Don’t Say I Said it


When two people know, it's not a secret anymore. What happens when a message or a story gets passed on from one person to another? Does the final story resemble the original one? Or does it take on the assumptions and biases of the people transmitting it?

Does anyone stops to fact check a juicy piece of gossip?

You could argue people didn't have the tools at the time of this painting. What about now, with the Web at our fingertips? Scientists at Rome’s La Sapienza University maintain that gossip travels even faster in social networks today.

Apparently, they created an equation in a bid to measure the internet’s power to spread indiscretion. Let's take this piece of information about the study that was published in conjunction with an article about celebrity indiscretions on the UK Daily Mail this past March 31.

When you search for updates or news about the topic, you pull dozens of sites that published the very same paragraph within a week. The only other, more recent, reference is the abstract of this talk at Cornell. Aside from the fact that we may not care — do we, or don't we have a formula?

Our collective memories are not what they used to be, I guess. There is plenty of new gossip, ahem information, to be passing along — by share buttons, tweets, Facebook likes, you name it. Email chains have been taken to a whole new level with social networks.

Remarkably, the story bit was repeated without much variance in digital media.

How this impacts your customers

For one, when one can spread and report on what someone else has said — better yet by sharing *their* link — he/she feels mostly exonerated from blame or consequences. Getting rid of the moral aftertaste, in good and in bad times for the subject of the story, means delegating responsibility to others.

When the herd piles on, it is even easier to add a voice. What's a voice anyway?

Many a tempest in a cup of tea was created by this kind of re-action. Look back at many of the heated conversations in social networks on company Facebook page walls, in blogs, on Twitter, and what you see is this kind of dynamic at work… often repeating the same story or pattern.

It's no secret that writing on the other side of a screen makes people feel protected and distanced from the reactions to their actions. Mobile will magnify those human behaviors even more, because when dealing with a smaller screen, all of the focus and attention converge into what you want to do at that moment.

Implications to your business

By the time you correct a customer issue, the most descriptive part of the problem may have traveled around the world, potentially without embellishment. That could be good news. The bad news is that many will have found reason to tell a story that is very similar to the one they just read.

"Me, too" is not something that affect only brands in search for an identity. It will, however, affect the search results for your company name. Because there may be dozens of anonymous or not easily identifiable postings, you will also be hard pressed in correcting every one of them — as if you could correct perception.

Many businesses tend to want to wait things out, not give the story/rumor/gossip any legs. Once the story is out, it's out. It will be there for anyone to find it. This is a trend that is not going away. And sometimes the initial seed was contributed by the business itself.

Businesses that embrace a potential issue on the onset, have the opportunity to get their side of the story out before it fills the online content needs of potentially dozens of stories.

And if all this this is too much for you, you can always immerse yourself in the sound of silence.

[the illustration Gossip by Norman Rockwell appeared on the cover of Life Magazine published March 23, 1922]

If you enjoyed this post from Conversation Agent, subscribe, share and like it.

0 responses to “Don’t Say I Said it”

  1. Social Media has become a way for gossip to spread even faster. Reading this post reminded me of how many stories I read on Facebook before I even found out about them on the news. It’s like your obituary hits the internet 20 times before you hit the ground.

  2. That being true, the value of the “original content” acquires even more importance. If everyone is going to cite it from time to time, it’s vital that you put the most importance in making it memorable in first place.

  3. Love the painting, Valeria 😉
    I think we as humans have a natural tendency to add a ‘spin’ on a story that will make the story likely to be more interesting to the person we are talking to. And I think we (speaking in general) do this for selfish reasons, we want to be seen as passing on that ‘juicy bit of gossip’ so others will pass it along and be excited about hearing the story we are sharing.
    I think what you can find in a digital context is that as more people become irritated or outraged, it’s easy for the next person to be outraged as well. Take the Motrins Moms fiasco. After several hours people started complaining that many people were going too far and getting too upset about a story that they didn’t think was that big of a deal.
    An interesting discussion to consider, either way.

  4. @Kevin – that is a scary thought about the obituary.
    @Gabriele – alas, we’re experiencing gaper delays on that… people are fascinated with train wrecks, accidents, and the like more than with something that could benefit them.
    @Mack – I took a whole series of photos at the museum. If that keeps you coming back, I will use them in posts 😉 You remind me of an exercise my mother did as part of sales training many years ago, where people had to keep each other interested in a story by passing it on to the next person in a chain. The final story was nothing like the original one. Each person had added flavor and color to it. Good thoughts on the reverse effect, too. I had not thought about it in that light. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *