The Streisand Effect tells us that information or media we try to suppress will actually grow as a result. What does this mean for businesses and marketers? This can be both a positive thing and a negative thing. Read on to find out how to avoid the negative consequences and how to leverage the positive ones. This could offer the best ROI of nearly any marketing strategy.
What is the Streisand Effect?
The Streisand Effect describes the phenomenon in which the very act of trying to hide or disguise information can end up making it more visible than ever before. This is something that is truer than ever in the digital age, though it also has its routes in ‘psychological reactance’ – which is our knee-jerk reaction to attempts to enforce rules etc.
This can have a surprisingly large bearing for those interested in marketing, so read on to discover why this topic may be relevant to your campaign.
The term is actually named for the singer Barbra Streisand. In 2003, she tried to suppress photos of her home in Malibu, which in turn inadvertently drew far more public attention to it. The term was first used in 2005, when Mike Masnik from Techdirt used the expression to explain why it was folly for holiday resorts to issue takedown notices.
The effect works because people want to find out information that they have been told is off limits. Information that is widely available isn’t likely to be of much interest to anyone who isn’t directly interested or affected by that niche or topic. For instance, it’s unlikely that someone who isn’t a fan of Barbra Streisand would be interested to know about her home in Malibu.
However, when you learn that photographs are circulating that are considered banned and that the singer is trying to block, you become interesting. This action itself becomes ‘news’, which means more news outlets will cover the story – choosing themselves whether or not to feature the images in question.
People will discuss the story, which now has more angles and more facets. What’s more, many people do not like being told what they can and cannot share and so may attempt to share the images purely as an act of defiance.
This has even more impact today than ever before. Right now, it is easier than it has ever been to share content with others whether through peer-to-peer networks, through torrents, through forums or more.
How the Streisand Effect Impacts Marketing and Businesses
So, what is the impact of this effect for your business? Why is it relevant?
Obviously, this has a big impact when it comes to reputation management and looking after trade secrets. When a company wants to keep information quiet but it leaks, it needs to recognize the role that the Streisand Effect has. Before immediately diving in and trying to ‘fix’ the problem, consider whether you could be better served by ignoring it, laughing it off, or apologizing.
We commonly see YouTube figures, businesses and others that try to cover up information that has been exposed about them and very often this only makes matters worse. The audience is all-too-aware of the truth and this simply makes them appear dishonest and insecure. Conversely, those businesses that turn bad publicity into a joke or put a positive spin on it, will often be seen as more humble, approachable and transparent.
The other consideration is how this can be used in your favour. In other words, if there is information that you want to spread and you want to encourage it to go viral, then sometimes making that information hard-to-get or even claiming that it is ‘leaked’ can actually help you to get your message across.
We see this with films all the time – those actors who ‘accidentally’ leak key details about the plot, or about the director. This is not truly accidental but rather a clever tool that those companies can use to get people talking about their films, to build hype and even to test ideas before officially announcing them. If the suggestion isn’t received well, they can always distance themselves and say it was nothing but an inaccurate rumor!
How to Be Likeable As a Company
As individuals, we all want to be liked. No one wants to be unpopular and if we ever find out that someone doesn't want to spend time with us it can be very hurtful. As businesses though this feeling is somewhat muted - it's easier to stay faceless and nameless and we don't tend to take it personally when our organization isn't popular.
While this might be good for protecting our feelings though, it is important to try and ensure that our companies are popular lest it cause us to become complacent and indifferent. If your company is popular then this will have a huge effect on your sales and will help you to get more business and to benefit from greater customer and employee loyalty. Think about it: if you are choosing between two products and the only difference is the company that produced it, then you will probably pick the product from the company you like most.
So how do you win friends and influence people in the world of commercial business? Here are some of the best strategies...
One of the single best ways to win over your customers and your general public is to show that you have a sense of humor. This means poking fun at yourself from time to time in your marketing and investing money occasionally in pursuits that are for fun more than for profit. Virgin is a company that has the right idea here, often using witty and humorous advertising that features Richard Branson in a prominent position. Google also has the right idea and clearly recognizes how useful their April Fools pranks are for their PR.
This is the perfect way to deal with the Streisand Effect too. If you allow rumors to circulate they can grow and become more serious. However, if you put your hands up and poke fun at yourself for the mistake, then it can actually be seen as a positive reflection of your business.
Petty business is bad business. If you send your customers the bill for every slight expense you spend on them and fine them when they're a day late with their payments then of course you won't win any favors. While you might think that this is a good way to keep your overheads down, it's actually a short sighted form of business as in the long run it will only result in your company losing customers. It can never hurt you to be generous and to consider spending a little extra cash on your customers as a necessary loss-leader. The same goes for employee loyalty.
Likewise, if you have a bad review, how do you deal with it? We’ve all been on TripAdvisor and seen companies that vehemently deny any accusations against them – even accusing the customer of being a liar or being difficult. Whatever the truth, this doesn’t reflect well.
