A recent article from Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal spoke of an effect that explains why people feel comfortable being brutally honest when they are on the internet.
It was coined “the online disinhibition effect” and was credited in the article to John Suler of Rider University.
In short, when being candid, the internet hasn’t, as most thought, encouraged the majority to be dishonest, if anything quite the opposite has happened.
“…(But) online, in what feels like a peer relationship – with the appearances of ‘authority’ minimized – people are much more willing to speak out or misbehave,” suggests the article.
And here we are.
Over the last few years marketers have ridden over this bumpy road, witnessing customers who feel courageous when they use two-way communication media as a PERCEIVED risk-free one-way confrontation. Write what you think. No punishment for candor.
There are day-to-day examples that are used to draw an analogy here – ways not to look at another when speaking frankly — such as a driver with passenger, or when we walk side by side while facing forward. But I believe the words are still measured, heard, or judged in some imperceptible manner when we are in real time, not amidst the blogosphere. For most of us, there is a filter that is courteously used for that conversation, even if the discussion’s intent is anything but two sided. Online we often think and feel that we are faceless, but in my perspective we are not.
So if you use any social media for personal or professional reasons: Facebook, blogs, online chats, even tweets or email to say ANYTHING you wish, you (along with marketers) need to be prepared for its longevity in cyberspace. Companies need to be prepared for the unknown consumer to write ANYTHING in response. I’m not suggesting blatant profanity or anything like that. But many a product review, a disparaging word about a company or the way it handled a crisis – just about any point of view put out there without concern about reaction – is how most firms and consumers are operating electronically today.
And from a media/marketing perspective, consider that whenever a firm reads or writes among the trillions of words in this worldwide system of computer networks, the best of this medium is not only the opportunities to state viewpoints, but a healthy respect for the digital challenges we will encounter since we are never alone.