Beware, the world is watching you: what brands can learn from CatBinLady

If I said the name Mary Bale or Cat Bin Lady last week, you probably wouldn’t know what I was talking about. Before now, Mary Bale was just your normal, everyday person…until she decided to throw a cat in a bin! Unfortunately for Ms Bale, her actions were caught on CCTV and it wasn’t long before the whole incident was plastered all over the web and the saga is ongoing.

The story reflects an emerging style of news arc, one that begins with social media and is then picked up by all major news outlets both on and offline. Since the initial video was posted on Facebook, the story has become massive across the world, largely thanks to social networksTwitter accounts, Facebook profiles and YouTube videos have all appeared in a small space of time. The spoof twitter page, @CatBinLady, has more than 5,000 followers. Numerous videos of the incident have been uploaded to YouTube with one having received 132,000 views in two days.  But, Facebook is where it’s all been kicking off. After the video was posted on the site, “hate groups” (to quote the Daily Mail) were set up almost instantaneously. One group, which reached more than 18,000 members, was shut down after users posted death threats.  Mary Bale is indeed the talk of the social networking town.

This is a classic case of something that starts off small ballooning out of control. Even as I write, news stories are still filtering though about Mary Bale almost 4 days after the initial story. And this should be a warning to companies. Brands should be aware of the mushroom effect of social media as they are with other areas of crisis communications. Sometimes it can appear to be completely out of control, and in many cases, CatBinLady is a case in point, it is. Even though a social networking community may seem small, there is the potential for a story to grow and get out of hand, after all these are often the people who influence the media.

The backlash Mary has received from the video is pretty extreme. But it does go to show, it can often be the most simple and random things that get the online world buzzing.

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