Back in the dark ages, villagers and townspeople would often react to a rumor and then take action swiftly to bring justice upon the presumed guilty party without waiting for the authorities to resolve it. The more emotionally attached people were to the crime, the less real or confirmed information they needed to follow the crowd and exact revenge.
Unfortunately two things were often true:
- There was a big likelihood they got the wrong person and the criminal was walking free,
- Even if they got the right person, the punishment was often way more than the crime warranted.
Of course mob justice is also easily manipulated by both dishonest citizens and the ruling authorities. Plant a few pieces of misinformation and suddenly a mob is taking care of a situation you could never enforce under cooler emotions.
Then we moved into modern times and enacted laws that presume innocence until guilt is proven and a system where at least theoretically, cooler heads would hear and judge a case.
Not perfect and still subject to some abuse but at least fewer mistakes were made and you had a chance at reason.
Enter the Dawn of Social Media
Now with social media and the Internet, large groups of people are reacting to real and fake information extremely quickly. Unlike before though, this is not a village or a town. Reaction can come from large groups of people around the world.
Unfortunately, the crowds have forgotten three important things we built into our society offline:
- Make sure you are reacting to the facts and you know what the facts are.
- Accused people are entitled to have their side of the story heard fairly before being judged.
- We have a separate system for judging and punishing people's perceived crimes and it is not the mob; social or otherwise.
Yes we have retreated back to the dark ages of mob justice.
Think you are above it all?
Have you ever:
- Realized something you got all worked up about was a hoax?
- Reacted on partial information even if you didn't comment?
- Demanded an immediate punishment for something you heard about?
- Formed an opinion based on someone else's interpretation of what happened?
We are humans and we react to stories that touch us with emotion.
The more a story touches on an emotional trigger for you, the easier it is to manipulate your reaction.
So we need to take a moment and let the emotions go so we can be objective. Ask questions. Not everything you read, see or hear is real. This is just going get harder to discern as editing tools get better (think Planet of the Apes and The Hobbit) and in the hands of more people.
While this is probably a stretch to assume everyone will pause to check the facts and respond carefully; even a few extra calmer minds can sometimes diffuse the mob effect.
Conducting Business in a Social Mob World
Things move quickly online.
At one time brands worried mostly about irate customers complaining online and other people not buying their product or services because of it.
Now you have to worry about a few other things including:
- An employee making a mistake or sharing a personal opinion and the social mob demanding immediate justice. If you meet the demands of the crowd, especially if you don't follow the correct process, you could open yourself up to a counter claim by a dismissed employee.
- A hoax. Plain and simple someone accuses your business or someone in your business of doing something that never happened; often with fake supporting information. People remember the negative but few will remember the "sorry it was a hoax part".
So business gets more complex.
Fortunately, a lot of this can be mitigated by:
- Having a strong culture in your business so people know what is acceptable,
- Hiring and training wisely,
- Good policies and procedure,
- Monitoring your marketing and social media presence as a core part of your business,
- Running your business authentically, and
- Always making sure you focus on the client and delivering value.
The better your brand is perceived when nothing bad is happening, the better you will likely fare and easier it will be to repair things if something goes wrong.