Welcome To The World Wide Complaint Desk

Despite what some spittle-lipped sharpsters might try to sell you, social media’s rapid behavior-changing adoption is still far from settled enough for anyone to analyze and measure.  The marketing industry still bobs chest deep in the churning waves, making assessment difficult at best.  The one incontrovertible truth is that in remarkably short order, Twitter, Facebook and other social networks have powerfully reset both who we communicate with and how, leaving brands scrambling to determine just what to make of it and how to adjust.Picture 2

Today’s consumers enjoy a radical new level of access and empowerment; marketers enjoy a unprecedented access and insights.  And everyone involved must now balance the benefits of another powerful new platform even as we assess the drawbacks and limitations.

All of which makes Catharine Taylor’s latest post on Social Media Insider a great jumping off point for timely client discussions.  Under the provocative heading “Is Social Media Turning Us Into Whiner Nation,” Catharine raises the issue of determining the relative quality of social media input.  Sometimes this dialogue can inform and reshape productively, but many times, they amount to so much hyper-empowered bitching.

On one level, companies can consider all of this new social input the equivalent of having a world wide complaint desk that’s always open–a vastly enhanced, far more powerful version of the old one-employee department that existed solely to provide disgruntled shoppers an outlet for their frustrations.  And to a point, that’s reasonably accurate (consider Motrin, and just recently, Amp).  Social media provides a mass channel for opinion, and it can be skewed heavily by special interests or a vocal minority.  Worse, the most destructive of those opinions often spring from people far outside a brand’s core target, rendering them less relevant but still potentially damaging.  Should brands respond then or should they abide, enduring a temporary tempest before the shouters move on to the inevitable next offense, another issue of another new day?

These are questions brands and their advocates must address.  Like it or not, advertisers are well served to monitor these inputs, and make adjustments if necessary.  But to do that, we must all get more skilled at assessing those tweets and blogs–their relevance, resonance and virulence.  And we must also get better at assessing positive feedback; it’s far too simple to slip into easy acquiescence after hearing one or two glowing reviews.  Positive sources can be just as suspect as negative ones.

Perhaps the greatest irony of this new reset in the advertiser-consumer relationship–from a one-sided platform driven by wealthy brands to a two-way dialogue powered by basically anyone with broadband–is how hard it is for marketers to reconcile the fact that consumers now have a voice.  And speak up.  Pretty loudly sometimes.

We always thought that was our job.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79