A Lesson of Learning in Social Mis-steps on a Global Scale


This is my usual reaction when I see a post or comment that crosses that line in social media that is decidedly un-social, rude or outside the boundaries of a civil discourse.  I get use it at least once a day, particularly when I am taking in the daily dose of news from the most divisive arena possible – politics.  Politics aside, there are almost daily situations that the someone decides to point a finger and cry “Wolf!” over some sleight, real or imagined, in a social posting.


The incident are almost too plentiful to name anymore – Ford, Summer’s Eve, JetBlue, Chrysler, United Airlines, Horizon Realty / Chicago, Proctor & Gamble, NetFlix – but you get the idea and there are some good comments about them here and the cycle is pretty much the same.

  1. Poorly crafted or mis-posted creative, social post, tweet or video 
  2. Ensuing consumer commenting expressing shock, anger, disgust or outrage
  3. Company responding; usually in a humble manner or less often these days, in a combative tone 
  4. Corrective action taken and then…
  5. Back to business as usual

My phrase for all this is that it is a ‘Tempest in a Teacup’, meaning it’s a short term, sensational event that someone makes into something more (much more) than it really is.  Those that simply re-post controversial content to draw traffic then spread the meme throughout the social ecosphere.  Ambulance chasers sometimes make the play for compensation for some imagined offense, but more often recently and to our credit as a culture, the event quickly slips into the annuals of history and is forgotten, except for posts like this one that drag them up as ‘Lessons Learned‘ in social media marketing.

I started this post with an intention of making a ‘Lessons Learned’ post, citing what we’ve learned about how to handle social crises’ as social media has matured.  What I came to crafting the post was really a more important discussion about why these things are happening at all.

The reality of all the posts made in the social ecosphere is that by and large, most are made just-in-time with sometime little forethought and often without checking which account the post is made through.  What is not questioned is that pretty much all of them are made by human beings.  Yep, we’re talking the dominate species on the planet here, homosapiens like you and I and the one thing we all do really well is make mistakes – daily for most of us.  To recite Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us”.  

What makes this realization important is that in this day of dysfunctional social discourse, there is no one to blame but us – our culture, our collective manners and our personal perspective on what’s to be considered offensive.  The perception of the infraction is based in what we were given as right and wrong in our upbringing and because the social web has created a never-seen-before-in-the-history-of-the-planet, global capability for one-on-one interactions, clashes of culture will continue for a while longer.  

Once the fruitless efforts to censor these interactions has ceased, and I DO believe they will cease at some point, then a global culture will emerge in which we understand that these slights are mostly without malice and without an underlying desire to hurt others.  We’ll want to readily consider that the posts are simply people trying to be themselves – which social media actually encourages.

Is it naive to believe a global community will come to pass?  Do I really see the world through rose-colored glasses?  No and no – No, it is not at all naive to expect and promote a global culture of individuals and no, my glasses are pretty darn clear – no tinting needed.   What I see through my worldview is that a global community of individuals is made up of mainly good, honest people who just want to wake every morning and consume a warm / hot beverage of choice.  They then want to engage in meaningful work for a while and then finish the day with family, friends and neighbors.  Finally, I think they want to rest and then get up and do it all over again.  Variations exist of course, but that’s pretty much it I think, except for a minority that see violence and oppression as the means to their ends.  The oppressors will find it harder and harder to function though – others will see and share their transgressions for the world to see.

What’s changing is that access to world-wide communication technology which is now commonplace and in spite of what censor might wish, it is this access to person-to-person communications that will change our individual perceptions of what it means to be human and a part of a global culture.

Even with our faults and foibles, we also have our joys and successes that help us all realize that it is in fact a very small planet, in the far corner of the galaxy – we’ll have to get along and accept our failures to progress.  How we decide to respond to a mis-posted article, picture or poor creative expression will say a lot about how long it will take – I like our chances that we’ll take our lessons well and we’ll progress as a species, as a culture and as a planet.

Socially Yours,
Steven Groves

Image Credit: Pogo