Social media is increasingly the battlefield for disputes between David and Goliath. Thanks to the spotlight that social media tools like Twitter and Facebook can shine on these disputes, individuals have more power than ever to get companies to acknowledge their complaints and resolve disputes out in the open.

But that power can be deceptive. Despite the fact that social media can pressure companies to deal with sticky situations in a more even-handed fashion, individuals often waste the opportunity.

Here are some things individuals should do when using social media to do battle with a corporate Goliath.

Know what you want. When attempting to resolve a conflict of any sort, you need to know what you want. If you don’t, any opportunity you get to obtain a favorable outcome may pass you by.

Don’t overestimate your leverage. Social media gives you considerable leverage and can force a big company to the table, but don’t let it go to your head. Remember: your ‘15 minutes‘ in the spotlight will probably last about 15 minutes because the next big social media firestorm is right around the corner. Companies will increasingly recognize this and factor it into their responses.

Be reasonable. Conflict resolution generally requires that all parties act reasonably. Is what you want something that the other party can realistically agree to? Have you given any consideration to the things you’re willing to compromise on? If you answer ‘no‘ to either of these questions, chances are you’re not prepared to be reasonable.

Listen. The cliché that social media is all about ‘listening‘ doesn’t just apply to corporations. It applies to you too. Once you have a company’s attention, be sure you’re not ignoring what it is telling you. Even if the response isn’t initially what you had hoped to hear, it may provide some common ground that further dialog can be based upon.

Choose your words, and position, carefully. It’s easy to botch a negotiation when you put your foot in your mouth. And it’s just as easy to box yourself into an untenable position that will limit your options. That means that you have to be strategic. Be careful about the claims you make, and watch the tone of what you say. Most of all, don’t do anything that will limit what you can and can’t negotiate around.

Have a Plan B. Put what you want aside for a minute. What can you live with? Are you in a situation that realistically demands legal representation? Social media can do a lot for you as an individual, but it hasn’t eliminated the need for a Plan B. Or a Plan C for that matter.

Photo credit: euthman via Flickr.