Locusts are the farmers’ plague. They swarm together and once they create groups, they multiple quickly. Left to their own devices, they can decimate entire crop fields. Their impact has been so severe that pesticides are designed specifically for locust population control.
But studies as recent as 2009 have shown that when locusts swarm together, serotonin (the neurotransmitter responsible for mood regulation) is released in relatively great quantities. If human biochemistry (and emotional constructs) apply, then one could even infer that locusts become happy when they are in large groups (by that same token, they could also just be very, very angry…).
I compare locusts to social media users because of similar core behaviors. Both can amass in great numbers to share a common sentiment, but both can also create irreparable damage if uncontrolled. As I mentioned in last month’s blog post about the role of psychology is social media branding, knowing the opinions of others greatly affects our own behaviors. Groupthink plays a large role in why people downvote threads in Reddit, how the RickRoll became a meme, and how brands are made or broken in the social media space.
Consider the recent viral hit of the fake BP Global PR Twitter account. Obviously, there are tons of people who are more than angry about the oil spill and how BP has handled it. But give people a platform to complain about it, make it funny, and soon you’ll have thousands of people nodding in agreement. BP never stood a chance.
Swarm of Locusts in Mexico (Credit: Jose Acosta/AP)
So how can you leverage swarms to improve your social media presence? The short answer is you can’t always. The Internet has opened the floodgates of uncensored, unfiltered opinion, and rarely does any one entity have control of the message anymore (see also: the Streisand effect).
Now, onto the long answer. Should companies treat social media users like locusts? In some regards, yes. Companies and individuals have to take preemptive steps, instead of being reactive to negative criticism. Don’t ignore complaints (because there are a ton of websites dedicated to reviewing customer service). Acknowledge problems and propose solutions. Don’t overpromise and underdeliver. Be as transparent as possible, because we live in the Information Age, where anybody can confirm or deny any claim with a few simple clicks.
Branding is no longer limited to the commercials you see or word of mouth from real-life friends. Companies need to think with this mindset or else they’ll fall victim to and be decimated by a swarm of social media locusts.