My grandfather didn’t graduate from grammar school. But he was perhaps the smartest person I’ve ever met. His intellect wasn’t ornamented. Tom Maloney was a brass-tacks, bottom-line type of guy who built his bookcases with his own two hands between shifts at the American Smelting and Refining Co.
One of the most important lessons that he taught me was “Think before you speak.” He knew that it was hard for me since I had been blessed with an intoxicating blend of inflated self-image and a seething intolerance for stupidity. I instinctively meet any intellectual provocation with instant snark and condescension.
At least I can admit it.
Historically, the audience for my quips has been limited to my inner circle of friends. But with the advent of Twitter (and other social networks), my quips can be distributed to thousands of eyes in a matter of nanoseconds — transforming my knee-jerk thoughts into something much more lasting and potentially influential.
If I was the only person injecting his 140 characters of reactionary thinking into the international discourse, I’d just be the 2.0 version of the old man who takes your wiffle ball when you hit it into his yard. However, it appears that inflated self-image is a global pandemic and that the definition of stupidity has somehow remained subjective.
Image is reality
Since the Super Bowl is still fresh in many minds, take the whole Jay Cutler controversy as evidence of this. Because there are lessons in here for businesses and how they use social media to communicate and build brands.
Cutler is a notoriously polarizing personality. So when the Bears quarterback went down with what has now been characterized as a Grade II MCL sprain in the NFC Championship Game, his NFL contemporaries piled on. Instantaneously.
Here’s the thing: they put these knee-jerk reactions into the public domain within a minute of the injury. They called into question the man’s integrity and threatened him with violence before the doctor even had a chance to examine him.
Pathetic grammar aside, players such as Maurice Jones-Drew and Darnell Dockett were responding to an emotional situation emotionally. But completely unfounded in fact. And now Cutler is left looking like a jerk regardless of the facts. He has learned, like it or not, that image is reality. At least for those on Twitter. And those who report the news using information gleaned from Twitter. Or those who listen to those reports on TV, radio, the Internet, etc. You get the picture.
Opinion travels fast
In this day and age you are one dissatisfied customer from being Jay Cutler (without the rocket arm, multimillion-dollar contract and Kristin Cavallari). Given the nature of opinion these days and how fast it travels, there is no way to avoid it. We simply need to manage it. We need to be active in the conversations — to be ready to call out rumor and actively acknowledge legitimate mistakes when they occur.
In real time.
It’s a challenge, certainly. But it sure beats being Jay Cutler. Or worse — letting down grandpop.
Mark Maloney is the founder of The Design Office of Mark Maloney, which specializes in interactive strategy and user experience design. He co-founded Baltimore-based no|inc and was creative director at Grassroots Enterprise, a division of Edelman. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter, @markjmaloney.