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Dr Anderson Uvie-Emegbo - Effective Dispute Communication using New Media
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Wednesday, 13 November 2013 05:03

Effective Dispute Communication using New Media Featured

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“When war is declared, truth is the first casualty” Anon

On July 6, 2009, after about a year of receiving endless excuses from United Airlines, Dave Carroll hit back with his “complaint anthem”. The dispute started after the country musician accused the airline of breaking his guitar, a mainstay of his livelihood. Somehow the airline was not as responsive as they should have been in handling this dispute. Dave repaired his guitar at the cost of $1,200 and asked for a refund of same without success.

Something snapped in him and he decided to take United Airlines to the court of public opinion. With his new media channels (personal website, Twitter handle, Facebook page and You Tube channel), Mr Carroll created a compelling, powerful and highly emotive sing along music video titled, “United Breaks Guitars” in which he laid bare the facts using a simple storyline.

What makes this story interesting is that Dave realized that he lacked the resources to engage the services of traditional media channels. He didn’t have a fighting chance to take on such a mighty and iconic brand (which at that time was the second biggest airline in the world). Dave planned to produce 3 music videos and hoped that they would have collectively generated a million views on You Tube within 12 months.

So successful was he at pushing out his side of the story that the first “complaint” video (United Breaks Guitars) attracted over 1 million views on You Tube within 96 hours of its upload – exceeding his wildest expectations. Consumer advocates hailed Dave’s action as “the ultimate customer payback”. This was an atypical approach and one that United Airlines had no answer to. Within weeks, its share price had lost 10% of its value. Economist.com estimated that Dave’s action cost the airline about $180 Million – a colossal sum to pay for a guitar that cost a few tens of thousands of dollars.

In many dispute situations, there is usually an “aggrieved party” and another labelled as the “aggressor”. The aggressor might be a public institution or a private organization with significant resources and power. They often have a hold on traditional media channels due to their financial clout, control or influence. Sadly during most disputes; the aggrieved party is invariably outgunned, outspent and outmanoeuvred – this time, Goliath triumphs over David.

It is time aggrieved parties change the approach to communicating/canvassing their positions. They need to creatively focus on how to report the issues.

How can the approach Dave Carroll took help aggrieved parties secure more favourable outcomes during disputes? Here is an approach that might work. I call it “the 4Cs of Effective Dispute Communication”:

Channels

What is your new media channel strategy? Besides his website, Dave Carroll had 3 other new media channels. Many of the organizations most prone to disputes such as trade unions, professional associations, civil service organizations (CSOs), etc. do not have active new media channels. The few that do have a seemingly disintegrated channel strategy - each channel should reinforce and complement each other.

Content

What is your new media content strategy? What’s your story? Don’t count on someone else to tell it as well as you do. At the height of the 2012 Occupy Nigeria protests, while many Civil Society Organizations resorted to using only traditional media channels to engage the Nigerian public, BudgIT through its award winning website, www.yourbudgit.com creatively simplified the Nigerian budget and public data with content that could be read and understood across every literacy group.

This refreshingly different approach continues to win the organization admiration and awards at home and abroad. If you want to stimulate citizen engagement around the issues in a dispute, then it’s time to create the content that would both drive their interest and build a groundswell of support for your cause. Create compelling multimedia content that addresses the spoken and unspoken concerns of your stakeholders.

Customer Intimacy

How do you intend to build intimacy with your audience (customers) using new media? How do you plan to mitigate the hardships and inconveniences they might face due to the dispute? How can an aggrieved party demonstrate empathy to the very persons who are adversely affected (even if temporarily) by the dispute? How can you sustain the interest of the audience in the issues under dispute?

How many of these aggrieved parties have had a Google hangout, a Tweet meet or simple regular updates on their social media channels (that is assuming these exist)? Many who have seen Dave’s video or heard his story were able to relate to it.  What is your new media communication and engagement plan before, during and after the dispute?

Collaboration

One of the biggest shortcomings of aggrieved parties is that they seem not to have an engagement plan for their various stakeholders. A stakeholder is anyone/group who has a stake in the dispute or its outcome. It is anyone/group who can be affected by or who can affect the outcome of the issues under dispute.

It is not enough to have a great case. It is in their best interest to have analysed the stakeholders and created a communication and engagement plan for the various groups commensurate with their levels of power and influence. Feelings run deep in those who perceive that the dispute is inimical to their progress. Sometimes, such vociferous opposition stems from the way communication was handled by aggrieved parties during previous disputes.

Aggrieved parties need to cultivate a groundswell of support – a people centred power base that helps them negotiate from a point of strength. The longer it takes to achieve this momentum, the easier it would be for their ranks to be broken through intimidation, blackmail, coercion, distortion, persuasion, member fatigue and pressure. Dave collaborated with friends and family to produce the video at little or no cost.

With new media, aggrieved parties can now canvas their positions from a vantage point during disputes. If and when they do, you can bet I would be watching to see how this plays out.

P.S: This article was also published in the 13th of November 2013 edition of the Punch Newspapers. Click to Read 

Dr Anderson Uvie-Emegbo

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