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A blog about, frankly, anything

Social Media And The Stupidity Of Crowds

Konami announced last week that they’re not releasing Atomic Games’ first-person-shooter “Six Days in Fallujah.” By all reports the game was intended to recreate the experience of the war-torn city after which it was named.

The game was already under scrutiny for setting the conflict in a war that is still unresolved. The company reportedly received complaints from veterans of the war and their families and friends. However it appears the final straw was Atomic Games’ president Peter Tamte’s recent interview with Joystiq. Specifically, that Atomic Games used genuine Iraqi insurgents in the design/development of the game.

As pointed out by Gaming Insider, the videogame landscape is littered with titles set on battlegrounds, both real and imagined. Admittedly most of these settings are WWII. You’ll find titles set in Vietnam but those have not proved to be big sellers on the order of “Call of Duty” and its ilk.

There are two things going on here that are interesting to note:

  1. the disproportionate response to the voices of a small, but vocal, few
  2. why we find it acceptable to purchase videogames set in WWII but abhorent to make (much less purchase) a game set in an ongoing conflict like Iraq.

I’ll address the first issue here, and the second in future post.

angry mob

Might Makes Right?

The decision by Konami is another example of digital disproportionately amplifying the voices of a small, yet vocal, number of opponents.

We’ve seen this before, most recently with Motrin’s mommy bloggers and Tropicana’s package redesign; a company reacting to a few vocal influencers. But in all of these cases it’s worth asking some questions:

Are the number of people complaining representative of the larger population? Or are they simply a very small, vocal minority, who happen to wield the digital microphone that is the World Wide Web? Kahneman and Tversky, via their Availability heuristic, demonstrated quite clearly how the rantings of a small minority can be mistakenly perceived as the overwhelming din of the majority.

It also calls into question to what extent the complaints about this game (or the Motrin commercial or the Tropicana redesign) really would have negatively affected sales. In the case of Tropicana, were their redesign to have happened 15 or even 10 years ago, I can’t help but think a consumer walking through the grocery store would’ve simply looked at the new package, mumbled “that’s stupid, i liked the old one better” as they dropped the product in their shopping basket.

Further, as a shareholder of any of those companies (which I am not) I would be appalled to learn that the company is making decisions that cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars seemingly on a whim. i.e. recalling media spend, consequently throwing out millions spent on production or unwinding packaging and design decisions that cost millions of dollars.

I’m all about marketing being more about conversations and relationships rather than simply outbound communication (it’s how I make my living). Technology allows us to tap into conversations that we never would have heard otherwise. But it also allows conversations to spin up, by facilitating a virtual “mob” mentality; mobs that might otherwise have never emerged.

What criteria should a company use to gauge when it should take action based on the brute force of a few. Is it purely quantitative? i.e. the numbers complaining reach some numerical threshold? Or is there a need for a new role in organizations? Someone who acts as an intermediary between an enterprise’s most loyal consumers and its executive management. A kind of brand ombudsman, if you will. Is this the responsibility of a community manager? Or someone higher up?

In a future post I’ll write about the changing roles in organizations as a result of the influence of digital technology on the enterprise. This is one example where it’s quite possible we need to rethink how businesses structure themselves to meet the needs not only of new customers but of their most loyal.

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//02/25/2010 - added Tynt tracking code to try out Tynt