The Story Behind the Story

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I recently read an Davis NEWarticle on AdWeek.com titled, “How Social Media Could Have Changed the O.J. Simpson Trial.” Inspired by the recent FX mini-series, “American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” the author, Josh Rosenberg, points to the trial’s role in the rise of the 24-hour news cycle, reality television and participatory journalism. Rosenberg also raises the specter of what the trial experience would have been like for both the viewer and the people in that courtroom in 1994 “if the world had been watching in real time with a mobile phone in hand.”

Certainly, we now live in an “always on” world – a world in which it is difficult to hide from the onslaught of speculation, opinion and commentary. It’s a world very different from 1994.

As Rosenberg writes, “Today, all of us have a very loud microphone in the palms of our hands, and every time we share a thought, use a hashtag, communicate with a like-minded individual or get through to someone who doesn’t share our own belief, we are harnessing a power no one could have dreamed of in 1994.”

I would contend that not only could we never have dreamed of today’s technology twenty two years ago, neither could we have dreamed of the ability that technology provides us to share with the world a comment, observation or criticism of the actions of those around us – sometimes thoughtfully, sometimes carelessly. Generally speaking, while advances in communications technology have opened up a world of human connection and interaction, they have also closed our minds and hardened our perspective on the events and actions taking place around us.

How often have we seen – or posted ourselves – a video of something we’ve observed in a public place, or a video of a complete stranger? From concerts and parties to interactions with store employees, these slice of life videos seem to be permeating our society and generating opinion and commentary on a daily basis. We have to assume that there is always a camera present.

The challenge is that the very moment in time you captured is just that – a quick snapshot often shared without any further context. We may not know what happened before or after, or from a different angle, or behind the scenes. All we have are those few seconds and perhaps the commentary of the person who filmed the event. However, the instinct to post and share every moment now means that individuals who weren’t present form a perception of the event based on those few seconds of shared video – and not on the full reality of the experience.

While social media and our “always on” world certainly create opportunities, they also create great disconnects when it comes to human interaction and compassion. It has become so easy for us to handle our dissatisfaction with a negative customer experience with harsh words and a stealthily filmed video – shared not with a person who could have helped improve our experience, but with a random group of people who were not present and who are only seeing the event through our narrow lens.

What if instead we slowed down, put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, and thought before we posted? What if we quietly ask to speak to someone in charge to express our concerns? What if we ask how we can help? I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t call out a company when your experience doesn’t meet your expectation. I do believe that there is a better way to find a resolution.

Brand marketers instinctively look for the story behind the story. The next time you’re faced with an opportunity to “film and post,” try to do the same. While your instincts may tell you to jump to judgment, perhaps the better course of action is to dig a little deeper. We hold in our hands a little piece of technology that has the power to impact human interactions and to influence others’ perceptions of people and brands. The onus is on each one of us to approach this responsibility with compassion and discernment.

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