The Rise of Social Schadenfreude
Media coverage about companies who use social media is generally divided into two categories — stories about those who are using it well, and cautionary tales of those who have had horrible failures.
The latter seem to get the lion’s share of headlines. And, from what I see in my social feeds, that’s because we, as a society, eat up those crash and burn stories with relish — sharing, retweeting, LOLing and analyzing each mistake, ad nauseam (I am guilty of it too).
It’s a phenomenon I call, Social Schadenfreude.
(Schadenfreude is the German word that describes pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others…for example, the media coverage on Kim Kardashian’s mini marriage.)
Last week, I went to the Twitterverse to talk more about Social Schadenfreude and crowdsource answers to this question:
“Do you think we, as a social society, more enjoy companies that fail at social media than those who succeed?”
In general, the answer was, “yes.”
As unpleasant of a concept as schadenfreude is, the fact of the matter is that it does exist (and not just in Germany.) As Scott Moody said:Another member of my community, Katie Clark, took a slightly different stance — that Social Schadenfreude exists but that it also shares space with social success stories:
It might be that companies that do well with social media actually outnumber those that have failures (and I’m inclined to think that’s the case), but failures simply make for more interesting, attention-grabbing news.
One other theory I have is that perhaps people find it comforting to see that even big, cool companies, with all of their mega budgets and staff, sometimes have the same problems using social media as all the rest of us. Community member, Jen Westphal uses this analogy:
Another reason for the rise of Social Schadenfreude may be that it’s gratifying to see companies who have publicly and stubbornly had their head in the sand with regard to social media finally get a wake-up call. As Josh Braaten says:
I’m totally guilty of this reaction. As I’ve written before, It drives me nuts when a company refuses to engage with their community online. And yes, it does give me some satisfaction when those companies see a backlash for their refusal to adapt to a changing communication ecosystem. (I don’t feel bad for Kim Kardashian either…man, I really AM a mean lady, aren’t I?)
So, does all this Social Schadenfreude looming around mean that you shouldn’t try social media or try new things with what you’re already doing?
In my experience, the answer is, “No.”
Despite what we see reported back to us, most people are actually pretty forgiving of the mistakes you make in the social space — in fact, they come with the territory.
Not only that, but by giving social media a try, you could reap a reward that no one will write a blog post about, start a meme for, or build a firestorm around — you might simply build your business and make your clients or customers happy.
Yes, people tend to punish those who spectacularly fail at social media, but even more so, we quietly, consistently and with growing fervor, reward those who succeed. As Angie Elliott reminds us:And that’s the kind of good social karma that Social Schadenfreude will never be able to topple.
I love this post, Jen. I’ve been reading up on Brian Solis’s new book, and Social Schadenfreude appears to be a larger symptom of “The End of Business as Usual.” I’m looking forward to the book club this month!
I’m enjoying the book so far too. Looking forward to talking about it with you in a few weeks.
Thanks for chiming in on the topic, both in the post and the comments.
Thanks for including my post, and using one of my all-time favorite words -> Schadenfreude! In light of our Twitter conversation, it’s been most interesting to watch the fallout and discussions after the recent McDonalds Twitter issues.
The McDonald’s thing reminded me that I wanted to blog about that topic. Lots of interesting ideas to explore. Thanks for your sharing your two cents on it with me.
It’s quite possibly the same as the lurker crawl at an accident. Everyone wants to see the carnage. Everyone likes to laugh about a social misstep but seemingly ignore when it’s business as usual.
Agreed. On a day to day business social media can be less than thrilling. But when something goes wrong — whoo boy, then it’s gets real interesting. Thankfully things move so fast I can be assured of having at least one good “oops” a week 🙂