For many years we have been talking about the power of the network. As social media has expanded, both the Speed, Reach and Power of peer networks have grown. But most brands and business still fail to harness the power of either User-Generated Content or leverage the peer-to-peer conversation favourably. More worryingly, most do not have a war-room plan should their brand experience a social media storm.
At the time of writing, there are three great examples that have played out recently relating to the power of the peer network, all of which we can learn from. These are worth reflecting on and seeking to understand if we are to truly harness one of the strongest forces in consumerism today.
Rather than look at this by theme, let’s look at it by case and see what we could learn.
Power to the People
On the 25th of February, only one day after Russia invaded the Ukraine, the European Broadcasting Union rescinded the invitation to Russia to take part in the 2022 Eurovision. There was no Russian representation at this year’s competition. Unsurprisingly the Ukrainian entry won their semi-final, and few were surprised when they won the overall competition also.
As a rousing rendition of ‘Give Peace a Chance’ echoed around the auditorium during the opening credits, the inclusive nature of the Eurovision Song Contest was clearly going to embrace the current conflict in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian entry was good. Was it of Eurovision Winner standard? Well, that is hard to tell, as over the years all sorts of weird and wonderful things have won. The voting for the competition is split between independent juries in each of the 40 countries (allocating points based on song writing and performance) with the other 50% allocated by the televoting public. Basically, it’s a 50% talent and 50% popularity vote.
There are years when the people and the judges are at odds with one another. In the past, something delightfully tacky may not win the judges over, but the people have loved it.
This year, most judging panels gave Ukraine some votes. Some of their neighbouring countries gave them full marks. But as the judging panels closed, Ukraine was in 4th place. Respectable, but no win. But then everything changed. Once the televoting results were in, it was game over.
The entire continent of Europe had made their voices heard by voting for Ukraine. Their entry ‘Stefania’ now holds the record for receiving the highest percentage of televoting points ever. The peer network dictated the result, regardless of what the official juries thought.
Sure, some only thought the song was average, but the votes weren’t about that. This was a solidarity moment, a moment every voting European citizen let the average Ukrainian know we stood by them, that they were seen.
Networks dictate election results. Networks have a power that reaches beyond ‘the way things were once done’. Networks have the scale that can change an outcome. Think of your brand or the way you do business as the ‘jury vote’. It is the way you see the world. And your customers, they are the televoters, the network. They now hold the power, not you. It is time to get yourself a pink hat and start rapping
Cancel Culture Carnage
So, if the Eurovision example above is about scale, this story is about speed.
On Friday, May 13th Jackie Harford, owned a relatively successful bar/restaurant called Fossil’s Last Stand in Pennsylvania. 3 days later it was closed, its website taken down, its reputation shredded to pieces online. One comment she made destroyed her own business.
Watch the footage above. Her racial slur is recorded by her Lyft driver on his dashcam. He refuses to take the fare and asks her to leave. Her boyfriend then weighs in and calls the driver a n-lover and threatens to ‘punch him in the face’. Needless to say, the driver posts the footage (in which he names the restaurant) and it goes viral.
In the old world, this would have been a single moment in their lives, at best a story the driver may have told his friends the next day at lunch. “I had this passenger last night, man …”. But today he tells the network. One twitter post gets shared, and shared some more, and reposted and then… BOOM.
The incident happened on 22:37 Friday night. He posts the dashcam footage on social media just an hour later. And the network takes care of the rest. Currently there are close to 2,500 Yelp reviews for the restaurant, all one-star. Needless to say, people are not being nice.
On Monday 15th, their Google reviews read similarly. Hundreds of single-star nasty reviews. But most of them are gone now. To be fair, I think you can challenge a review on Google and have it removed if you feel the customer has not actually experienced the product. A few recent single star ones remain.
The point here is this small local business was closed within days; their reputation tarnished in lighting speed. Cancel culture is dangerous, particularly If the trial by social media is fed the wrong facts. Imagine if Jackie had not owned the premises (she does), but imagine if she had not – a business wrongfully destroyed.
The network moves at lightning speed. Customers can turn against a business and brand in a moment, everything that has been built and worked for torn down. We live in an ever-recording world. There is a certain moral Gladiator/Lions feeling to cancel culture on social media, a joy in tearing someone apart. And trust me, you don’t want your brand or business to be that bloodied gladiator. At best, have a war-room plan ready should this happen.
Do You Own Your Own Truth?
Seemingly we don’t need courts anymore – the network will also decide what is true and what is not.
Right now, much of the world seems to have decided that Johnny Depp is a lovable rogue and Amber Heard is an unstable abuser. #JusticeForJohnnyDepp and #AmberTurd are trending high. Back in 2018, after Heard had published that Washington Post opinion piece, the world had decided Depp was an out-of-control abuser. So, which is it?
We watch this case play out daily on social media, the coverage edited in countless memes, repeats, and joke reels. As a reader you may already have picked a side based on your own life experiences, biases or most likely, whatever stories and coverage you have been exposed to. The point here is your network may be dictating your truth.
I know neither of those involved. I do not know what actually happened between them because I wasn’t there to witness it. Nor were you. But yet we both have an opinion. Our opinion is shaped by the exposure we have to the story. In the past, those inputs would have been unbiased and balanced through respectable journalism in mainstream media. But today, more people consume their ‘news’ and information via social platforms. ‘Objection: Hearsay’ was never more appropriate as a phrase.
The lesson here is this. It doesn’t seem to matter who is right or wrong, who did what or when. It might not even matter what the court rules in the end. The network seems to be judge and jury, and how the stories are told inside that network dictate the perceived truth.
If you are not creating, curating, managing and monitoring how the peer network discusses your brand and business you are playing a dangerous game. You don’t want a customer taking a poop on your side of the branding bed (objection: hearsay. over-ruled).
They Own Your Brand
So, in three current stories we have the power of the peer network. Its scale (dictating that Eurovision win), its speed (destroying Jackie’s business overnight) and its power (to dictate your truth).
Brands fall prey to the power of the network all the time. Oatly, L’Oreal, Jo Malone and Goya have all fallen foul to cancel culture in recent times. CEOs get their businesses in serious hot water with one wrong remark. The famous comments by Chip Wilson pictured above (Lululemon founder) about his yoga pants being unsuitable for fat women as their thighs rub together, or that he enjoyed the fact Japanese people couldn’t pronounce their ‘Ls’ of his brand and it made him laugh, caused significant issues for the business. He later stepped down as chairman, and later left the board entirely.
The thing to remember is that we live in an always-on, always-recording, always sharing culture today. Cancel culture motivation is strong and your brand and business needs to be ready.
But let’s en on a positive. The network allows you reach, scale, speed and power you would have never thought possible before. Get it right and the network will reward you handsomely.
That Lyft driver from earlier, James Bode. His Venmo was widely shared online for people to tip him if they respected his anti-racist stance. I imagine he is doing less driving this week as the tips deservedly roll in. The network can reward as much as it can hurt.
The content above is drawn from Ken’s new speech ‘Love is a Verb’ which focuses on what brands need to action to build deep and meaningful customer lifetime value relationships.
Book the speech now, with live on-stage or virtually, for your next event.
Ken Hughes is now considered one of the World’s leading speakers on the subject of customer experience, consumer values, organizational change, leadership and agility. His virtual and live in-person keynotes are famous for their high-energy, thought-provoking content as well as their impactful and inspiring delivery.
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