Used well, social media can be an incredible force for good.
But too frequently it descends into a playground to kick around the same old complaints, aimed at the same old targets.
Retail is a regular recipient of fault-finding.
Just days before Christmas, a Worthing Facebook group debated a deserted evening high-street scene. The majority of the 250-odd comments gave the shops – or lack of them – a good kicking at a time when we should be supporting them.
Some of the comments criticised the powers that be for failing to publicise ‘late-night shopping’, recalling tales of the good old days when heaving shops handed out free mince pies to the crowds. This wasn’t even the point of the post.
Largely lost was the fact there was no plans for official late-night shopping this year, primarily because most of us were browsing Amazon, not Argos.
Less late-night shopping, more late-night stropping, with social media the happy host.
Retail has its challenges, just like local journalism – another victim of such a debate this week.
Most of the time, though, when they come up on social media, it’s the same, moany points, recycled over and over again.
‘There are no good shops’. ‘We need a Primark in Worthing’. ‘I don’t go to town any more, there’s no reason to go’. ‘Too many ads in the paper’.
Our choices lead to our complaints
We are the reason our high streets are struggling. We simply do not support them enough.
The council is often a blanket source of blame. It’s rarely at fault. I’ve lost count of the times it has been blasted for putting business rates up, or failing to ensure a Nando’s opened in a privately-owned, empty shop unit.
The all-too-common inaccuracies in these situations serve as a timely reminder to those who are quick to champion social media over trusted news sources.
“We are caught in a vicious circle.”
Everything is the result of us making our own choices.
That’s not to meant to be a criticism. It’s the reality of the changing world in which we live.
Hidden within all these debates, I’ve yet to come across an answer to the issues the retail industry faces. They usually leave me with the overwhelming sense that it’s all too easy to post a quick whine, unleash some anger through the keyboard and watch the ‘likes’ stream in.
I often wonder what such posts achieve, bar reducing the morale of those targeted and the figures who, usually unfairly, take the flak.
Retail and journalism – similar issues…
Why do I focus on retail?
It’s because retail is very similar to local journalism. Neither is perfect. Both are facing the challenge of changing consumer habits. Both are often the target of social media criticism, as the economic realities of tricky times bite. Most of the time, the sectors fail to defend themselves against the torrent of hatred.
We are caught in a vicious circle. Don’t use the high street? You’ll lose it. Don’t buy a local paper any more? Pressure to cover reducing revenues with advertising (also on the decline) and cover price increases is inevitable.
It is no good complaining that your local paper is ‘full of adverts’ if you haven’t supported it for years. It probably isn’t – but like retail a lack of support will not suddenly prompt the changes you desire.
I wish we could be quicker to post more of the good, rather than focus on the bad. There is seldom an acknowledgement for the hard-working folk who do their best to work with the hand they are dealt. The online world dehumanises the subjects.
In keeping with my previous post, I want to hear your positive thoughts on local news. I’d love to hear your stories of how your local newspaper has helped you – whether it be shedding light on your campaign, covering your community event or simply keeping you informed with what’s going on.
Days in the dark
If a dark day comes when local news is no longer viable, the Chinese whispers of Facebook will become your only outlet for knowing what’s going on.
Well, I say knowing; more like you will have several accounts of what happened. You can choose one based on nothing concrete at all.
That follow-up web link where a professional has cut through the rumour and found the facts, thanks to a list of established, reliable contacts? It’s no longer there to share. You’re in the dark – but like the rest of the social media crowd, you think you know it all.