Friday, February 10

Balancing Acts: #Fail vs. #Win

Michael Schechter, author of A Better Mess blog and filling in for Geoff Livingston, guest penned a post that touches at the heart of a new social media meme. The Audaciousness of Corporate Social Media Failure is a thought piece on the fascination with pointing out more failures than successes.

He is not alone in his recent assessment. Jennifer Kane called her post The Rise of Social Schadenfreude. Jason Falls recently asked What Happened To Saying Something Nice? And several weeks ago, although not in a blog post, Shel Holtz asked pretty much the same question related to public relations.

Richie Escovedo captured the sentiment in his post New Year's Hat Tip For Triumphs. Along with Holtz's thoughts, you can see my quip about it: "Many public relations triumphs go unseen, which is why they are triumphs." To which Holtz asked if the abundance of blunder-focused posts skews the perception of public relations. Escovedo believes it does. I'm not sure.

Understanding the lopsided exchange of #Fail and #Win. 

Some of it goes back to old school marketing and customer service. Even before social media, consumers were more likely to share a negative experience at a rate of 8 to 1. With social media, that ratio can expand to 8 million to 1, depending on the complaint and who shares it.

Some of it goes back to old school journalism. Negative news tends to have more news worthiness than good news, much in the same way the old adage once conveyed: dog bites man is not news. A man biting a dog is news. But it goes even deeper than that.

Anytime Bruce Spotleson, group publisher for Greenspun Media Group, speaks to my public relations class, he tells the students a story about one of the newspapers he worked for years ago. They agreed with everyone else. There is too much bad news. So, every Tuesday, they decided to make it a "good news" paper. It only took a couple months to find out what happens. People stopped buying Tuesday.

In fact, the phenomenon is not limited to communication. Watch most parents with their children after school. When "As" and "Bs" become commonplace, it will take an "F" for parents to take an interest. You can tell how influenced your children are already by the daily news they share with you. If they always lead with bad news, there's a good chance you're subconsciously ignoring their praises.

Some of it is hardwired. In one perception experiment featured in the free app Color Uncovered, you're asked to stare at a circle gray circle with magenta dots. Eventually, the magenta dots disappear. Except, they don't really disappear. We just stop paying attention when stimulus is unchanging or expected.

How to stop hating and live with the #Fail. 

Try to remember that people are not predisposed to negative. They are predisposed to ignore the expected. And unfortunately, that gives negative a leg up on everything. If the school bus makes it to school, no one cares. If it gets in an accident, it might make national news.

It's also why we never mention an 'expected' meal at a restaurant (it has to be exceptional or slightly below expected to be mentioned), why people mostly stopped tweeting about having waffles for breakfast (and were even made fun of), why negative political advertising works (even though people claim to detest it), why the media still tend to follow the mantra "if it bleeds, it leads," and why some review sites are staked with an overabundance of "1s" and "5s."

I experience it all the time too. I praised Corning Incorporated for a well-executed video and nobody really cared (not even people who claim there is too much negativity in the space). But coverage of any given crisis will always attract eyeballs. More people remember those case studies too.

In fact, after hearing from Writing For Public Relations students (last year) that I might include more negative than positive case studies, I counted them. The positive case studies outweighed negative case studies 10 to 1. They just chose to remember the negatives.

There is nothing much you can do to change human nature, but there are a few things you can do.

• Find different ways to make things unexpected by avoiding patterns that are too perfect.
• Critique negative behaviors and actions rather than the individuals or organizations.
• Stop writing for traffic and stay focused on what might benefit people to know.
• Never take social media, or even people in general, too seriously. We're all less than perfect.

Personally, I think it all comes down to intent. If the attempt is to willfully look to the next victim, the #fail #fails. But if the intent is to share an abundance of relevant stories, good or bad, and turn them into teaching lessons so people avoid making the same mistakes, then it can be great. Just use your head.

And now I have to go and ask my daughter what happened today. She always leads with good news for me because I'm interested. How about you? Are you actively looking for good case studies? And can you tell the difference between positive criticism and negative criticism?
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