We live in an age of emotion, a time when rage or joy and everything in between can be seen more publically and spread more quickly than we would have ever thought possible mere decades ago. As you may have guessed, social media takes credit (or blame?) for this, and can also make a difficult situation even more so for communicators and businesses. The key question is; how to communicate when dealing with a product or service where the consumers have a strong personal investment in that product?
From the outset this is tricky – any change to things people feel passionately about will anger some consumers, simply out of a dislike of change, whilst others may respond positively. This is further magnified when dealing with some of the more divisive questions of the day – race, gender, religion, politics, these topics always seem to create arguments with individuals/companies accused of pushing an agenda too far or not enough.
A fantastic example of how a seemingly innocuous comment from a communicator can quickly cause a major headache for a company is the recent Total War Rome II furore. For those who are unaware of the argument (of which I’m sure there will be many) Total War Rome II is an historically-based videogame which allows players to act as one of the major powers of the Greco-Roman world, and effectively create an alternate history. A recent update to the game (some five years after it was first released), introduced female generals to some of the different factions (think tribes, cities etc). This was a pretty unremarkable change, intended to allow players to effectively role-play as famous female characters from history, such as Boudicca or Cleopatra. Whilst some of the game’s community grumbled, the issue only really kicked-off when a community manager from the Creative Assembly (who make the game) locked a forum discussing the change with the words, “As has been said previously: Total War games are historically authentic, not historically accurate - if having female units upsets you that much you can either mod them out or just not play.”
Without going into the pros of cons of the change, saying just not play to a dedicated community like the one was clearly a mis-step. For some players, the passion they have for these games would rival how avid football fans feel about their teams – imagine being told in response to a complaint about the way your football team is being run that you are welcome to just not watch. Such an inflammatory response would be a communications disaster!