Words That Don’t Count

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Momo, the Chinese LBS provider, has been on a wild ride since the start. Merely a year after the service was offered, Momo has already garnered more than 20 million users. In its lasted round of fundraising, Momo was valued at $100 million dollars based on exactly $0 of revenue.

Since imitation is the more sincere form of flattery, especially since we are talking about China, it is not surprising that one of the big dogs is doing something about Momo’s success. Couple of days ago, Momo alleged that Sina Weibo, the dominant social media platform in China, is copying Momo’s service almost brick by brick.

One cannot but help sympathize with Momo’s plight. Building a good product and have it become a sensation almost overnight is not an everyday occurrence. Since Momo is using the classic internet strategy of expanding now, get paid later, Sina’s aggression could result in Momo getting nothing at all for its hard work and good luck.

By making Sina’s copycat move front and center,  Momo is surely to receive plenty of sympathies, both from users and from business colleagues alike. Yet that doesn’t change the fact that most people will condemn Sina, then use the exact service they are condemning.

The thing is, most people cannot remember all the petty fights. If they read the news, they’ll know about some of them, maybe even get outraged by a couple, then move on and live as they’ve always lived.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article couple of years ago, pointing out nowadays people equate the “like” button on Facebook with actually doing something about a perceived injustice. Gladwell’s point is that we can’t just “like” something away; if we want to change something, we have to actually do something about it, and it might actually involve real and painful sacrifices.

In The Willpower Instinct, Dr. Kelly McGonigal points out that through moral licensing, “like” something may even have the opposite effect. Research has shown that McDonald’s could entice people to eat more Big Macs simply by offering salad on its menu. The costumers think they are eating healthily simply by seeing the vegetable offered, and this allows them to indulge in more meat.

Similarly, posting one’s grievances online is probably not a good way to address it. Sure, it feels good to vent the venom and have people support you left and right, but it doesn’t help your bottom line. The same people that have supported you would feel like they’ve done the right thing, which makes them even more unlikely to makes the hard choice of actually changing their behavior.

In the film Hooligan,  Elijah Wood moved from Harvard to London, and joined a football gang.  Before a big fight, his sister advised him not to go, telling him “no one in the States will care about your rep in England”. The same advice could be given to the TMT industries, the words may ring in your insular circle, but no one in the wider world is gonna give a hoot. Better think of a more effective way to hit back.