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Fighting Social Media Bias

Blake Fehl
in user experience,web

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Prepare yourselves for battle, because as social media grows, PR battles will be continually grow harder to control. This is a fact that video game developer and publisher TellTale Games found out Monday to their chagrin.

It all started innocently enough with a self-post on the popular social aggregator Reddit. User Boomerjinks (which I’m going to go out on a limb and say isn’t his real name), accused TellTale games of breach of contract after using his semi-famous internet Jurassic Jeep.  You can read the full accusation here, along with update. It didn’t take long for the internet to get up in arms about a movie-themed Jeep with minor cosmetic damage. Users on Reddit quickly picked up their digital pitchforks and torches, and started what they thought was their white knight gallantry. Some merely emailed the company saying their purchase decision had been swayed by the negative impression the received by the post, while others took to harassing TellTale employees over phone, Facebook, and email.

It didn’t take long for TellTale CEO, Kevin Brunner, to respond to the accusation. Brunner explained that TellTale themselves did not do anything negligent, and because of that were trying to use the insurance they had purchased in case such a thing had happened.  Brunner also decided to close the matter completely by offering to pay for the issue out of pocket. Despite thinking the situation had been handled wrong, Bruner owned up to the situation and corrected it.

However, things weren’t completely closed. Reddit members found a TellTale employee, one who apparently signed for the damaged vehicle, and decided it would be a good idea to harass her.

What he [Boomerjinks] calls a ”joyride” was the thirty feet we had to take the car to be inspected and the gas removed.

I received 83 phone calls (according to Google voice), 41 Facebook messages, and 19 emails…Some of the calls were threatening- one caller even asked me if I wanted to know what it was like to be raped.

You can read the rest of the account here. Needless to say, it is all a bit unnecessary. Does it suck that someone didn’t follow through on a deal? Yes. Does it suck that someone had a cool piece of memorabilia take a bit of damage? Absolutely. Does that warrant attacking someone who has little to no control over the situation? Absolutely not! It doesn’t warrant attacking anyone involved. Smart consumers vote with their wallet, and emails telling the company that you are no longer purchasing their game is a good way to wake somebody up. However,  threatening people for something silly like this, makes you no better than the story you find appalling.

There are a number of takeaways we can learn from this experience.  First of all, a brand that has built a good reputation over a long period of time can have that reputation shattered in mere moments with social media.  The effect may not be permanent, but could stay that way due to response. Which brings us to the second takeaway, everything hinges on the response. Just last month we discussed Netflix’s lack of response that drew the ire of many a social commentator.  However, CEO Kevin Brunner, responded exactly as he should, with sharp and concise points that point at what they have done. Most importantly, he fixed the matter quickly once it was brought to light, thus allowing for any future commentary by the original user to be taken less seriously.

When a battle like this happens between users and brands, it’s very hard to tell which side is in the right. Both have agendas to play up, and both are not going to be forthcoming with evidence that they might have had a hand in.  It is likely that both sides may be telling a side of the truth, but with the amount of hyperbole within their stories, they tend to look further apart than they are.

Here are a few things to be done in a situation like this.

  1. Respond Quickly – The longer you take to respond, the harder it is going to be to get through the mob mentality. Reply quickly, but don’t rush yourself to the point where you make a bigger problem. Be smart about the words you choose, and make sure to hit the subject head on.
  2. Use Humility – Guilty or not, a little humility goes a long ways. Admit there were things you could have done better. Promise to work on better solutions in the future.
  3. Do NOT Point Fingers – The worst thing you can do is place blame in a situation like this, especially if the blame lies on the accuser. This type of defensive act will push away those who might have endeared themselves to you before. If true blame must be place, make sure to have a sound logical argument, and facts that can be backed up.
  4. Reconcile – If you can reconcile with the accuser, the people following him/her will go with them. Reconciliation can make your brand look stronger in the end. You’ve received free publicity, and have shown you are willing to take care of your customers.
TellTale games seems to have come away generally unscathed after reading a number of comment threads. Many people are skeptical of both sides, but are satisfied with what TellTale did to resolve the situation. The upside to the story? TellTale now has quite a few more people who know they had a game come out this week, myself included.