The ‘mob’ shoots from the hip: A modern St Valentine’s day massacre?

Wowie what a weekend! Once again, social media has taken centre stage enabling action and results on issues that in less enlightened times may have never have come to the attention of many and may have remained unresolved.

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On Friday, Paperchase felt the wrath of the ‘twittersphere’ for their neglect to address (and subsequent careful distancing of themselves from) a plagiarism accusation. The UK-centred dispute was covered across many media platforms over several continents. Back in the UK, the ripples spread as far as the traditional press, with broadsheets scrambling to cover the story through their online presence, and TV stations looking for exclusive interviews with the main players of the story. The dispute even resulted in a new term coined on Urban Dictionary ‘paperchasing’, as in: “I have run out of creativity, I am going to have to go paperchasing”

(Interestingly, this morning, Anton Vowl finds his Enemies of Reason blog has been C&V’d wholesale by Legal-Sleaze.com whose strapline is – believe this if you can –  “Expose and disclose so everyone knows”.)

Across the Atlantic, Director/Actor/SModcaster Kevin Smith used the leverage of his 1.6m followers to display his disgust at Southwest Airlines’ attitude to the more heavyset flyer, following his removal from a flight – after he was already on the plane and seated – and the additional public embarrassment delivered to another passenger seated nearby.

I’ve been watching the Paperchase/Hidden Eloise story unfold with a keen interest as it’s a topic close to my heart and keeping half an eye on Kevin Smith’s very public battle because, I happily admit, I’m a long-time fan of his films and he’s often at his most creative when fired up about something. Plus, in my opinion, he’s right.

But social media still gets a bad rap, as if it’s some parasite infecting unwitting internet users, forcing them to noodle about online, worthlessly communicating – god forbid – while they could be getting on with more important things like keeping their heads down, their traps shut and making money. That is, unless it’s about something unquestionable, like charity, in which case it’s the best thing since the telethon.

Mob mentality or people power?

Social media users sharing information and links are frequently and misguidedly referred to as a ‘mob’ when the issue in question is contentious. These very same people are referred to in far milder terms when the issue is that of a humanitarian nature. Can we really define one mass of people using differing terms depending on the nature of their purpose? Whether the issue is one of complaint or support, it is to a great extent the same people that are harnessing this relatively new technology in order to make their voices heard.

Celebrity inanity or high profile persuasion?

Twitter in particular gets a lot of flack for ‘only being of use to those who want to know what *insert celebrity name* had for breakfast’. It’s true, some people follow only celebrities but it is also true that a lot of people don’t follow celebrities at all. A lot of people, myself included, follow a wide range of Twitterers, not limited to the famous and including business contacts, friends, family and bloggers or reference sites of subjects of interest to me personally and to my business.

Do I want to know what Bob down the road, who runs his small business serving the community had for his supper after playing five-a-side at the local sports centre? Well, yes, actually , I do. I also want to know how his business is going, what successes he’s had and what he’s planning next. Why? Because he and I could work together to help him achieve more of those successes and a success for a client is a success for me. As for his more personal tweets? Over time, those tell me: whether or not we’re likely to click on a personal level; whether his aims and values are close to mine; and whether he’s got anything in common with other contacts I could put him in touch with. All of this shared knowledge makes for an easier, friendlier interaction and helps build levels of trust on both sides.

Business as usual, but with bells on

We might like to think that traditionally we’ve dealt with people in a purely business-like manner, discussing only the matter at hand in business-speak littered with TLAs and that there is no need for this additional connection. So why does every ‘traditional’ contact management system include space for birthdays, spouses/children’s names and other notes? Why do we ‘traditionally’, give our best clients the whisky they prefer for Christmas? Why do loyalty schemes exist (privacy issues aside) if personal information is of no business use? We’re fooling ourselves if we refuse to see that social media is a natural extension of this. The personal touch has always been a winner for business.

But that’s mainly person to person, business to business. Does social media have a credible use for larger business to consumer type organisations? I think the events of the last few days have proved that point, so I shan’t hammer it home too much more. Customer service, or whatever buzz phrase it comes under these days, relies heavily on big business taking care of the individual customer. It *always* has. Stories of poor service as well as stories of great service, while they may not make headlines as often, have always been passed along from consumer to consumer, building or depleting trust and consequently building or depleting sales.

At some point in the future, social media will be seen as the norm. In the meantime, the additional frenzy whipped up by those not ‘in the loop’ – deriding Twitter and others of its ilk one day and trumpeting its power the next – only serves to leave businesses and consumers uncertain and confused about the relevance, benefits and advantages of social media. This may simply be a stage we need to go through – remember, the printing press, the telephone and the computer were all initially dismissed as useless and, conversely, dangerous.

“Ner ner ner ner I can’t hear you” – Nope, but everyone else can

It’s hard to untangle ROI from pennies and pounds, when there are few immediate ways to measure it’s effect. Trust takes time. Nevertheless, the investment a business puts into managing its relationships with individuals does have an impact on the bottom line. Whether that’s through ‘traditional’ means or modern communication tools, the end consumer has feelings about the companies it buys from and the service that company gives them and if they want to publicise those feelings, good or bad, they will find a way. Dismissing them because they do that through an unfamiliar format won’t hurt them – they’ll go somewhere else. And so will the people who listen to them

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