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10/13/2010 The Anger of Crowds

Or the Wisdom of Mobs

The crowd got angry again last week. This time the Gap had the pleasure of landing in the Social Media Klieg Lights with its new logo. People hated it. They screamed to high heaven online and created spoof sites for people to make their own fake logo. Within a week, the Gap folded like a cheap pair of pants and pulled the new logo. They had “heard” the message and, like a modern, social media savvy company, they listened and acted. Just like Tropicana did when they redesigned their logo.

I'm not sure whether the Gap's new logo was a good move or bad one. Maybe it would've helped. Or maybe it just wasn't that big of a deal. I mean, do people really buy stuff because of a logo? But people who DO know thought it was a huge mistake and they reacted.

Power to the people, right? A shift of control to the consumer, as promised.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened. Nestle succumbed to consumer pressure to stop using a palm oil producer, although Greenpeace drove that campaign from above. You can go all the way back to the Motrin Moms and see numerous occasions where customer complaints have driven companies to change something they did.

Which raises the question: Does social media only work in the negative? Is it a tool to make someone stop doing something, rather than to help someone do something different? Is it a source of complaints rather than construction?

The positive side is pretty light. Pepsi Refresh campaign and other campaigns have tried to encourage positive buzz around projects and local initiatives, but they don’t generate that much buzz and seem to revolve mostly about raising money, not actual positive change.

Raising money seems to be the most positive action we can compel people to take and even then, only to a limited extent.

Politically we see this as well. The Tea Party as one of its core raison d’êtres has a super valid complaint that working people lost their homes while the Wall Street bankers holding their mortgages had their jobs saved and got huge bonuses to boot. This anger manifests itself into wanting to tear down the whole system, rather than create something that will help people who need it.

Social media has become a critical tool for Tea Partiers. It’s a perfect way for them to harness anger, complaints and negativity to get people to the polls and force out incumbent politicians. While the action is good (voting) it’s not used to create something new or positive.

Maybe this was at the core of Gladwell’s New Yorker article. Positive change, rather than negative, isn’t something the mob does well. The question is whether the crowd is much better.

Anyone have any great examples of social media activity and buzz that lead to something new, constructive or positive? If so, send it my way.



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