Mean Tweets

Have you seen Jimmy Kimmel‘s Mean Tweets skit yet? I finally did when the NBA version came out a week ago (below).

The tongue-in-cheek celebrity response to Twitter’s raucous social media culture pierces through a lot of hubris. Mean Tweets says what many of us involved in online community management feel.

Life as an online community manager, blogger or personality today requires dealing with some idiotic nastiness that people spew on social media

There I said it. That’s what many community managers and corporate online marketers think.

It’s not just the average social media Joe. The nastiness extends to bloggers who take their Klout score and “influencer” status way too seriously, using blogs as a means to make brands kowtow.

Though we kneel (or ignore) because customer service and repuation best practices demand it, one cannot help but think many times we’re just stroking egos and delivering attention.

I don’t need to go any further than the recent Hitler Tea Kettle crisis that JC Penney suffered online. What a ridiculous mess. Frankly, the Reddit community member, media and people who generated this issue were grasping for something to complain about. And I’m saying that as a descendent of the Anti-Defamation League’s founder (you can watch my professional analysis of that crisis here).

In one recent “crisis” I was involved in, a community member called out a blogger who had posted a negative (and rather dramatic) accusation. The blogger admitted they posted the piece to garner attention.

On and on and on and on. It’s hard to take many social media brand crises seriously anymore.

We Must Respond In Spite Of…

The rules say we have to respond and take every commenter seriously. I agree, it’s a basic customer service principle. Responsiveness demonstrates you really do care about customers and brands.

You never know when the issue is real and significant. Consequently, we must vet each complaint and negative remark as a serious matter. By the way, this isn’t something that applies only to social. Good customer service extends to phone calls, in store exchanges, and written correspondance.

At the same time, community managers need to be measured in vetting nasty remarks. Some of them are real. Others are over-charged with emotion. People say things behind a keyboard that they would never say to your face.  Others say mean things for a rise, to get attention, or because they want another free xx or a discount from brand x.

I know one brand has a member of its legal team sit in the social media customer response center. The lawyer  helps  determine when the brand should yield, or when the customer is trying to scam or inappropriately take advantage of customer service.

Most of us respond to the somewhat nasty to the civil complaints, and then shake it off. In spite of social media experts loud proclamations to the contrary our businesses won’t crash. The long term brand impact of a social media crisis such as taco licking pictures is Highly Debatable.

Consider the following:

A more remarkable list of brands would be the ones that have literally failed because of a social media black eye. I’m struggling to think of just one company.

What’s the impact of people  on Twitter (and Facebook and on their blog) and complaining and saying whatever nastiness comes to their mind? Complaints mean less.  People who need to use social media to air out serious issues are the ones who suffer the most. It takes a cacophony of negative updates to bring about serious attention these days.

There’s a great similarity  between responding to online nastiness and parenting. I have a two-year old who screams and whines periodically. I take her seriously, but more often than not I try to find out what’s bugging her. Does she have a diaper issue? Is she hungry? Or tired? Do her teeth hurt? Or does she just want company? I don’t overreact every time she cries.

I’m not sure if there is much of a difference between vetting Soleil’s issues and mean tweets.

What do you think?


  • Great analogy – is there something underlying the complaint? Or is the person just [fill in the blank] and venting? Good lesson for our personal relationships as well.

    • It’s not even venting. Every week I see this, sometimes directly, sometimes through observation. This is more the view from 1000 feet, and the conversation that CMOs are having (at least the ones I talk with) about online incidents.

      They are not viewed as good, and need to be resolved on principle, and with principles, too. Sometimes the beef is legit and needs to be resolved, and you can’t know that unless you listen. Disney’s Brave/Miranda make over comes to mind. But people are less fearful of them becoming cataclysmic “end of brand” moments. And more often, they see it as something that just needs to be resolved, a la change Miranda back. Crisis over.

      • When I was working with a certain cheese brand, it was the earlier days when the complaints weren’t quite as volatile. There were some, e.g. focusing on accusations about use of hormones or certain types of feed, that needed to be managed quickly before they dominoed. Since I am no longer actively managing that aspect of the account, my POV has changed. The part of your post that resonated most for me was the two year old analogy; that is what I was responding to.

        • I think that’s great insight. In summary, after you get through the meanness, marketers have to resolve 1) the domino effect, which we all know and that requires the response regardless of issue; and 2) the vetting of the issues per the analogy to see if there is something that needs to be done. Drat! 700 words edited to 70.

  • It never ceases to amaze me how people think that social media is totally disconnected from real life. Some of the comments and language I see is ridiculous and I highly doubt most people would actually be able to say those things to the person’s face.

    Thankfully we all have a choice to take these things seriously and file them promptly in the bin.

    Thanks for sharing the videos too – really enjoyed them!

    • They were pretty funny. As with many things human, so long as people feel rewarded for the act (e.g. interactions, replies, etc.) I am pretty sure we’ll see it continue. But at the same time, there is a negative price to be paid, and I think in the long term people will come to regret their mean tweets.

