!

  5. Erin Patrick says:

    I absolutely love this post, Julia. Negativity seems to spread like wildfire on line and people don’t even take a moment to check and see if what is being stated is true or not. Like John Lusher, I am often called out for being so positive. I refuse to use social media to bash people or business. We can make honest crituques without being nasty. If we can treat people as valuable and precious, it can sometimes make bad service better, angry people smile and other’s take note! Thank you so much for sharing this!
    Erin

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Erin, thank you so much for stopping by and adding your positivity to the conversation! My Grandmother always taught me that you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar…for years I wondered why anyone wanted to catch flies in the first place, but that’s another story, right? Funny that whenever I’m in a quandary about whether to post something, that phrase comes back to me. Am I spreading something that’s going to make people happy or something that is going to turn people off.

      It’s become my compass and sounds like yours too.

      Thanks again!
      Julia

  6. jamEs says:

    You mentioned about the up to the minute restaurant review and I’ll vouch for that one. I personally am not someone who seeks out conflict, and if I do I prefer it’s the closed door private discussion kind. The problem with lodging complaints at a restaurant is that you’re essentially doing it in public, and any complaint is going to go through a chain of people. I’ve witnessed many public dressing downs by customers of people just trying to do their jobs. It really takes a certain kind of person to take issue with food or service directly at the moment it happens.

    • jamEs says:

      Forgot about this point.

      I find that I try not to complain about a restaurant unless I absolutely have to. You are correct that social media isn’t always the best to broadcast negative messaging, but I will admit to having done it before. That’s the double edge sword of social media. I’m willing to broadcast the positive stuff, but the negative stuff can be just as valid. That’s why it’s so important for companies to have social media presences, so they can respond to critique and possibly remedy the problems, as not everyone is going to tell you to your face what’s wrong. That’s why restaurants are pushing so hard for customer feedback, because they want honest, anonymous opinions on what they are doing right and wrong.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Good point, James, voicing our disappoint at the point of service is always uncomfortable. But we’re adults and getting good at delivering (and receiving) constructive criticism is a good skill. I think the key is to understand what you want before you voice your complaint – what will make the situation better? Do you want someone to agree with you? Do want to just be heard? Do you want something from the meal comped. Usually if the person complaining knows what he/she wants the conversation is easier to navigate through. And it’s always easier to know when the conversation is over when you have a goal in mind.

      But not always, right? That’s what makes human interaction so complicated and sometimes messy. But I’d always rather give someone the benefit of the doubt that they want to make it right. And if they don’t, then the relationship can be over.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving such thoughtful comments!
      Julia

  7. Joanne Royce says:

    Such a pleasure to read about spreading positivity on-line. Over the past few days I’ve experienced several people telling me that “negativity and controversy” on-line sells (or gains more attention). I’d rather focus on the positive. I go by the philosophy, praise in public and provide “constructive” or “developmental” feedback in private. But responding on-line can be too easy – first because the “human factor” is gone – you aren’t ranting face-to-face to someone, and second, technology lets you press the send button way too easily. My dad used to affectionately say … “Engage brain before opening mouth” – and perhaps today he would say “Engage brain before opening mouth and/or pressing the send button.” It’s always good to “take a deep breath, and pause” before sending a negative rant out into the Twitter or on-line universe and ask yourself, “How will it reflect back on me?” We all experience bad service and bad days but when we give in to negativity, we are giving away our power and control and something needs to change.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Your Dad is a smart man, Joanne. Your comment reminds me of the old saying – I’m going to give that person a piece of my mind…. But can we really afford to give that away? Reigning in our emotions and dealing with the facts is always a good place for beginning a discussion and doing it face to face, even better!

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts – here’s to the power of positivity!
      Julia

  8. Joanne Royce says:

    Oops, I pressed the send button too soon :)
    P.S. I agree that when continued bad service happens, and you’ve exhausted all channels, then a well thought comment or two on-line could get the action you require. But if output is trending on the negative side – that starts to negatively impact the person sending it and everyone else experiencing it! And I don’t think that is what we want in our homes, workplaces, communities, and our world. It all starts with the power of one.

  9. Candace says:

    Well
    Sometimes
    A post
    Is
    Soooo
    Good,
    You’ve
    Got
    No
    Words!
    Wowwwwwwwwwwwww!

  10. Rivki says:

    I was so happy to read this post! When I started blogging more regularly, I made a commitment to blog positively, not about sensationalistic topics, not venting for venting’s sake, not ranting emotionally. Ditto for my other social media platforms.

    One reason is that I am usually put off by negative or constantly dramatic postings, on any social media outlet. You’re absolutely right that negativity is like a virus, and that pressing “send” or “comment” or whatever in the heat of the moment can really have a huge effect on people or businesses.

    Another reason is that Jewish tradition has pretty clear guidelines about what is and is not permissible to say. Gossip, slander, and the like are definitely no-nos. The power of speech is taken pretty seriously, as it literally has the power to create or destroy.

    That said, there are times when one is required to reveal negative information about a person or business. For instance, when someone may be considering a business deal with a person who is known to be dishonest. That would be a time to say something. But not just because we’re mad or upset.

    Kudos on a wonderful blog post. I’m sharing it!

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Hi Rivki,

      I’m so glad this post resonated with a philosophy that you live your life by. Social media can be a wonderful thing – but we all need to remember that we’re accountable for everything we do and say online. Thanks for chiming in and adding your thoughts!
      Julia

  11. Maven says:

    This is one of my favorite posts ever because thoughts become things and so do comment about other become believable when in print. Great post!

  12. Hollie says:

    Can I star this post and make in mandatory reading for everyone as they start in social media, please!

    I too try to make things right by company contact before I ever take things online..

    As for the personal, I have been attacked twice on twitter, both times left me in tears, really it did. One blogger even wrote quite nastily about me the person, after that happened I try and never ever be negative.


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