The world’s most fascist toy?

I’d like to introduce a guest blog from the super-talented CEO of Digital City Business, Mark Elliot. Those who know Mark will acknowledge his lyrical stream-of -consciousness style of speaking, his no-holds-barred opinions and his very funny sense of humour. After receiving an email from him on Friday afternoon flagging-up a blog he’d just read I asked him if he’d mind me ‘guesting’ it here….gracious as ever Mark agreed. Here is his email:

Reputations at the speed of light…
This is extraordinary. Right at this moment I’m trying to write this but I’m having trouble working the keyboard because my vision’s completely blurred I’ve been laughing so much. I’m not even scheduled to write a column right now. But something so extraordinary, so timely has just occurred I just had to sit down…

As part of my role at DigitalCity in need to keep up with what’s going on in the digital and creative environment and one of my preferred destinations in this regard is a site called Ars Technica. And on it I’ve just read one of the funniest articles I’ve ever seen in the technology sphere [and believe me, we get a few]. It’s called The World’s Most Fascist Toy? And its subject is a rather strange London bobby version of the Wenlock Olympics mascot. If you want to read the article it’s at http://arstechnica.com/staff/2012/08/the-worlds-most-fascist-toy/ but in short, it makes the point that a one-eyed beast in police clothing can easily be misinterpreted as having all kinds of totalitarian, authoritarian, fascist or even demonic subtexts. And it points to the overwhelmingly negative response to the toy on Amazon: again, you might want to check the customer feedback out online, but get ready to laugh.In truth the humour in the article and feedback might not be your cup of tea, but there’s a serious point behind it: the power of review in the internet age. The web has given people – the crowd – an almost unprecedented ability to express their views, and because they can, shift reputations. It’s forced huge organisations to make rapid changes, but it’s also powerful at smaller scales too. Which affects all of us.

I’m sure the creators of Wenlock didn’t have some totalitarian, authoritarian, fascist or demonic agenda, but I’m equally sure they didn’t think things through either. They probably simply weren’t aware of the mistake they might be making, nor of the response they’d get. Now, it didn’t sink the Olympics, probably won’t sink Wenlock [much further] in our hearts, and in the big picture no great harm was done: but it is a case in point that a slip up has the potential to ruin reputations and brands. And far more quickly online than in the real world.

And this is where it could hurt. There’s an old truth that it takes years to build a reputation but a minute to kill it. Even more so online where things work faster, and there’s far less control. The rules of the game are different, and a lot of people might not get them. But there are a lot of people who do – who get how social media works, how online presences, brands and reputations can be made or destroyed, and how to [and how not to] approach things. and it’s not always about damage limitation: just as quickly as the internet can kill things, it can make them.

The kind of people that can help are not the kind traditional companies woulds automatically think of relying on in regard to their reputations and brands. They’re almost always young, and because they are there might be a reluctance to entrust them with those things. But that would be a mistake, because there are a lot of good ones out there.

But how to get hold of them to help your business? Well, there’s good news in the Tees Valley. There are great students at Teesside University and you can get them through a number of schemes run by the university’s Academic enterprise department. And Middlesbrough College has just launched a the Digital Youth Academy initiative where you can also access sharp minds who can work with you on your social media.

Food for thought, and enough from me, I’m off to dry my eyes and let my stitch subside.

Mark