That Koran business

What do businesses have in common with Terry Jones, the religious extremist whose plan to burn Korans on his front lawn could have ignited a religious war?

Nothing at all obviously. And yet…

From everything that has been written about him since he started first made his inflammatory declarations, Jones is clearly a pathological attention seeker. Miffed at not getting the respect he thought was his due, he stepped onto the world stage and with a single tweet set in motion an extraordinarily effective campaign, fuelled by a Facebook page and YouTube clips.

Within days he had the whole world in the palm of his hand, the headline topic in the press and on television, with earnest appeals to him being made by President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Gen. David Petreaus, Pope Benedict XVI, etc, etc.

It’s a sobering reminder of the extraordinary power of the Internet to spread information in the blink of an eye. The mainstream media at first loftily ignored Jones, but was forced eventually to report his campaign – the perfect amplification.

Businesses too need attention to survive. Of course they aren’t pathological, and they don’t have to be inflammatory in their statements – it would be counterproductive. And clearly Jones tapped into a deep stream of paranoia in the American public psyche. Companies just sell stuff.

But the point is, the mechanism for achieving rapid awareness of their products and services is there, as long as they understand how to make use of it. All they need is something that people will genuinely respond to, and with a bit of understanding of how social media works, the rest will take care of itself.

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