At the start of ’07 there was a little startup called Justin TV, offering live streaming services at a time when bandwidth and ubiquitous Internet were still scarcities. As a proof of concept, Justin strapped a webcam to his head and began streaming his life 24/7. At any given time a couple thousand strangers were tuned in, watching Justin eat, hang with friends, vegging in front of the television or sleeping. I happened to catch a particular moment in which Justin and his friends went out for a bite at a nearby restaurant. Within minutes the chat had ID’d where Justin was eating and had posted the phone number of the restaurant. People began phoning in repeatedly. Some were pranking, claiming they were the police and Justin was a criminal. Others were trying to get Justin on the phone. In the background of the live stream you could hear the continuous ringing.
That particular moment summed up a great deal of the power the Internet holds. Aside from the access to information and the ability to collaborate, people realized that they could impact what was happening on the screen in front of them, and jumped to take advantage of that.
Cause and effect is a powerful stimulant to our brains. Our brains are continually examining patterns of events looking to piece together the cause leading to the effect. When we have an opportunity to instigate the cause, and our brain laps it up. You push the button, it rings the bell. Our brain does a little happy dance over our ability to control the environment around us.
Internet trolling is all about pushing buttons. There is no ideology at play. No political agenda. They don’t have a vested interest in a side of an argument, they just want to get the argument going and then watch from the side, knowing they made this happen. Knowing the bell that tolls, tolls because of them.
As much as social media platforms are built to facilitate discourse and sharing of content, they are equally built as a button with a bell. Post an image you know will get a laugh. Hear the bing-bongs of Facebook notifications as your social circle like and share the image. Share an article you know will lead to the same outrage you felt. Count the retweets.
Push the button. Hear the bell. Happy dance.
The smart marketing and communications professional has always been adept at wrapping the button and bell into their work. Cause. Effect. Give your audience mastery over the world, even if it is just a ding of a bell.
Business, however, has been less effective at dealing when the bell ringing is damage to their trade. We’re slow to identify when the button pushing is directed towards us and we fail miserably by thinking, if we just ring the bell a little bit, maybe they’ll stop pushing that button. Of course, every ring of the bell just encourages more button pushing.
Take five minutes today and think really hard about what’s going on today with your business. What’s the button? What’s the bell? Whom is that bell tolling for? Then go and change things for the better.