I was talking to a friend yesterday about how powerful the internet and social peer pressure can be when users find an issue (or person) that they deem unfavorable.
There’s this Lord of the Flies mentality that allows people to ‘pile on’ when something is seen as unjust and the internet only makes it easier for people to be “publically outraged.” We know the internet feels like a safe screen to hide behind while expressing ones views. We don’t see the reaction on a real person’s face or have to think on our feet. The dentist killing Cecil the lion is just one example. While I might support a specific stance on that issue, there’s also something a little unnerving about the effects. This guy, some dentist up north became a short lived spot light for a very personal issue. As a result, his Facebook page was filled with vitriolic comments. His web site was minimized to a few links either from a server overload or from a proactive measure against future hacks
If the dentist was a company, he’d have a PR crisis plan in place to deal with this. But as a single individual, he is certainly unequipped to deal with the fervor of passionate animal rights activists. And, at this point, he is mostly absent from the conversation.
If we can step aside of the emotional facts, we see that certain trigger points can bring an onslaught of attention (usually negative) to one individual or company. And, how we choose to handle that or don’t handle it makes quite a difference in the end result.
In these emotionally charged situations, a person, or company will often be forced to take a stance and state what they stand for. When forced into that situation, how does a company handle itself? Traditionally, the end result is a more passionate fan base of people who side with your stance and a more vehement anti-base made of people from the ones who oppose your point of view. For a business this could be life or death.
So the question remains, should a company proactively make their stances known? Jimmy John’s and GoDaddy CEO’s are some of many who have faced public scrutiny for their personal hobbies. But I think that this is an instance where the absence of a stance erodes a brand over time. After all, what’s worse? Someone who stands for something you don’t believe in? Or someone who won’t stand for anything at all?