There was a lively discussion last night over dinner here in Calgary. I met up with Doug Walker (World Rock Paper Scissors Society, Webwalker Blog, Shill Podcast) and the always awesome, Lisa Walker (Hill And Knowlton). We were discussing how a companies’ biggest barrier to entry in the Social Media space comes in dealing with each and every interaction. We went back and forth on the idea that Consumers are doing whatever they like (turning Hasbro’s Scrabble into a Facebook app or Ford Mustang owners creating their own calendars and selling it on CafePress). It’s clear that just because they can, it doesn’t mean that they should. Meaning, the line drawn in the sand happens when a Consumer takes a brand and goes from innocent passion project to hustling for cash. It’s also clear that whatever ethics are at play (trademark infringement, etc…), this type of activity is not going away, so how do companies deal with it?
That’s when it hit me.
Most companies can’t deal with it.
They simply don’t have the structure or bandwidth and never envisioned this type of one-to-one conversation with Consumers. This is (probably) why they struggle, hiccup or just barely pull it off. I also don’t think it’s fair that Bloggers and Podcasters constantly pick, nip and attack knowing this. It’s the equivalent of kicking someone when they’re down, and adding insult to injury (on top of it).
How does anyone win?
Most companies that are facing the biggest brunt of the Blogosphere blast do not sell directly to consumers. They manufacture and sell to stores, dealers or resellers. At best, they outsource some kind of customer service to a third-party. It was never in the cards to deal with hundreds (if not thousands) of obscure requests, so they’re struggling. And, as they’re struggling, the Bloggers attack. The sad part of this story is that the most coverage, linklove and action seen by the general mass public comes right at that intersection. You rarely hear the outcome. For instance, it’s my understanding that when CafePress decided not to print the calendar created by the Ford Mustang fan group, that Ford was actually commenting on Blogs and dealing directly with both CafePress and the Mustang owners. But, then again, who wants the whole story and happy resolution when the salacious stuff that happened up front is that much juicier?
Let’s flip the story and see how it flows.
Let’s say you were running a semi-popular Blog and every day you got well over four-hundred comments. Would you respond to all of them? How quickly? Now what about website maintenance, hosting, etc… as your traffic continues to grow and the demands of your time for the Blog increases (don’t forget about your real job and family commitments)? Most of us would describe this as a happy problem, but I’m going to be very raw here: there are countless Bloggers who I have linked to here on the Six Pixels of Separation Blog, I have commented on their Blogs, and have had discussions in other people’s Blogs with them in the comments section. You’ll have to take my word for it, but the more popular the Blogger is, the slower they are respond and, for the most part, I often don’t get a response at all.
Is that irony or what?
Bloggers hold companies to the highest standards. I believe this is good for everybody. I also wish that they would hold themselves to this higher standard as well. After all, when they started to Blog they must have been prepared to deal with all of the comments, trackbacks and mentions. It’s not like they are a huge corporation that is trying to figure this space out. From a vanity perspective, any Blogger worth their words is monitoring what’s being said about them via Google News Alerts and a Technorati watchlist. So, why are they constantly dumping on companies for doing the exact same thing that they are doing?
Consumers can create content and, to a certain degree, they can control newer types of conversations about a brand and service like never before. Companies need to figure out what these conversations are, and how they will impact their business both immediately, and as these stories build up on search engine result pages. But, Bloggers still have a long way to go in really making an impact and, if you ask me, it has a lot to do with how they tell the story, check the facts, get the feedback, respond and evolve the story.
Bottom line, as companies try to act more like Bloggers, I’m seeing more and more Bloggers act like companies that don’t pay attention to the conversations.
Well said, Mitch. You are always so good at articulating the ideas which seem little more than a gut feeling. You have given me quite a bit to think about on this last day of CNY.
I guess I don’t really have the option of not commenting on this post, Mitch 😉
Seriously, many consumer facing companies already have the infrastructue to deal with people one on one: the customer service rep. However they are often so underpaid, poorly trained, ill-informed and unempowered (I have been a CSR at a couple of companies as a summer job) that they are incapable of dealing with anything outside the policy manual.
