December 2, 2013

Social Media Death Match: How to Emerge from the Online Battlefield Unscathed

Posted by Faith Albert Category IconMarketing Category IconSocial Media
Social Media Death Match

I may be dating myself a little here, but I can remember tuning in religiously to an MTV show called Celebrity Death Match in my youth. The claymation cartoon depicted well-known celebrities such as Madonna and Michael Jackson fighting until their untimely death(s). I know the concept sounds farfetched and downright dumb, but the series ran for 75 episodes, so I couldn’t have been the only fan. I guess it was an acquired taste.

The same could be said for my slight obsession with social media feuds. A study from the Martinez Research Company states that 70% of tweets containing complaints from customers go unanswered. But what about those 30% of tweets/posts/online comments that do receive feedback? How are companies responding? And more importantly, how can e-commerce sites (big and small) benefit from these digital tiffs? Much like the forgotten MTV show, these incidents present a global stage where massive entities duke it out with their reputations vulnerable to all manner of harm. Unlike the show, however, these duals are completely real with the blows smashing past Facebook pages into profit and stock. Here are some good, bad, and oh-so-ugly lessons from recent social media implosions that demonstrate how you can approach the binary battlefield with your brand intact after the dust settles.

Zappos respond to Kanye West's claim that Zappos sells sh-t products, the ecommerce site used its own platform to retaliate
Kanye Vs. Zappos: The Real Life Celebrity Death Match

In this match Kanye, the self-proclaimed genius rapper who’s mostly known for remaking old songs into modern travesties, takes on the online shopping shoe giant Zappos. In a podcast Kanye claimed that Zappos is making a living “selling (explicative word for a #2) product.” Zappos slaps back online and takes this feud to the internets by creating a web page where you can indeed buy a bathroom product: this toilet and plunger can be yours’ for a cool $100,000,000. One review of the product officially declared Zappos the winner via knockout by saying, “Lift the plunger to see Kanye’s career, and musical talent.” Although, I wouldn’t normally endorse retaliation, this unique situation leaves me feeling anything but poopy.

Takeaway: If you must retaliate, don’t come off defensive. Keep your communication light and confident to win affection.

Consumer Vs. FedEx: The True Underdog Story

This particular fight used YouTube for its battling grounds. The rumble begins when a FedEx employee is caught on tape delivering a computer by hurling it over a fence. Customer plans viral attack and uploads said video to YouTube where it generated over 8 million views in three months. Ouch! FedEx is no novice, though. The company has already planned a defense in the form of a video blog on their website that they use to apologize profusely for the incident. Matthew Thornton III, Senior VP FedEx Express U.S. Operations, deflates the issue by apologizing and outlines a plan of action to ensure that this never happens again. He even mentions that, although he isn’t allowed to discuss individual employees, the computer tosser in question has been reprimanded.

The peanut gallery weighed in with its opinions through comments made under FedEx’s video blog: 18% negative, 25% neutral, and 57% positive. That’s right. Over half the comments favored FedEx and commended them for addressing the problem. Mr. Thornton also mentioned that the customer accepted his apology. So, with all things considered, I have to say the only loser in this match was the employee that “is no longer working with customers.” Take that mister mister.

Takeaway: If you’re undeniably at fault, acknowledge the problem and then apologize. Apologize some more. And then apologize.

T-Mobile respond to the customer that he should not have to put up with Sprint, however it backfire
T-Mobile Vs. Sprint Vs. Customer: All Around Haterade

Let’s set the scene. Two mobile giants. Twitter. Go! You would think that two companies whose business revolves around communication would be professionals, but this spat proves anything but. Sprint tweets that every year their customers are ‘eligible for upgraded phones.’ An angry customer tweets that he ‘hates sprint.’ Just when you think this is going to be a company versus customer brawl, T-Mobile tags into the match and tweets to the customer that he would never have this problem if he hooked up with their service. At this point Sprint steps out of the ring never to be seen again. However, T-Mobile receives some unexpected ire for its intrusion. One customer even tweeted “yeah. I tried your bum service too.”This wasn’t the love fest T-Mobile was expecting. They came into this match guns blazing, but somehow ended up being the punching bag for many unhappy Sprint and T-Mobile customers. The best takeaway here is to fight your own fight. Mama always said taking care of yourself is a full-time job. According to an article on, Nicole Yelland, Brand Manager of Livio Radio says, “In short, negative feedback is great for organizations who are willing to listen, change, respond.” I couldn’t agree more. In fact, it is my hope that Sprint was listening and reacting to the comments in private, instead of engaging in a verbal bashing. For this reason, I declare Sprint the winner, but not by much. It was a messy battle.

Takeaway: Mind your own business and learn quietly from your competitors’ mistakes. You might be able to foresee a future problem of your own instead of creating one.

Cool Employee Vs. Mean Employer: The Devil Wears Prada All Over Again

Another epic viral video clash. This one was fought cleverly, beginning with a shocking hit from the Cool Employee who quits via YouTube. The Cool Employee channels her inner Kanye (him again) by making a music video to his recent hit “Gone.” The video features her lamenting over a few workplace issues, including long hours and lack of job satisfaction. She does the whole thing with a smile and literally dances circles around the Mean Employer. The Mean Employer isn’t about to let this public shaming go unnoticed. A few days later the Mean Employer, who, thanks to its retaliation we now know is New Media Animation (NMA), posts its own video. NMA, too, digs deep to find its inner Kanye and spoofs Cool Employee’s video. Although NMA wishes the former employee well, it’s clear it’s perturbed and ends its rant by stating that they are hiring. Booooyaaaa. I call this a draw. It doesn’t appear that NMA was severely hurt by losing one employee and the employee got her 15 minutes of fame. It really was a win win.

Takeaway: You can’t please everyone. It’s a fact. However, you can smile and try to part amicably.

If this article was a cage match and I threw all the winners inside, FedEx would win by a landslide for a few obvious reasons. The company acknowledged the problem, took ownership, and went to the necessary lengths to make the customer happy. Sometimes it can be hard to easily do this via social media. To truly become a heavy weight, don’t engage in an online feud. Contact the customer via phone (gasp) or handwritten note (they still sell paper) and let everyone know you’re doing so on social media. You’d be surprised what a little personalized TLC can get you.