Be the ‘bigger party’ by admitting fault and explaining how you’re going to deal with it. This can immediately take the steam out of bad feeling that can otherwise grow and be hard to drown.
When it comes to improving your business' reputation, honesty is certainly the best policy and any news is always going to be better coming from you. In other words, it's better that you break bad news than refuse to reveal certain information - as if you do the latter then you'll find that the rumors are probably worse than the reality. Practice transparency and use technology to achieve this where possible - a company blog for instance might be a useful tool for keeping your fans and your customers up to date at all times.
This is an excellent way to put forward your side of any story.
Finally, you should find ways to do good wherever possible. This can mean donating to charity, or it can mean running your business in a green and eco conscious manner. Wherever you can, try to do good for the planet. To quote Bugsy Malone, give a little love and it will all come back to you!
Protecting Your Intellectual Property
While it may be true that it is often better to overlook a slight against your business, there will be times when you need to move in and try to shut down a site or another platform’s activities. For instance: if a site is publishing your intellectual property without your consent.
The internet has created countless opportunities for the inventive and the enterprising. By connecting us with more people more easily, and by giving us access to countless tools and distribution channels; the web has made it possible for anyone to set up a business for relatively low cost and start making a real success of it.
But while the internet creates many opportunities for us, it can also pose some particularly unique dangers. This is particularly true for people setting out on their own, who might have access to bigger networks and cheaper tools, but also expose themselves by using them.
If you've come up with an app for smartphones, or if you've built a website full of great content, how do you make sure that those aren't stolen and distributed against your will? And how do you ensure that people don't try to pass off your work as their own? How do you know who to trust when hiring outsourced services? Indeed, is there anything you can do to protect yourself in this new digital world?
Understanding the Law
The answer is of course yes: there are plenty of ways you can protect your intellectual property, and this should be at the forefront of your plans when you're setting out on your own. Because while digital products and content are much easier to steal online, and while you'll be exposing yourself to a much wider range of potential viewers and partners; the law will still apply exactly as it does in the physical world.
To take advantage of this fact though, you first need to understand how the law works in relation to intellectual property and you need to know which aspects of the law are going to apply specifically to your business.
For instance, you need to understand whether your idea is best protected by a trademark, a patent or a copyright and what the difference between those is. You can find plenty of information on this online, but briefly: patents are for protecting ideas and mechanisms (which can apply to code, but doesn't normally), copyright applies to artistic creations and written works (which can again apply to code, but also to your content and images), while trademarks are for trading names and brands (such as your website's name). Use a lawyer to protect yourself in these ways and you will be able to prove ownership of your ideas and your creations.
As well as protecting your ideas legally with the help of a lawyer, you can also protect your ideas using a number of useful legal/web tools. These tools may include:
NDAs: An NDA is a 'Non Disclosure Agreement', which is essentially a contract that ensures your business partners won't discuss your products or services with anyone other than you and gives you the power to act if they do.
DMCA: DMCA stands for 'Digital Millennium Copyright Act' and empowers you to request that search results be removed from sites such as Google. This way you can prevent people from finding sites that use your spun content or that are giving away your digital products for free. File a takedown notice with Google and you can make sure that no one can find the sites that are using your IP illegally. Of course you can also try contacting the webmaster directly - it may be that they weren't even aware they were using your work and are happy to take it down.
DRM: DRM stands for 'Digital Rights Management' and allows you to lock particular files against sharing. This isn't a bullet proof method for protecting eBooks or mp3s, but it can certainly help make your work more difficult to duplicate.
Simply using your smarts to carefully manage your IPs can also help greatly when it comes to protecting your ideas. That means making sure that you sign contracts before working with other companies, it means speaking with partners over the phone to establish trust in your relationship, and it means pushing your work yourself quickly so that people can find your authentic copy more easily than the knock offs.
How to Use the Streisand Effect to Create Highly Sharable Content
The Streisand effect is not only something that will work against you when you are trying suppress information or media, it is also something that can be used to your advantage when trying to spread it. Likewise, this is a very powerful and useful tool when it comes to letting information get out.
If you want to spread the word and you don’t want to be seen to try to spread it, here are a few strategies you could try using:
- Spread rumors – Launching a new product? Got a new concept or idea you want to spread from your website? One of the best ways to make this spread is to spread rumors on forums, to leak information, or to mention it in passing. If you sew the seeds, then the right people will do the rest of the job for you.
- No such thing as bad publicity – Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that ‘bad news’ tends to spread faster than good news. That means that negative press can travel faster but the trade off here is that at least people are talking about you. If you have a small amount of ‘negative’ information that is manageable, consider whether that could actually be valuable!
- Slow reveal – Another technique used in Hollywood is to create puzzles, to place Easter Eggs in adverts and generally to get their audience to work for information. This makes that information far more interesting, but it also means that their audience will be more engaged as they look for it. You can try something similar!