Social Media Rants – Are they worth listening to?

This week saw the latest Twitter storm come hurtling through the social media atmosphere, sweeping up thousands before it in a big stinky cloud of outrage and bile. Not for the first time, the catalyst for the disgust was the Daily Mail, this time an article by Samantha Brick about “the downsides to looking pretty”. Whether or not they are cynically doing this stuff on purpose (1.5 million hits on one article is pretty impressive) is open for debate, but yet again they prove the sheer monumental snowball that can be created on social media if you do enough to sufficiently create the avalanche.

Recently two men found themselves in court as a result of offensive and racist tweeting. Community service was given for the man found guilty of racially abusing Stan Collymore, and jail time was handed down for the student who sent disgusting tweets related to the cardiac arrest suffered by Fabrice Muamba during a football match. Add to this the recent story about Noel Edmonds tackling the owner of a Facebook page that was calling for his death, and I can’t help but notice that these stories are becoming much more frequent.

The psychology behind the people who willfully share such malicious messages on social media is too big a topic for me to really address here, but what is also interesting to me as someone who monitors social media for brands on a daily basis, is the problem that this presents in terms of ‘valid opinions’.

I’m a champion of the mode of thought that says everyone in your online community (your followers & fans) are important to your brand. Influencers are less relevant, because everyone who pays money to your company for your products are important; their opinion matters as much as the next customer. But yet despite this, it is impossible to ignore the fact that a lot of people online are, well, for lack of a better term, absolute nutters.

So where do you draw the line in determining between impassioned opinion, and pointlessly ranting for the sake of it?

A lot of companies over the years have expressed to me a reluctance to open the social media floodgates and invite the wave of public opinion of their brand onto their owned online media. It’s scary because they can’t control it, and some companies would rather not even get involved. Of course, we marketers always say that the conversation is happening anyway with or without a brand’s input, so it’s always better to be aware of it, and to be able to participate in it.

The thing companies and brands need to keep in mind, and what all these Twitter storms prove, is that social media amplifies opinions. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it provides an instant catharsis when you’ve had a bad customer experience. You’re not even necessarily interested in a constructive solution to your problem; you just want to let it out in the moment. And often people will do this in the most extreme ways possible – I’ve seen some incredible vitriol spewed out like an angry volcano around the most mundane of products and perceived injustices (a shop being sold out of a certain brand of pencil for example) – and it’s all mostly for effect.  It’s important for brands to understand this and not get scared off.

The trick is, and always will be, the ability to navigate your way through this mire of outrage to get to the constructive comments, the ones that tell you something about your product or service. Sometimes they may be angry, enraged even, but if there’s a point there, you can learn from it. There’s certainly not a lot of lessons to really be learned from thousands and thousands of people competing for ever-more nasty ways to call Samantha Brick ugly.


(This article originally appeared in the Wall Blog).

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