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Andrea Weckerle: Online Conflict Management as a Business Process

Guest post by Andrea Weckerle. Andrea is the founder of CiviliNation, author of Civility in the Digital Age, and host of next week’s Defuse Digital Drama webinar.

Online communication has become the norm for how people interact with each other in the modern world.

In addition to the purely social aspects of the Web, increasingly more people are talking about companies and brands online, and have the ability to find out what others are saying about them as well.

It’s therefore no surprise that online clashes, misunderstandings, reputational harm, and public relations mishaps are commonplace.

For businesses, the negative effects of unresolved online hostility and attacks are daunting. Not surprisingly, companies and organizations are finding themselves in a quandary.

How can they actively engage with their customers and clients online and at the same protect themselves against unfair attacks and reputational smears?And how can they shield their public-facing professionals such as online community managers, social media practitioners, public relations professionals and customer service representatives, who often bear the brunt of customers’ frustrations and the criticism of competitors and their supporters?

It’s likely that many companies regard negative online behavior as a bothersome intrusion on their day-to-day operations, and struggle through it as best they can. However, knowing how to actively mitigate against these problems is vital in today’s global environment.

A better approach is for online conflict management to be regarded as a business process. Organizations would benefit tremendously from taking a methodical stance towards dealing with online problems, instead of being reactionary to the inevitable disputes that arise.

A good place to start is by doing three things:

1.  Identifying the different possible types of conflicts a company is likely to encounter online,

2.  Identifying the different types of conflict issue categories, and

3.  Identifying the different types of online troublemakers.

As the image below shows, the parties to a conflict can take on several forms.

Some of these may be more applicable to conflict experienced by companies and brands (such as conflict with people who are pseudonymous or anonymous and online lynch mobs), while other types may be less so (such as one-on-one conflict). All of them, however, fall into one of the following conflict issue categories:

•  Content-based conflict

•  Personality-based conflict

•  Power-based conflict

•  Identity-based conflict


Content-based conflicts concern the substance of a dispute, with differences between people’s goals, beliefs, or values coming into play. Personality-based conflicts involve disagreements between two or more individuals whose personality or behaviors rub each other the wrong way, whereas power-based-based conflict issues often involve disputes over influence, dominance or resources. Finally, identity-based conflicts involve threats to how people identify themselves with regard to things such as gender, ethnicity, race, nationality, religion, language, age, profession, etc.

Each of these categories needs to be approached a different way.

Meanwhile, the different types of online troublemakers include trolls, sockpuppets, cyberbullies, harassers and defamers, and an additional category comprised of “difficult people” who range from clueless individuals to those who create drama in order to try to bolster their own image or to gain power. Some of these can be approached directly through open and honest means, while others have to be dealt with more carefully.

Being able to quickly identify #1, #2 and #3 as listed above is vital to creating a framework for managing online conflict effectively and efficiently. Our upcoming webinar Defuse Digital Drama will go into details about how to do this and provide you with the necessary insights for how to manage online conflict as a business process.

Image source: Andrea Weckerle, Civility in the Digital Age: How Companies and People Can Triumph over Haters, Trolls, Bullies, and Other Jerks (Indianapolis: Que, 2013), 60.

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