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The Lion, the Dentist, and the Masses

What #CecilTheLion taught us about social media
Posted on 7/30/2015 by Rosalea Peters, WEO Media Staff
Source of Walter Palmer with Cecil the Lion Attributed to Facebook On Tuesday we woke up to a breaking story; of a beloved lion in Africa, of a dentist in Minnesota, and an angry world. But what caught my eye wasn't the fact that every major news outlet and social media source was identifying the big game hunter as a dentist, although some in the dental community have commented on the fact that this was called out; no, what caught my eye was the angry hand of social media that took hold of Walter Palmer, and by extension his practice of River Bluff Dental by the throat.

When Facebook first emerged as a fish in the small pond of social media in 2004, many of us were still getting used to the idea of carrying cell phones regularly, and this world of "in between"; where you're not quite face to face with a friend yet you're still existing in real time with them; was just kicking off. Since then, there have been thousands of social media platforms, games, apps, and tools to connect us. We don't simply use social media as an errant pastime, the equivalent of playing solitaire when you should be working, it has formed and shaped into a powerful community voice. Instead of chatting with your next-door neighbor on the front stoop about the lack of greenspace in your town, you can log in and plug in to a network of similar thinkers across the globe to influence any part of the world. The power of social media now means choosing to interact in online social hubs and communities, using both voice and spending habits to shape thought culture.

So when a story breaks about the beloved lion in Africa, and the dentist in Minnesota who killed him, we start to see a movement. A groundswell begins with social websites picking up the story, with Facebook users who are passionate about animal rights sharing with their networks, which then explodes into a trending topic of #CecilTheLion, so that even if you're not part of a passionate animal rights group, but you see an image of a stately lion with two hunters crouching over him - you click on the story and perhaps become emotionally tied to the story enough that you share the story, and so it goes.

Memorial at River Bluff Dental Attributed to Renee Jones Schneider at Star Tribue via Associated Press But it doesn't stop there. Within hours, Walter Palmer's dental practice website was shut down, was wiped clean of any reference to the website, his Facebook page was turned off, and the practice itself was shuttered. Derogatory Facebook pages were created with the practice name prominently displayed; some of which posed as the real practice account, and they were filled with threats, inflammatory comments, and disgust. A quick visit to his Yelp page as the day went on revealed over 5000 Yelp Reviews, even as Yelp was actively deleting reviews and posts. Some of the posts took a different spin on the normal 1 star hateful reviews, giving 5 stars along with a humorous take on the situation. From there petitions started circulating on and other platforms, calling for Dr. Palmer's extradition to Africa, and his office has turned into a mini-memorial for Cecil.

What has #CecilTheLion taught us about social media? Do something the public hates, and you can lose your business. As a business owner, and for most of our readers who are dentists or work closely with them, what Dr. Palmer is experiencing can seem like a very scary proposition. And to be quite honest, this is a true reality in today's world. One option is to rage against the machine, to quote the name of a 90s band, and try to fight against social media and Yelp reviews (a seemingly common enemy in the world of dentistry). The other option is to understand the reality of today's business world and what social media means for you.

Understanding social media means being part of social media. Sure, it's easy to hire someone to manage your Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts - and for most business owners we recommend having professional help to stay on top of digital marketing. But you, as the business owner, also should take responsibility for the tone and voice of your digital brand. What do you want to be known for online? How do you share your passion, your culture, yourself? Today's consumer is primarily searching for products and services online, and they want to purchase something that makes them feel good about themselves; even their healthcare. If you can provide that feeling through the community work you do, the charities you support, the honest and fair business practices you implement and encourage, you can foster a community voice that is louder than any negativity from a disgruntled few.

The take home message is this; if you aren't willing to take control of your voice on social media and build your own community, others may do it for you.

Blog Contributer: Rosalea Peters

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