The dangerous power of social media

So it was innocent enough. One little tweet to express my frustration at having to pry the motel tissues out of a metal box installed inside the counter. I got my tissues, but I was annoyed, so I tweeted about it. I didn’t tag the motel chain or hashtag it, but I admit I did use the name. I thought that since it wasn’t tagged in any way they wouldn’t see it (especially since it’s freakin’ nothing in the morning right now), so no harm no foul, right? It was even a little bit of a joke.

Nope, I was wrong. The company that runs the chain replied to my tweet asking me to direct message them with my contact info. I mean, I know I named them in the tweet & all, but people do that all the time, right? And they don’t end up hearing from Corporate.

This wasn’t my first time getting the attention of a big corporation via tweet, though. I’ve done it on purpose, sometimes to give props where props are due, and sometimes to vent my anger at poor service or low-quality product. I didn’t mean it this time. Honest.

Why is this suddenly such a huge thing? I mean, it used to be that you’d write a letter to the editor of the local paper, or, if you were really mad, to the New York Times. I always did say that my mom could write the nicest nasty letters I’ve ever seen. And maybe, just maybe, you might get a form letter in the mail expressing the company’s sincere apologies (and maybe a few coupons thrown in). The “little guy” didn’t really have much input into how big corporations did their thing, and I’m sure the big corporations were just fine with that setup.

Nowadays people go to Twitter or Yelp and tear the corporations a new one every time they’re slighted in the slightest. Granted, I’ve already admitted to being one of those people on occasion, but I try to keep it civil. But here’s the kicker: the corporations are listening!!

That’s right, I–and other like-minded tweeters, I’m sure–am getting the attention of the Big Kahunas with a few taps of the keyboard or swipes of the screen. The companies are even hiring full-time social media crews to handle the surely tedious task of monitoring social media sites for mentions of the company and to reply to anything damaging or damning.

I’ll give some of them credit for also responding to praise; that makes me feel more validated than only getting responses to negative comments. I mean, yeah, it’s nice to know your grievance is getting heard and not thrown into a giant incinerator with the rest of the junk mail, but it’s also nice to know that your little online fistbump got noticed.

Is this too much power, though, for the Little Guy to handle? I’m starting to think maybe so. I don’t necessarily want someone to make a fuss every time I tweet their name in vain. I just want to vent, get it out of my system, and move on to whatever else comes my way. Others might not be so easy to please.

There are those, I’m sure, who abuse this system. They see that you can have a big-time corporation groveling at your feet in 140 characters or less. Want your way? Give that review one star instead of three or four. Add in a few nasty comments in that handy little box on the screen. They’ll be begging for you to retract what you said, delete the tweet, and keep your globally-viewed mouth shut. It’s a lot of power to bestow on the otherwise powerless, and it’s a little insane.

All I wanted this morning was a box of tissues that was readily accessible and not practically bolted down in the bathroom. I got it on my own, but my tweet made the Big Guys nervous and they responded within minutes. Guess next time that it’s not a huge deal I’ll just leave the company name out of it–hashtag or no hashtag. Maybe leave a written note on the convenient pad of paper that motels are always leaving for us. Or tell the front desk.

Can I guarantee that I won’t abuse the social media system again–intentionally or unintentionally, as it may be? No. I can’t promise that.

All power corrupts. And social media power corrupts on a global scale.

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