  • Mean tweets are just playground bullies online. And when it comes to playground bullies, there are more of them than not. Think about it – pre-internet, mostly kids (and I use the term loosely, anyone up to 30?) shouted insults at each other, complained, “teased” (which is what you mother called it so you didn’t go insane) and generally said stupid shit because they thought they were being funny or cool. Now you give that opportunity to everyone… magnify it… take out the fact that you have to look someone in the face and say it… and you’ve got an entire planet of playground bullies who think they are clever/funny/smart/cool and more importantly they suddenly think any of the BS they shout matters. Because… well… social media. And brands. And listening.

    • It’s getting loud out there, that’s for sure, but with many things more is not better. I wonder how many actually bully, or just pop off to the ether, thinking its funny, meaning serial angst versus the one-offs. Either way, its not pretty.

  • I’d like to think that the more mature people among us know how to vet appropriately. And your analogy regarding Soleil’s issues and mean tweets is a good one. Piggying back on that analogy, as she grows older, you’ll become more experienced at vetting her issues and can respond to them much more quickly. I think this can be applied to community managers who may be in shock when they receive their first mean tweet, but if they remember how to interact appropriately, they will, in time, be able to respond in an easier, smarter and more efficient manner. My two cents! :)

    • No doubt, I defintely feel almost zero angst anymore when I am brought into these situations with clients. I am worried that my lack of compassion could lead to a failure to recognize a real issue though.

      • As long as you don’t substitute “lack of compassion” for being strategic in your response – especially if counseling a client – I know you will be fine.

      • You don’t have to have compassion, empathy is enough. It’s like anything. People face challenges all the time. It’s almost never the end of the world, unless it is.

  • As a fellow father of a two year old, I echo the sentiments :)

    I think the issue comes down to one simple fact: product often trumps brand.

    During the Chik-Fil-A issue, I know many, many people who support equal rights…but wanted a delicious lunch, so they went to the chicken place…but not on Sunday. Right now, I’m wearing a Kenneth Cole shirt because I like the way it looks and feels.

    For a critical mass of consumers to completely boycott a brand, the crime must be so heinous and offensive that you would forever change your buying habits. Honestly, those events are pretty hard to find.

    • Yup, it has to be an epic screw up, like Blackwater bad. Even Halliburton and BP continue in the face of their terrible errors of recent memory.

      • True, but those organizations have the added benefit of being “in bed” with the US government and military, which has become somewhat untouchable for the public the past couple decades. There’s also a major problem of awareness; honestly, how many people do you think know anything about Halliburton? BP less so, but they’re in an industry that has close ties to and much support from government.

  • For the ultimate freak out read what people say to @Pontifex..there is a lot of vitriol out there.

  • Geoff,

    It seems apparent that some folks get their rocks off by behaving online in ways they never would in person. Something about hiding behind the anonymity of the keyboard that emboldens those who might otherwise be meek. I would love to see a psychological study on the personality traits of Internet trolls.

    As far as ruining one’s brand with misguided tweets, Facebook posts, etc., people have short memories and so long as there are no patterns being set, most folks will let bygones be bygones.


    • I think there’s no repercussion for the acts, so people emboldened and “speak their mind.” But I think it goes beyond speaking your mind now. To that extent, there are issues with delivery, but even this post could fit into that category. What’s starting to happen is that the rewards, the endorphines via likes, comments, etc., is starting to encourage a culture of angst, and that my friend, is turning this fly wheel in my opinion. Just my $0.02.

      • By “likes” do you mean praising and encouraging such bad behavior?

        Indeed, small minded people need love and attention too. :-)

        • Yup, for everyone who dislikes such angsts, there’s another laughing or equally outraged. Birds of a feather, so to speak.

  • I liked the lesson of the two year old – you find out what’s bugging her. Try to block out the grating whine, and do some troubleshooting. If the complaint is real, address it as best you can. If the complaint is “over the top”, acknowledge to a point and seek compromise.

    If the complaint is more “boy who cried wolf”…and you can even see this pattern of behavior in the person’s prior social interactions (frequent tantrums)…then perhaps they simply need some “quiet time”.

    • I couldn’t have said it any better. It’s amazing how the parallel can be drawn, but it is just people, right?

  • So an angry gnat lands on the horn of a rhino and sits and sits and sits. After a few hours, the gnat starts to leave and says “I bet you’ll be glad when I’m gone.” The rhino looks at the gnat for the first time and smiles. “I didn’t notice you came and won’t miss you when you are gone.”

  • Geoff,

    The reality is that the consuming public have short memories. Unless a problem is pervasive, one off rants about a one off issue, rarely become anything more than just that.

    Read restaurant reviews on Trip Adviser or on Yelp. Even the best restaurants get a negative rant once in a while. I think people have gotten used to the idea that somewhere, some time, some one will have an ax to grind. Lots of negative minds feel empowered behind their keyboards and go to great lengths to remind us.

    I agree that you have to address each complaint on its own merits. But can one rant ruin a well established brand?


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