The last couple of weeks have seen a flurry of news in the finance world about GameStop. Given the wide coverage, I’m going to assume readers will be somewhat familiar with the story. But to briefly recap, an unorganized group of retail investors on Reddit’s /WallStreetBets/ noticed that GameStop’s stock was being targeted by hedge funds with massive short positions; so Reddit users started buying up GameStop shares in an effort to drive up the spot price and to punish the over-leveraged short selling hedge funds. Initially, the hedge funds under-estimated the fortitude of their opposition, and waged a war of words through the financial news. But the Redditors did not relent, on the contrary they became more fortified and motivated. The stock continued to rise, the hedge funds seemed to panic, some shady stuff happened to restrict the ability of retail investors to purchase more shares, but the spot price continues to rise. In terms of their motivation, much like any other unorganized social movement, there’s a variety of perspectives among the retail investors. Are there a lot of trolls? Yes, and those people are probably just motivated by the lulz. Are there speculators simply hoping to turn a quick buck, without making a broader point about society? You betcha. But there are also real grievances at the heart of it. One of main themes I’ve seen is that Redditors feel like the financial system is rigged against the little guy, that the financial industry was bailed out during the 2008 financial crisis at the expense of the little guy, and that dynamic has only worsened since 2008. Clearly these aren’t 12-year-old script kiddies living in mom’s basement; they’re 30-to-40-year-olds, young professionals, with skills and disposable income, who’ve already weathered one financial collapse in their young careers, and are on the precipice of another. What the hedge funds underestimated, is that internet mob is the market; real people, with real needs, and real means.
If you’re not familiar with the WallStreetBets story, last week’s Planet Money podcast had an entertaining summary, including a GameStop sea shanty. Check out ‘Can’t Stop, GameStop‘.
A big lesson here for B2B marketers is to treat anonymous internet users with real-life manners, always assume they could be your next lead or customer. I am reminded of my first job out of college at Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers, the world’s largest auction house for industrial equipment. There I learned that the auction-goer wearing sun-faded gum boots and a grubby overalls might actually be a multi-millionaire owner of a construction company. I’m sure many readers will have their own versions of this “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” scenario in your own careers. But I think fewer readers will be as familiar applying the same rule to anonymous internet users as they are the likes of blue collar business owners. You are best to assume that the obnoxious and vulgar Reddit user named “2DA-MOON69” could be a multi-millionaire, or that the nameless person asking questions in your live chat could be a business owner in your target market.
On the topic of internet mobs, I’d be remiss not to mention the January 6th Capitol Riot in Washington, D.C. There we had a similar yet converse example, where the internet mob itself seemed to lose track of their status as real people. It’s as if they were still identifying as their Parler usernames while out in the physical realm; like the main characters from A-Ha’s classic music video ‘Take On Me’, stuck half-way between real life and the pages of fiction. Why would these people be posting their serious crimes on social media or bragging about them to the evening news? Those are things you should avoid doing generally, but especially when you’re taking on your real-life identity.
So another lesson here for marketers, and for businesspeople more broadly, is to remember that your social media presence is inescapably connected to your real-life identity, which further supports the idea of using real-life manners when communicating on social media. A funny recent example of someone failing to do this is the lead singer of the band Trapt. Best known as a one hit wonder for the forgettable “Headstrong”, in recent years Trapt has received more attention for lead singer Chris Taylor Brown’s fringe political beliefs than the band’s musical accolades. Already banned from Twitter and Facebook, Brown took to Parler to espouse his cooky ideas, where rather predictably he became the target of trolls. The trolls faked a statement purporting to be from the other members of the band, in which the band purported to disavow Brown for his political views. Then Brown, rather than contacting his band members directly to ask them about the situation, you know, like a real person would do when facing criticism from long-term colleagues, instead reportedly putting out an insult-ladened rebuttal, calling his band members all sorts of horrible things. Whoopsie daisies. Seemingly having caused irreputable damage, Trapt’s drummer left the band last week. Brown has said the insulting rebuttal purporting to be from him was also a fake; I’ll let my headstrong readers make up their own minds.
At eBridge, we practice what we preach in these regards. If you’re reading this post, there’s a half-decent chance you own or operate an MSP or other IT Service Provider, and you came from a place like Reddit /msp/ or IT Pool Party. On these channels you will find me and Hartland using our real names and a tone appropriate for an audience of business decision makers. And if we’re discussing matters related to our services, we go out of our way to disclose that we’re marketers, because we’re aware that MSPs despise shills who are astroturfing for vendors or for business services. That’s just bad manners. So we simply represent our real selves and assume we are communicating with a real decision maker until we find out otherwise — and that’s what you should do too. I can tell you without reservation that we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many business owners we’ve been able to meet and do business with using this approach online. It really pays to remember that the internet mob indeed is the market; real people, with real needs, and real means.
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