We live in a time when it’s never been easier to share our dislike, disdain and dissatisfaction. And share we do. Yep, studies show that social media is allowing us to whinge and whine more than ever.
Sharing of often one-sided, negative experiences, writ large as beacons to beware, is on the rise right across the internet. Disapproval and outrage is fuelling a whole new industry. While platforms are created to encourage critique others are set-up to monitor, manage and measure the voice of dissent.
Trivial misdemeanours result in hate-filled, vitriolic, ‘behind-the-keyboard’ calls for punitive action and boycott. And rarely is a brand’s public response considered satisfactory. Rather, any show of remorse is viewed though a lens of cynicism, and suggestion that such public contriteness is simply a PR peace-offering, routinely dismissed as insincere.
Grievance, and social media support for the aggrieved, seems to know no bounds.
Yep, outrage is all the rage, and it’s served fresh daily.
And as if these and many other examples didn’t already get more traction than they deserve, before we know it, a 24/7 mass media, ever-hungry for content, further reports on these meaningless tales, and provides more fuel to the ‘momentary-outrage’ fire.
I’m calling a time-out on all this mock outrage for three reasons.
1. It most often has limited impact on a brands commercial success
Let’s say a customer is sufficiently unhappy that they not only want to warn others but also cause ‘Nasty Inc.’ maximum commercial pain and suffering. Well, in truth this is unlikely. You see, whilst interest in such gripes may gain significant momentum it usually peaks rapidly, and nowadays, because these petty grievances are so ubiquitous, they have limited long term memorability. Indeed, often recall of the incidents are incorrectly attributed.
Moreover, post-analysis of some the most high profile social media brouhahas, have found they have had little impact in terms of meaningfully changing consumer behaviour or negatively impacting on the bottom-line of the companies involved. It seems that whilst many may join the online hue and cry, when it comes to voting with their wallet, people select businesses and brands based on a range of criteria. It would appear the impact of online moaning and momentary controversy is a long, long way behind other factors.
Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m not talking about companies found to be responsible for major wrong doings. If, for example, a brand is systematically destroying swathes of virgin rainforest, or deceiving global regulators in relation to their environmental credentials, that’s a whole different story, and will likely have all sorts of lasting impact. What I’m talking about are benign mistakes, amplified and blown out of all proportion.
2. Meaningless griping is ultimately bad news for the consumer
Why? Well because organisations in the hot house of a momentary crisis will often feel the pain intensely and have difficulty dealing with it objectively. And if they sense they may be ongoing targets then they will likely respond in one of two ways.
a) They will over-react. They will attempt to risk-manage everything, every time, to the nth-degree with an aim of not offending anyone ever again (seemingly oblivious to the old adage ‘you cant please all of the people all of the time’). It’s a shame, because this shadow boxing limits taking any risk, or tolerating any mistakes. And this in turn limits innovation. If you’ve ever been frustrated and wondered why brand x, doesn’t have an active social media presence, I can almost guarantee it’s because they are concerned about the risk associated with managing momentary controversies.
b) They will develop a thick corporate skin. They will increasingly consider social media chatter ‘electronic graffiti’. This leads to a dismissive and disingenuous approach toward consumer sentiment. This is often evident in hubristic organisations that consider themselves too big to fail.
Neither response is ideal. Both are ultimately bad for the consumer.
3. It’s bad for your mental health
There’s so much online moaning, there’s now even a term for it. E-venting. But if you thought e-venting was good for you, you may be surprised.
Although Sigmund Freud proffered a good old-fashioned whinge helped us regulate negative emotions, it would seem e-venting just makes us angrier and more aggressive – something to do with having a limited and meaningful ‘human feedback loop’. If you’re interested in the psychology of this you can read more about it here. The psychologists say if you’re truly aggrieved then get out from behind the keyboard and talk directly with the people who can help resolve your concerns. Seems like very good advice to me.
The bottom line is organisations make mistakes and people aren’t perfect. No one gets it right 100% of the time.
So are you, like me, increasingly bored by the seemingly endless e-bitching and mock outrage? I’m interested to hear what you think.
Kevin Moreland is a Managing Director at BCM