The Streisand Effect: Why you can’t bury bad news in social media
A fairly certain fact for any brand or organisation is that somebody, somewhere in social media is discussing something you would rather they were not. Listening tools allow us to find many of these conversations – so rather than them being buried and hidden away they are clear for us all to see. How you react to these messages and these discussions is a mark of how your brand is using social across the business. But one thing is clear, you cannot stop them and any attempt to do so will usually make things worse.
In a well-documented and discussed case in the UK, a 9 year old girl started a blog as a writing project. She wrote about what was offered for lunch every day at her school canteen. The blog, whilst very personal, was strangely enthralling and attracted attention across social media and more traditional news outlets. In 24 hours last week, the local authority got scared by this, ‘banned’ the blog, were roundly criticised by these same media outlets, and then reversed their position completely.
Good news for Martha and her blog, and for those people who were enjoying reading it. And probably, in the log-run, good news for Argyll and Bute council too. But if there is one thing that we can learn from this, it is a clear and simple example of the Streisand Effect and why you cannot bury bad news in social media.
In fact the reverse is usually true. If you find a conversation or discussion you would rather not was being had then often if a brand is to criticise it, or join that conversation to try to stop it, then it will serve only to give this discussion more awareness than it ever had before. The brave thing that brands need to do is to know and decide when to just leave conversations – just because you can find them does not make them important – and when to respond. And when they respond how exactly to do that.
Banning any discussion or otherwise trying to close down a discussion will typically serve only to make more people aware of it. The ‘banning’ becomes the story and a much bigger and more important discussion than the original discussion itself. If a brand chooses to respond then it needs to do so in the spirit of the original discussion – ideally in the same media (if the discussion is on Twitter do not just issue a press release, respond in Twitter too) and in a proactive way that acknowledges the discussion and what can be done about it.
People will always continue to discuss things online, and will discuss issues in ways you might not choose. Many of these discussions will be between small groups of people and you will only give it a much larger audience if you join in. Others will be discussing issues that people are passionate about and where there is a difference of opinion. You cannot stop these discussions in social media. In fact your only recourse should be to find a way to work with them. That does not mean that you need to or should be expected to change your stance completely. But rather than issuing a ‘ban’ you should find ways to engage the people taking part in these discussions, welcome them into discussions and share more openly what you believe and why.
There will always be differences of opinion and people will not always agree with your brand and what you say. You cannot stop these discussions in social media, the best you can do is find ways to work with them that are productive for all parties.