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The Downside of Social Media

The Downside of Social Media

Social media has changed the way people chat and do business one platform at a time. Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, virtually any business anywhere runs a social media account to boost its image and connect with consumers. While this remains an important part of reaching the public, consumers no longer use social media to watch companies do good. In fact, people mostly use social media to bask in the gloom of negative headlines.

Readers Prefer Negative Headlines

As content marketing becomes more competitive, media moguls all look to sensational headlines drawing public attention. While, positive headlines receive good traffic and feedback, nothing gets people talking like a negative event. Intrigued by this phenomenon, two researchers at McGill University set up an experiment to study the issue.

The experiment showed given the choice, “Participants often chose stories with a negative tone – corruption, set-backs, hypocrisy, and so on – rather than neutral or positive stories. People who were more interested in current affairs and politics were particularly likely to choose the bad news.”

The researchers believe results of the study confirmed the existence of a “negativity bias” in humans. In psychology, this refers to “our collective hunger to hear, and remember bad news.” In fact, the findings of other research continually shows even outside of news and politics, people still prefer negative and depressing content.

The Most Notable Incidents

Perhaps the most notable incident is the Black Lives Matter campaign, which continues to take America by storm. While African Americans often face unfair treatment by police officers, recent studies show the problem lies more in the abuse of power in law enforcement than race. In fact, a recent study of deaths by race in 2015 showed 41.3% of people killed by law enforcement are Caucasian while only 25.8% are Black.

Since African Americans make up roughly 12% of the population, the number is still alarmingly high. But the figures are low compared to what propaganda surrounding the issue would have us believe. The ability of supporters to raise awareness of this issue lies in social media and the fact that bad news travels fast.

“Trolls” on the internet also make it hard for companies to maintain good press, even with the best intentions. A blog post by KISSmetrics offers some memorable examples. For instance:

[McDonald’s] recently tried to boost their social media presence with the Twitter hashtag #McDStories. Management was looking for inspiring and fun stories. Instead, they got complaints, criticism, and bashing. They pulled the hashtag, but not before the mud was very publicly smeared.

What Does this Mean for Companies?

Companies need to remain careful about what they do, and what they say. People’s preference for bad news means bad news travels fast – always. “According to a March 2011 study by COLLOQUY, 75% of the general population will advise friends and family when they have a bad experience with a product or service. That surpasses the 42% who say they always recommend a product or service they really like.”

Companies can ensure they make headlines for the right reasons by training employees, putting proper quality management policies in place, and always putting customers first. Happy customers mean happy advocates for the company and its products or services.  There is no better advertising than free advertising, especially when unsolicited.

When “trolls” try to turn positive messages into bad ones, it may be best not to engage them. Ignore them, and push the positive responses by thanking them for the support and re-sharing those. But should the “trolling” catch on and go viral, pulling the campaign like McDonald’s did is the best choice. In this case, the customer is always right – even when they’re not.

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