The Goldfish Bowl
Assisted by all the available communications resources cheaply obtained and even more cheaply used, it’s altogether possible that our generation may be communicating less intelligently amongst ourselves than any generation past, literate or not. For the evidence grows every day on social media that large numbers of people read no more than two or three lines of text before they press the “like” button, or make a brief comment; maybe no more reading will be needed before they share and relaunch the depressing cycle of vacancy.
I suspect that fewer of us are reading, and those who are, are reading far less. But we are not so slow in coming to a conclusion about what we have glanced at. Even on the hallowed pages of established social media sites, it is clear that many, perhaps most, readers do not even click past the headline before they either pass on or start to tap out a quick reaction. And of course this fuels frustration and resentment, especially when it comes to C2B: consumer to business.
We just don’t know too many companies “by reputation” although we know many companies as their products’ consumers and customers and when they are in the news. Sometimes we think that familiarity and favourability might be enough to be called reputation. But this defines reputation within a remarkably small catchment bordered by a very fine line.
But to have a good reputation, companies need to be doing more than harvesting a few thousand likes on their Facebook page, cheaply collected through some temporary promotion, or even just purchased from the shadowy corners of the web. Companies need real and interactive relationships to enable real social collaboration and legitimate commerce with meaning, crediibility and profit.
Once companies understand that reputation has to be earned primarily by actions and commitments and not just by good social media engagement, “proved” by likes, blog endorsements and online friends/followers/members, then the reputation line will get bolder and wider and will finally cross the declining line of brand value for sure and soon.
The reason for the scepticism is the ‘like’ button. This allows me, you and millions others to express our views publicly in a split second. It is a blessing to those who claim to be able to measure reputation (for example, lazy public affairs companies) as it allows them simply to count the ‘likes’ and to claim that this is a benchmark of reputation. But it is deeply misleading to equate the like button with any sort of social or political activism, and still less as a measurement of reputation.
We have to reject the cynical misinformation and the misguided passion, often justified by the retort that fabricating or lying about a claim or proposition helps to get people involved in the issue – the aim of “raising awareness” appears to be justified by any means. Not because political decisions should never be influenced by emotion (they should) but because emotional responses are so often brought together with intolerant and deliberately prejudiced actions. It’s fine, apparently, to be prejudiced – you just have to ensure that your prejudice is a politically acceptable one.
Who cannot shed a tear at those painful stories about wicked companies poisoning innocent wildlife? Who would not, blurry-eyed, determinedly tapped “DONE” decisively after ticking the box with their trusty cursor, before checking the rest of their Facebook or Tumblr and joined the chat about the celebrity gaffe of last night, or chuckle over the latest cellulitis shot, confident that their flick of the wrist was somehow impressively significant to all the imagined audience. We truly and fully deserve the woeful Avaaz and all those campaigners who ask, like shrinking mendicants, for our split-seconds of febrile attention so that they can move some distant mountains and sell some nearby advertising.
The tick/check? We give it away in a toss and a sprinkle. It is utterly worthless, like the never-ending hoaxes in the social media that we hardly read ourselves before passing them on to all those in our address books, comforted by the fantasy that our friends will thank us for our eagle-eyed dedication to catch that crafty Facebook/Google/IBM/government/industry spies/fascists/Tories/Republicans/child molester before they harm us, abuse us, or at least deceive us out of our cultural patrimony and our comfortable simple politics.
We are starting to learn that public lies and exaggeration really do attract enough attention to allow us to think that we can start a revolution from our beds, or at least a social media campaign that climaxes gloriously with inflated bunny rabbits and cotton wool bees in Brussels. But still we are too lazy to get up, stand up and start learning about the truth again.
Maybe that’s why it’s all gone wrong. We are in a goldfish bowl and have forgotten how we got in and why we can’t get out.
(Image: T. B. Kennington, Idle Hours (a.k.a. The Goldfish Bowl), 1892.)