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Social Media is Personal? Maybe not

Posted on : 22-11-2008 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Social Media



This morning I was having a conversation on Twitter about avatars and being personal.  I am now a big believer in the need to be personal, and when possible using a photo instead of symbol.  I changed mine a while back to a picture based on feedback.  But this caused me to think a little bit more about the personal side of social media.  Very specifically the number of comments on the internet that are made by individuals not based on their experiences or to because they want to attack an individual or corporation.  This is what I see as the potential downfall for social media. 


It is expected, and I think very necessary that companies follow certain ethical guideline:

  1. Be Respectful of individuals and the space you are interacting
  2. Be Open and Honest with who you are and the company you represent
  3. Protect privacy of Customers
  4. Allow others to express opinion even if differing from your own
WOMMA has created ethical guidelines that are very similar.  But what are the guidelines for individuals.  As with anything there will be individuals that will not abide by guidelines.  These individuals will attack others online, or attack corporations and there products.  I have seen this many times and the way I chose to interact with these individuals in the same manner I would anyone else.  I always strive to be kind and helpful.  I understand that they may have underlying reasons for the passion and repeated attacks.  In a handful of times it has been kid having “fun.”  Other times it is someone that has personal gains that they would like to make.   There are times I can never figure out what the benefit or gain the individual is looking for.  I have found some to not even be a Customer at all. 
This to me is similar to many of the cyber bully stories we have read, except instead of the attacks and mis-representations targeting kids, it is corporations or adults.  Many are false but since it is hard to track it back to the individual they feel they can say anything.  Sometimes it is done in a very convincing manner.
Say you are running a bank and a person has not been making payments ever.  Now they are online trashing the company.  Based on collections rules, even if you could identify the person, you could not publicly state this fact.  What if an employee was terminated for cause, or maybe not even for cause, but due to the closure of a facility.  Now they are online making statements about your company but certainly not willing to disclose this important fact.  You can try to make known what statements are false.  They could be pretending to be a Customer with a variety of issues that you are unable to confirm.  But because they will not provide information you can not look into the validity.  You would not want to question the statements just offer help.
Here are some rules to help companies on the web:
  1. Attempt to respond with kindness and offers of assistance
  2. Do not take the attacks personally and remember that your kindness will show
  3. You will not be able to help in every circumstance, but if you have a good track record people will see it.  It is okay to leave a final word ending a conversation that leaves the door open for them to contact you.  I have done this with leaving my email. 

I think this has been a barrier to entry for many companies because they say why should I bother, I can not identify the person saying these things, so I can not change their mind.  I obviously disagree with that perspective and I think you have to concentrate on what you do well and helping when possible.  Similar to interactions in person or phone it is best to kill them with kindness.


Should there be ethical guidelines for internet users?  How would you handle these type of interactions?  Do you see this as a potential problem?