Opinion

Marketers you’re on notice: we’re hyper-connected and pissed off

It’s not enough to be polite, respond quickly, apologise and 'be human'. Now brands have to understand and overcome the impatience and angry reactionism of communities in collective crisis, says Mark Jones.

I stumbled across an awesome pie chart the other day titled Outcome of Political Arguments on Facebook. Broken out are three options: “You change your mind; They change their mind; No one changes anything and everyone’s pissed”.

mark Jones CEO filtered media

You know this story, right? We’re all busy sharing, reading, commenting and gasping when our opinions collide. It’s Trump vs. Clinton, Liberal vs. Labor, conservatives vs. liberals, East vs. West, etcetera.

Amid all the noise is anyone actually changing their views or exploring an alternative perspective? Are we getting anywhere in all of this? Nope.

outcomes of political arguments on facebook - image taken from atgoldengateblond social media

The sad reality is we’re just getting really pissed off at the world. I’ve been there.

You’ve probably joined one of these debates. Maybe you wanted to voice your sadness, disgust and anger at one of the many global and national events that fill us with shock and awe.

Instead you found yourself caught in a tornado of capital letters and angry or belittling responses. So many feelings.

So then, what to make of all this?

Marketers need to stop for a moment and think seriously about the digital zeitgeist. This innocuous pie chart reflects not just a shift in community thinking, but the way we understand brands, marketing and the fascination with customer experience.

A bit of history gives us perspective here.

Years ago the epicentre of these arguments could be found on bulletin boards, forums, then Twitter, and Youtube. Today the centre of public discourse gravity has shifted almost exclusively to Facebook and Twitter.

Of course, when I say “discourse” I’m being kind. It’s more like ranting, passive-aggressive shouting, outright hatred, racism and a blur of judgment from all sides – but I digress.

The point is we’ve always lived in a world that holds disagreement in tension. The extreme example is the persistence of wars – they’ve always been, and always will be.

Worth acknowledging is the view that social channels like Facebook have supercharged the sheer speed, scale, impact, and global nature of these disagreements.

It’s an arresting thought to consider the media, politicians, law-makers and law-keepers are plugged into this digital thought stream and it’s accelerating their response time to issues of national and international significance.Four Corners Australia Shame episode

The youth detention scandal in the Northern Territory is a case in point. The morning after ABC’s Four Corners broadcast horrific images of teenagers being abused by detention centre staff, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a Royal Commission. Bam.

No need to wait for letters to his office, no community rallies, and no persistent angry opinion columns in the newspapers. Social media was alive with outrage. Turnbull and his advisers had instant validation and insight into community sentiment.

Flip that scenario onto the world of marketing and brands. Real-time customer support through social media has been an essential communications strategy for a long time now.

What’s changed now is the community climate has suddenly intensified. It’s not enough to be polite, respond quickly, apologise and ‘be human’.

The community is feeling a sense of collective existential crisis. There’s something fundamentally broken when it comes to understanding what it means to be human, to live in community, and hold onto a sense of shared values that give us moral, ethical, spiritual and human significance.

Brands can no longer pretend they live in an alternative universe where they adopt messaging, a tone of voice, and an agenda that suits themselves. Practically speaking, social posts don’t exist in some kind of weird brand vortex.

Your Facebook News Feed sits in juxtaposition to family pics, cats, global news, and the daily horror of terrorism, violence and angry people shouting at the world and themselves.

Here’s a few suggestions on how to best respond.

Sharpen your social skills

Take time to review your social strategy in far greater detail than before. There’s a subtle, but essential sensitivity that’s now required for any brand swimming in these waters. Language, tone, timing, comments, when to speak, and when to stay silent are caught up in what you might call the emotional intelligence of the web.

Try sheer delight

It seems counter-intuitive in this context, but innocent laughter can be the best medicine. Consider a random act of positivity and joy – just keep it real and believable.

The Lambogan story, while not a brand-led video, is a case in point. The Western Sydney Lamborghini driver filmed by his son towing a trailer carrying goats is both random and delightful. The motivation was a simple one: there’s so much negativity in the world and Mr Lambogan wanted to do something that made people smile.

Then there’s the mobile barber of London. BBC reports a man is restoring dignity to homeless people by giving them a hair cut. It’s the kind of stuff that restores your faith in humanity.

do something for nothing josh coombes

Don’t give up

The path forward for brands obviously won’t get easier.

Will you always get it right? Sadly, no. Someone will always be upset with your opinion, think you’re insincere and remain cynically unmoved.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep going. The reality is if you’re in marketing, storytelling or any form of business you don’t have a choice but to engage, stay creative, and think deeply about how you tap the social zeitgeist.

The reality is your customers, staff and partners are real people on Facebook caught up in the same storm of existential social angst that’s preoccupying the minds of marketers.

If ever there was a time for real, heart-felt thought leadership – marketing’s social nirvana – it’s now.

Mark Jones is the chief storyteller and CEO at brand storytelling agency Filtered Media, and host of The CMO Show, a podcast about brand storytelling and the future of marketing.

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