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What should businesses do about online anger?

Ronnie Gunn | 02 Nov, 2018 | Return|

In the second episode of the excellent BBC Radio 4 series titled “Why are we so angry?” Oliver Burkeman discussed the burgeoning phenomenon of anger expressed online, particularly through social networking channels. Abuse, moral outrage, vitriolic argument, point scoring – you don’t have to look hard to find plenty of examples.

Businesses wishing to engage with audiences on Facebook or Twitter, which were specifically mentioned in this programme, may feel uncomfortable in this increasingly unfriendly online environment. So should companies look for other online channels to promote brand awareness?

It’s true that there are other social media options out there to use such as Instagram, yet neglecting your current Twitter and Facebook audiences could be counterproductive.

In any case, the anger phenomenon can create positive opportunities.


Emotion fuels engagement

Finding ways of getting a response from a social media audience is what marketers seek, and creating content that fuels anger can do this. In the discussion about the effects of online communication in “Why are we so angry?” (BBC Radio 4 Wednesday 24th October), the idea was put forward that anger was “the most viral emotion online.” This being so, it was considered likely to keep audiences engaged because it captures and holds their attention.

Some brands use various forms of virtue signalling in their social marketing campaigns, including topics that they believe are likely to stir moral outrage and therefore audience engagement.

Since the EU referendum in 2016, opportunities to provoke outrage from one side of the debate or the other have been rife, and some brands have used this division to increase their exposure online. A vocal exponent of this approach is Pimlico Plumbers, where the company’s voice online is quite literally the voice of the owner; and for Charlie Mullins sitting on the fence is clearly not an option! His tweets gain the expected response, with half the replies expressing emphatic support and the other half posted in vehement opposition.

However, sometimes outrage can be seen as just a cynical marketing ploy. A recent example highlighted by Mark Ritson in Marketing Week was the #Spycops campaign for the cosmetics company Lush, based on past police undercover operations within activist groups.

In any case, as the BBC Radio Programme pointed out, there are signs that users of social networks are getting “burnt out” by constantly being exposed to anger online. It was claimed that there is evidence of outrage fatigue is setting in.  

Credibility creates trust

Social media marketing is a powerful tool for enhancing brand awareness and driving traffic to a company’s website. Emotion does fuel engagement, but there are more subtle and positive emotions to cultivate than outrage to achieve these goals. Additionally, social media campaigns generating anger can also create a sense of frustration, especially when people feel powerless to act. This can turn audiences against the brand that made them feel frustrated in the first place.

We believe that creating a balanced content strategy is crucial to building and maintaining audience engagement. Businesses need to be true to their values and to engage honestly with social media users, creating content that is informative, helpful, entertaining and intelligent. This can build credibility and credibility creates trust.

In a febrile online environment, reasoned and appealing content can stand out and create positive perceptions. This may not achieve the rapid impact of outrage, but its effect is likely to lead to longer term benefits such as brand loyalty.

BBI Brandboost has many years of experience in running online and social media marketing campaigns focused on both B2B and B2C target audiences. Please contact us at any time to discuss how our great anger-free online content has worked for our clients and could benefit your business.

About the Author

Ronnie Gunn

Ronnie Gunn

As Head of Communications, Ronnie focuses on content writing, PR and media relations. Throughout a long journalistic and business career, he has developed an exceptional talent for spotting a good story and knowing how to tell it. His varied experience allows him to understand complex technical subjects like precision engineering and appreciate the key selling points of consumer markets such as travel.

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