By Mike Falconer

In the very short history of live streaming with mobile devices through apps such as Periscope, and perhaps more importantly Facebook due to its ubiquity, there have been number of notable firsts. Some have been amazing, some have been funny, and lots have been horrific.

The shooting death during a traffic stop of Philando Castile by a Police Officer, quite apart from being an awful tragedy which is still under investigation, had its immediate aftermath streamed live over Facebook as you have undoubtably heard if not indeed actually seen.

The debate, the police response, and I am sure the entire investigation, surrounding this shooting has been framed by one of the witnessing participants and their actions. Not that fact that a video exists but that a video exists and a significant portion of the population of the country, if not the world, will have seen and even taken part in the immediate aftermath.

There may actually be a lot of good that comes from the instant live streaming of events, even when bad things happen; however, we live in a pretty unforgiving world. And so it was the Philando Castile shooting that started me thinking about the wider implications not just for race relations and policing, but for how people will deal with difficult, or even impossible situations, and how that will impact those on the other end of those situations.

Social media, and its close cousin the online review, has created a culture that embraces the shaming of mistakes and, for the most part, rejects the idea of context. All to often these tools are used as instruments of revenge rather than as a tool to achieve resolution or inform other consumers. We don’t put people in stocks in the town square any more, but we do ruin their lives for a bad joke in ill taste or a photograph that seems to mock our most cherished beliefs. As Jon Ronson writes in his excellent – So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – “We have always had some influence over the justice system but for the first time in 180 years, since the stocks and the pillory were outlawed we have the power to determine the severity of some punishments and so we have to think about what level of mercilessness we feel comfortable with.”

In business, we may yet yearn for the days when an unhappy client meant a vitriolic Yelp post at 2AM. All businesses prefer, or at least they should, clients to complain when they are unhappy for whatever reason. A complaint from a client is an opportunity to salvage a situation and gain a more loyal client at the end of it. However, when the complaint itself becomes an instrument of revenge and shaming how should, or indeed how can, businesses respond?

The nightmare scenario could take many forms, however in the veterinary world it could take the form of difficult conversation about quality of life, cost of treatment, and accusations of medical error live streaming across the Internet, with the client’s social circle providing encouragement and additional fuel to the fire. Add to that nightmare scenario that most people are nervous when on camera and that as a business you have little chance to respond due to social circles being closed and content being shared far and wide. Imagine your worst experience in an exam room and then add 10s, 100s, maybe even 1,000s of additional participants not as a moment on what happened, but actively participating.

In this situation, it will not be about customer service and it will not be about a complaint. It will be about damage control. This will be about the power of one person to control their environment, and those around them, by leveraging their social circle and social reach. This will no longer be a conversation with a client, it will become responding to a leader of an angry mob.

With power comes great responsibility, but also the potential for great irresponsibility.

As people who deal with the public at stressful times we all need to be comfortable with the fact that live streaming is here and what it could mean for all interactions. The time to be thinking about this is not as the person across from you says “by the way I’m streaming this on Facebook.”

I do not have great insights into how to deal with these situations other than the same insights as to how to deal with online reviews. Deal with them the same way as if the camera was not there. Easier said than done I know. Try and address your clients concerns, be accommodating, and try and deliver excellent customer service. Be the reasonable one – be the professional. It may mean that we all need to be comfortable on camera – how we sound, how we talk, and what to say and not to say.

Live streaming has huge potential and has already affected the world and how we view events. However, it’s greatest impact may be at the personal level and end, or a new appreciation for, personal privacy. Banning technology rarely works. Adapting and being prepared, however, is far better option that sticking ones head in the sand. Facebook will still see the rest of you if you do anyway.

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