Two cents blog

When outrage becomes all the rage

by Kevin Moreland on 9 November 2015

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.

  • A supermarket chain runs a press campaign and makes an unintended faux pas around Anzac Day, and is called out for being un-Australian.
  • A big box retailer’s security staff, and some ‘kid-store-manager’ refuses entry because of mistaken identity, and, wham-bam, it’s called by the ‘I-wasn’t-there-but-I-have-an-opinion’ social-media-commentariat as discrimination.
  • And, OMG, what on earth was that audacious social media platform doing changing their ‘favourites’ icon from a star to a heart shape?
  • And what of the ex-footy player, who wait for it… got really pissed (shock, horror) and fell asleep at some regional airport? It had many falling over themselves to be outraged by the poor example he was setting for the youngins.
  • Just this weekend, a high profile Personal Trainer, raised the ire of many, when in a moment of attempted humour (and self-mockery) she contrasted her convenient food offering against the prospect of growing fresh veges from scratch- yep, she managed to deeply offend the oh-so-easily-offendable, and in the process delivered a fresh crop of outrage.
Kev's blog_3 Kev's blog_2 Woolworths-Michelle-Bridges-Facebook-comments

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

- Peter on November 11

It's lots of fun when the ranters turn on the ranters. The Starbucks red cup comebacks are awesome.

- Kev on November 10

@steve, yes the Starbucks Christmas cup outrage is another great example. @d So if I understand you correctly, you approve of online disapproval?

- d on November 10

Gotta say Kev ... I really disapprove of your disapproval of online disapprovals.

- Kev on November 10

@Alex Its a good question as to why. Im not really sure, but interestingly I now find i'm more inclined to assess the reasonableness of the gripe, based on the manner in which a person has made comment about it. If it's polite, well reasoned and looking for an answer and a way to resolve it i assess it positively. If its rude, demanding and threatening I dismiss it as unreasonable. Sadly on social media there are more of the latter than the former.

- Steven on November 10

Case in point.

- Alex Hind on November 9

Absolutely agree with your Two Cents. Why do people get so outraged in social media posts? And while we’re at it, how OTT is this?

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