The Digital World: A Double-Edged Sword

The internet and social media have had an immense impact on our world, and have become essential parts of almost everyone’s life. We can interact and communicate across the globe with ease, share information in real time, and conduct business at lightning speeds. They are undoubtedly a part of the global culture and it’s fairly safe to say that we’ve reached a point of no return; they are here to stay.

Like anything else that has had a considerable impact on the world, these things are not without their downsides, and the negative aspects of social media and the online world have never been so apparent.

The rapid sharing of information also means that misinformation can be spread just as fast, and businesses using social media as a marketing tool are undoubtedly exposing themselves to potentially negative feedback that is readily available for all to see and scrutinize.

There are definitely risks associated with the digital side of business, and a few classic rookie mistakes to avoid; however, whether or not the risks outweigh the potential benefits is another story entirely. What it seems to come down to is having a clear strategy and doing things right, which is easier said than done (and doing things wrong is just plain easy).

The digital world and information sharing
Social media and opinions

From small restaurants to major corporations, there are seemingly countless examples of businesses using social media to shoot themselves in the foot. One of the easiest ways to do so is by weighing in on politics. It’s not without potential advantages, but why risk alienating customers by engaging in discourse that has little to do with business?

There’s more to it, as a Forbes article on the topic points out: audiences have a negative association with politics in general, businesses may risk coming off as exploiting political beliefs for profit, and they may sound ignorant if they are weighing in on something that they aren’t properly informed about.

Another thing worth considering in this context is the online activity of employees in their private lives. I am part of a Facebook group dedicated to expats in my current city of residence and once came across a nasty and outright racist post someone had shared about a certain group of people in the city. A few clicks later and I found out that this individual worked for a local agency tasked with attracting foreign companies and talent to the city.

I suppose everyone else in the group was able to make the connection, too, which obviously reflected very badly on this company. Needless to say, within 15 minutes of sending an email to the company’s director to inform them that one of their employees was spreading hatred and misinformation on social media, the post was taken down.

Information and misinformation in social media

This example reflects the fact that social media gives people the opportunity to voice their opinions (or ignorance) with a relative sense of anonymity. This often means that customers can take to social media to express their dissatisfaction, and do so with a great sense of liberty.

Now, if social media brings businesses closer to their customers and target audience by allowing them to communicate in real time, part of this is managing the negative feedback a business receives in the online public sphere. A business’ approach to managing negative feedback really reflects on the brand as a whole.

There are actually a lot of really good resources online worth consulting on this topic, including this Business Know-How guideand this Social Media Examiner list of dos and don’ts. The most important takeaways from these and other guides are not to ignore complaints, not to take things personally, and to manage complaints as a business and not an individual.

We’ve all seen (and have maybe applauded) an unruly customer taking the customer is always right adage a bit too far and consequently being politely asked and then told to leave a business establishment. This kind of customer management doesn’t work online, though, because other customers reading bad reviews and comments aren’t privy to the context that would have them applauding as you tell a toxic customer off.

Another element of bad reviews is the fact that they can be completely void of any truth. Online misinformation seems to be a rapidly growing phenomenon, so much so that EU countries are looking into legislation to counter its growth. Businesses using social media and digital marketing are not immune to misinformation either. In fact, as the correlation between likes, clicks, comments, shares and profit strengthens, businesses and individuals making money off of their online personas are doing whatever it takes to get attention.

LinkedIn Influencer and digital marketing professional Tara Hunt recently published a vlog discussing what she calls the sad, sorry state of social media and how more and more people are seeking attention for the wrong reasons. Watching the vlog, one can’t help but question how honest social media is and if it genuinely serves the purpose of connecting people through great content. If it’s all just a race to engage an increasingly indifferent audience with a shrinking attention span, what’s the point, and what will become of the products and brands trying to tell their stories and connect with people around the world?

There’s a pretty funny story about a London-based writerillustrating just how fickle and baseless social media can be. Oobah Butler managed to get his non-existent restaurant The Shed to number one on TripAdvisor through fake reviews he asked his friends to write. That means his restaurant was ranked higher than all of London’s Michelin Star restaurants and over 18,000 others! That doesn’t say much about the reliability and transparency social media apparently affords us.

Many of us have socialized and done business before the internet came and changed everything, and there’s probably a lot to draw from the contrasting experiences. However, what about the current generation? The one born into a world where smartphones are commonplace and access to the internet and social media are pretty much a given?

One thing is for sure – and the research and links that went into this blog post are clear proof – most of us live in a world influenced by the internet and social media. What we do with it and how – not if – we use it will differentiate businesses (and individuals) from one another.

Bradley Castelli


Bradley Castelli is Content Manager at Brite