I hear what you are saying, but I think it is process, policies and training at the customer service level that will actually allow these companies to start engaging in a way that approaches one-to-one. The top-down structure of most of these departments makes this very difficult, but companies (and there are a few) who re-emphasize the role will prosper.
And just to be clear, no question that Scrabulous is IP theft, Ford is a little murkier, but overall I agree there as well. You know and I know that this kind of thing isn’t right, but it happens and will only accelerate as the tools get easier. So right or wrong as this practice grows, companies must learn to deal or find their brands ripped apart like a cow in a piranha pool.
So, two things:
Do you really expect every blogger to respond to every link, shout-out or mention in every post?
I think bloggers are entitled to be selective. Otherwise you WILL spend all your time thanking people for links or engaging in conversations that aren’t necessarily productive.
And there have been times, Mitch, when I’ve linked to you on either MINK or OneDegree and I haven’t received a response. And I’m generally OK with that.
But then, I don’t link with the sole purpose of catching someone’s eye in an ego feed and wanting them to drop by. I link because what I’m linking to enhances (or even says better) my point, is the full version of something I’ve quoted, or is the antithesis of what I’m discussing so I offer it as a counterpoint.
Secondly, from a corporate point of view … I would absolutely encourage corporate bloggers to respond to every comment or mention – in an effort to build relationships and build traffic – but if the bloggers aren’t equipped to deal with the issues being raised, that puts them in a difficult position. So they, as well as others on their CSR team, have to go through that learning curve that Doug describes above.
There are some bloggers who write about different companies with the sole intent of engaging corporate reps in a flame war on their blog – there is a lot of potential cachet in being the next Dell Hell blogger. So, are corporate bloggers entitled to weed out trolls? I think so – or respond with something appropriate but potentially boilerplate (but good boilerplate – like some of the top notch email support teams use).
I think about Dell’s Richard Binhammer describing his blog response team at the recent Canadian Institute conference – what is it, 6 people? I can imagine that some very popular bloggers get 1/6 the link love that Dell gets – so their full time job would be just responding to links and comments.
And then they couldn’t do the client work that gives them the good ideas that they blog about.
So, it seems we all need to manage our expectations, but also, work to develop better tools. Technorati and Google News get you the initial hit, but they don’t get it all. I regularly use four different sources for my clients to monitor and they catch about 85 to 90% of the mentions. And there still are not great tools for tracking comment threads. So that’s extra effort and management required.
It’s still early days (though it may not seem that way to those of us on the bleeding edge). And it is definitely early days for those of us attempting to work with very large corporate clients and corporate infrastructures. Some of them still don’t have email support, let alone know how to use RSS to receive ego feeds. Their corporate culture isn’t yet wired for social media. But we’re working with them to change that. And keep pointing them to good examples and getting bloggers to applaud their efforts and provide gentle correction.
I’m going to look at this from the political angle. I don’t think it is the responsibility of any blogger to be accountable in a duel of this nature. The party being challenged, in this case the corporation, has the right to retort with any weapon it so chooses.
Being savvy would lead one to logically respond with like means. Often though, it doesn’t serve the corporate interest to acknowledge the problems.
We must also take into account the fact that airing a grievance on a blog is a public act. It is neither the responsibility of the corporation to respond in kind. All complaints should be directed to corporate headquarters to ensure the matter is recorded rather than in public spaces. To respond in a space that is inately filled with certain level of activism, negativity, and as Kate puts it, blogs that have the “sole intent of engaging corporate reps in a flame war on their blog”. Legit or not, it’s a volatile place to be for many companies.
That being said, on a personal level I’ve been a complainer on both sides: direct contact and blogging. Neither is effective and it normally results in an inconvenience or added cost to the consumer. Moi. That’s the real customer service issue–not how we communicate but how adept the company is in dealing with communications on the whole.
Can coporations manage the migration to social media?
Mitch has nailed it. A lot of companies being slammed by online controversies – like Hasbro – just aren’t used to dealing with emotional, irrational and impetuous humans.
Their relationship with the marketplace is framed by the work of their dist…
The actual fact is that companies are now just seeing the benefits of blogging. So they are literally stepping back a couple of times figuring out how to get to the “blogger level”…. but what they don’t realize is that the blogosphere is just as crowded as a highway in LA during rush hour.
Whats next? A lot…Lifecast being one of them.
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