Conspiracy Theorists And Customers
by Samuel Greengard
A few nights ago I watched a film called Good Night, and Good Luck. It examines legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow's ferocious battle against Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose "red" obsession during the 1950s destroyed more than a few careers...and lives.
Among other things, the movie demonstrated the power of television and how it altered the power balance. By today's standards, the societal changes unleashed by TV seem somewhat tame. Yet it was precisely the power of the medium--combined with Murrow's unrelenting tenacity to take McCarthy down--that ended the Salem Witch Trials, Part II.
Now the Internet has given anyone and everyone a soapbox to share their views. The sane, the insane and the manipulative. All it takes is a computer or phone to communicate on a level that was previously available only to major networks and publishing empires. Consequently, loony ideas float around like dandelion seeds in the wind.
In fact, the Internet is brimming with Conspiracy Theories Gone Wild. President Obama's birther issue took three years to resolve. Now that Osama bin Laden has been killed, expect deather theories to persist well into the 22nd century (long-form death certificate, anyone?). And can you say fake Apollo moon landing and the U.S. government blowing up the World Trade Center?
The business world doesn't escape this tractor beam. With social media, if someone has a gripe, accusation or theory and Tweets about it, the entire world could see it or hear about it. Whether the beef is valid or not isn't as important as the fact that it exists. What appears and sounds reasonable is reasonable. The Internet and social media have gotten companies into the full-time damage control business.
The best you can do is build systems that make it easier to monitor and address complaints and problems--and take all comments and criticisms very seriously. It's also wise to be honest and transparent--a concept that many executives say they support yet their actions frequently fail to back up their words. Understand that the power paradigm has shifted.
The old rules no longer apply. Good night, and good luck.