Thanks to social media and an increasing flood of data, the capacity to generate causes and controversies almost instantly has become the new norm in today’s “super-transparent society.” Most business leaders have not yet come to grips with the new reality — and what it means for their organizations.
When Martha Payne, a 9-year-old student in Argyll, Scotland, started a blog in April 2012, she had no idea of the stir she would soon cause. The lunches her school offered offended her youthful sense of justice, and she saw no reason to keep her thoughts to herself. So she began blogging under the name “Veg” (short for “veritas ex gustu,” which means “truth from tasting”). With tech support from her dad, Martha photographed and rated the school lunches and posted her reviews to a blog she christened “NeverSeconds.”
Soon Martha was adding new material regularly. The small portions were an early concern. “I’d have enjoyed more than 1 croquet[te],” she wrote, in a post from the first month. “I’m a growing kid and I need to concentrate all afternoon and I can’t do it on one croquette. Do any of you think that you could?”
Readers were supportive. “My toddler eats more than that,” one observed. Other blog posts questioned the food’s nutritional value, using words like “pathetic,” “rubbish,” and “disgraceful.” When celebrity chef Jamie Oliver tweeted in support of Martha’s project, newspapers picked up the story. Riding a wave of publicity, NeverSeconds logged 2 million hits in its first six weeks. Martha donated to a nonprofit that provides free school meals in poor parts of the world.
But the initiative soon screeched to a halt. As Martha explained in a blog entry titled “Goodbye,” her head teacher had removed her from math class, escorted her to the office, and told her to stop taking photos of school lunches. In a separate entry, Martha’s father noted that Martha’s charity efforts, which had raised nearly £2,000 at the time, would end, and thanked the school for being supportive. The decision to shut down NeverSeconds, he explained, came from the local area council.
However, the story didn’t end there — a firestorm ensued.