How not to groundswell – laser iPhones, Mitt Romney’s Amercia, and why I shop at Waitrose
I was first introduced to the concept of “groundswelling” by a book called Groundswell, Expanded and Revised Edition: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies.
The premise of this book is fairly simple, the internet and the social web have transformed the way institutions (be they companies, universities, or political parties) interact with the general public. The internet and the social web give the public a chance to interact directly with institutions and to make their individual opinions known by an audience millions of times larger than the individual’s immediate social network.
This allows opinions, both good and bad, to travel extremely quickly. Before the internet and the social web, advertising on such a massive scale was affordable only to the wealthy institutions like corporations and governments – now anyone with an internet connection make make his or her voice heard, having the potential to influence millions. This new form of influence is called the groundswell.
‘How not to groundswell’ is a semi-regular feature on ivrytwr in which I look at the worst examples of individuals and institutions attempting to harness the power of the groundswell. The point of this feature is not to point and laugh at the mistakes of display (although there will be a degree of pointing and laughing from time to time), but rather I hope to show what can be learned from these mistakes.
Today I will be looking at three examples of how not to groundswell – Fox’s News’s coverage of the iPhone 5, Mitt Romney’s ‘Amercia’ app, and the recent twitter debacle of British supermarket chain Waitross.
1. Fox 5 Reports on the iPhone 5 - It would be an understatement to say that there’s been a lot of reporting on the iPhone 5 in the past weeks. Nevertheless Fox 5 managed to scoop the rest of the known world by reporting about some of the lesser known features of the new smart phone.
Did you know that the iPhone 5 has a built-in projector? How about its new laser keyboard? As it turns out, someone working on the story decided that fact-checking wasn’t an important part of news reporting and confused a Youtube video speculating about future iPhone features with Apple-produced marketing.
You shouldn’t believe everything you read, or see, online. The groundswell can be used for projects of great accuracy (take Wikipedia, or many of the recent digital humanities crowd-sourcing projects as an example), but this does not mean that you can trust everything on the internet that looks trustworthy.
This story highlights in importance of digital literacy in our society. The groundswell moves quickly and is capable of producing content that blurs the line between fantasy and reality. Being able to examine internet sources with critical thought is an key feature of digital literacy. It’s shocking that no one working at Fox 5 thought to question the veracity of the Youtube video before reporting it as fact.
2. Mitt Romney’s ‘Amercia’ - Each year more and more people access the web through their smart phones. Having a strong mobile web presence is more important than ever before, and will continue to be critical for the foreseeable future. They say the only thing worse than no mobile presence is a bad one. I’d like to add that – the only worse thing than a bad mobile presence is one so unbelievably stupid that you can’t imagine how it happened.
In May the Mitt Romney campaign launched an iOS app called “With Mitt.” This app allowed users to take pictures and plaster them with pro-Romney slogans like “I’m with Mitt” or “the America we love.” Normally this would be a smart way to utilize the groundswell, making it easy for the public to create and share viral images. It takes something that the campaign would like users to do and makes it easy for them to do so.
There’s only one problem, no one thought to run a spell-check. At launch, one of the slogans offered by the app was “A better Amercia.” That’s no typo on my part, a presidential campaign misspelled America in an app released to the public.
Viral images are a two-way street. Instead of sharing pictures in support of Mitt Romney, users used the app to ridicule his campaign. Even though the campaign quickly updated the app, fixing the mistake, the damage had been done. The hashtag #Amercia trended on twitter as Mitt Romney’s campaign became the butt of a million jokes.
People are smart and are quick to mock stupidity, especially stupidity at such a high level. A strong mobile presence requires care and thought, two things lacking from Mitt Romney’s Amercia.
3. Why I Shop at Waitross - British supermarket chain Waitross has somewhat of an image problem, with many people seeing the chain as appealing to a WASP-y audience. In an attempt to connect with a broader public, Waitross paid for the following tweet to be promoted on twitter: “Finish the sentence: ‘I shop at Waitross because _______.’ #WaitrossReasons”
Instead of twitter users sharing personal stories about their connection with the supermarket, thereby making the chain seem more accessible, the tweet was used to reinforce the store’s WASP-y image.
Why do you shop at Waitross? “I shop at Waitrose because it makes me feel important and I absolutely detest being surrounded by poor people.” “I shop at Waitross because I can’t take money with me when I die.” ”I shop at Waitrose because I aspire to be upper middle class.”
The chain’s social media machinations back-fired completely, doing nothing to dispel their negative image. Like the example of Romney’s Amercia, Waitross should have put more thought into how they try to manipulate the groundswell. Underestimating the intelligence of the general public is a recipe for disaster.
Well that does it for another edition of ‘How not to groundswell.’ What are some of your favourite examples of social media mayhem?