Behaving Badly Online and the Power of Eating Your Own Dog Food

by Mack Collier

A few months ago a well known ‘social media guru’ on Facebook said I was a hateful and fearful person, just because I disagreed with them on a particular social issue.  Actually, they didn’t single me out, they said that anyone that disagreed with them was hateful and fearful and intolerant (the irony of their intolerance was blissfully lost on them).  Then for good measure, another gooroo took the opposite stance on this same issue, and said that anyone that disagreed with them was hateful and fearful.  So we were screwed either way.

Over the last year or so, I’ve noticed an increase in people behaving badly online.  What’s most troubling to me is, a lot of this bad behavior is coming from ‘social media experts’ that advise companies on how to deal with customers online.  Consultants and agencies that train companies on how to respond appropriately online, then turn around and break their own rules when they get on their personal social media accounts.

Case in point, the recent episode with Justine Sacco’s tweet about her trip to Africa.  It was an incredibly bone-headed and immature tweet to leave, and it was pretty obvious as soon as she did that she was going to get canned, and she did.

What wasn’t expected was the near mob-mentality that erupted on Twitter especially.  It was as if her detractors on Twitter (and at this point there were many, mostly due to her own words) were waiting for a sense of closure that would only come from her being fired.  The longer it went without seeing her termination, the louder and angrier the mob got.  As my friend Ann Handley said:

I’m not trying to be sanctimonious here – I understand it’s human nature to grab a pitchfork and a club and join the march.

Or is it? Can’t we expect more from an evolved, networked, smarter world? Aren’t we better than that?

The challenge for companies is to treat content publishing as a privilege—to respect your audience and deliver what they want in a way that’s useful, enjoyable, and inspired. But the larger challenge for humans is to treat publishing with a similar respect—understanding the responsibility and power than comes with the ability to communicate with a global audience.

Additionally, I think that those of us that want to instruct companies on how to properly engage customers online should be held to a higher standard.  That means if you want to be noted as an expert in helping companies engage customers online, you lose the right to then go on Facebook and call Obama/Romney an asshole just because you’re a Republican/Democrat.

It means you have to eat your own dog food.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have slipped up a time or two and have discussed politics online.  I think most of us have, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But if I start attacking people online simply because they support a different political party, I really do forfeit the right to call out brands for behaving badly.  We cannot hold brands to a higher standard than we hold ourselves.

We always talk about how brands need to be ‘more human.’ Sometimes we ‘humans’ do too.

Lucretia Pruitt January 3, 2014 at 12:09 pm

Most insightful thing I’ve read so far this year Mack – and it outdoes 90% of what I remember from last year as well.
Divas, the inciters of mobs & pitchforks, those who let loose the hordes of flying monkeys without thinking about the results? Certainly not those I’d hire for advice on how to engage in maintaining my online reputation.

Mack Collier January 3, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Thank you Lucretia, and Happy New Year!

Lauri Rottmayer January 4, 2014 at 9:28 am

Couldn’t agree with you more on every piece of this, Mack!

Debbie Colangelo January 4, 2014 at 10:24 am

Well-stated, Mack. I am frequently taken aback by what some “experts” deem as appropriate online vocabularly (or lack thereof). I’m no prude, but geeeeze!
Professionalism still rules.

Patrick January 5, 2014 at 11:58 am

I’ve never once demanded that someone should lose their job for some error they made. I’m one of those people who, when I’ve had to complain to a manager or business, tried to avoid naming names. The individual is usually NEVER the issue: the problem in the majority of cases is the situation within a business in which the individual feels “allowed” to treat others badly.

I’m often amazed by the mob mentality these days. One spelling error these days gets a, “Your proofreader should be fired” comment faster than you can click the edit button. It’s rare, if you go back and look at THOSE people’s posts, that you don’t find timelines replete with spelling and grammatical mistakes!

Sacco’s tweet was surprisingly outrageous. I don’t know how a social media pro could POSSIBLY believe that such a remark wouldn’t cause a furor.

It could have been a great opportunity to turn a negative into a positive, had it been handled differently. Trouble is, sometimes the louded the screaming gets, whether it’s right or wrong, it’s listened to.

Eating our own dog food will likely ALWAYS be the best way to stay out of trouble.

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