David and Goliath: Facing Off to Social Media Bullies

David and Goliath: Facing Off to Social Media Bullies


David and Goliath stories used to make good copy. 


High res samples

We love the myth of the plucky little underachiever who overcomes the big bully—it’s baked into our psyche.

The 1980 USA Olympic hockey team. The Jamaican Bobsled team. The little engine that could. It makes us feel good because we all hate bullies.

Even so, there’s been some serious discussion about whether this bias that we have for the little guy actually causes us to make bad decisions. Just think about it—romanticizing one side of an argument doesn’t make for sober analysis.

But it’s in our nature—we all start out little and weak, and we identify with the little guy, even when it’s not clear if the little guy is actually good.

So for 100 years of mass media, the David and Goliath myth was relevant—William Randolph Hearst really was much more powerful than the man on the street, as was Ted Turner or whoever was running NBC at the time.

But now that the culture has changed and average citizens have access to many of the same media tools that big companies do, it’s not clear who the good guy is anymore. Let me elaborate.

Five years ago, the idea of a disgruntled customer tweeting his dissatisfaction about a bad customer experience was deliciously refreshing. We’d never even seen such a thing before. But now, it’s a regular feature of Twitter. It’s no longer remarkable when someone complains.

And while legitimate complaints have their place, many companies run the risk of being criticized by someone who is just in a bad mood.

In other words, we all know whiners. But just because they have a Twitter account doesn’t mean that they’re righteous.

So as the shine wears off of the era of the complaining customer, now is a good opportunity to showcase our top 3 complaining customers who took it too far:

  1. Man buys promoted tweet to complain about British Airways. Amongst airlines, BA has a pretty good reputation. But when they lost his luggage, Hassan Syed bought a promoted tweet to complain. Syed earns points for originality—it’s one thing to have a complaint, and it’s another to have a complaint with its own ad budget. But we’ve all had lost luggage—at this point, it’s a common expectation when flying. BA really doesn’t come off too badly here. This isn’t exactly a case for Amnesty International.
  2. Captain Picard endures wait for cable guy. Patrick Stewart bought a new house in Brooklyn and wanted to set up cable service. Time Warner customer service being what it is, he had to wait 36 hours. It’s very difficult to elicit sympathy for the cable company (local monopolies tend to be a bit unresponsive), but the idea of pulling rank in public is a bit inappropriate—especially for someone whose Twitter handle is @sirpatrickstew. One would think that he has someone on payroll who waits around for the cable guy. Chalk that up to two bad guys in this scenario.
  3. Dooce pulls rank on MaytagThis one is particularly obnoxious. Back in 2009, blogger Dooce had more than 1 million Twitter followers. When she had a bad customer service experience with Maytag, she went so far as to say “Do you know what Twitter is? Because I have over a million followers on Twitter. If I say something about my terrible experience on Twitter do you think someone will help me?” She was told, “Yes, I know what Twitter is. And no, that will not matter.” This isn’t David and Goliath. This is Goliath and Goliath’s teenage sister who’s in a bad mood. (Four years later, Maytag has about 3,100 Twitter followers. Who’s the bully now?)

There’s no excuse for being a jerk. No matter how many followers you have.

Most of the time, people complaining on Twitter have a decent case. But not always. Though you should make sure that you respond effectively and respectfully, you should also remember that everybody knows what a jerk looks like. You’ll earn a lot of points for integrity if you don’t let bullies push you around.

Standing up to bullies works, even when the traditional roles are reversed.

Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by Clint Boyd

About the author: Adrian Blake

Adrian began his career in the television industry, leading the international growth of Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central. Adrian has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and an A.B. from Harvard.

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