How many times lately have we seen this scenario: Big company “X” decides to change a policy or implement a new fee for something. Then a few days later they do a complete “180”, stating that they are being sensitive to the desires and wants of their customers. All in the spirit of promoting the highest levels of customer satisfaction…
Let’s take a look at a few real world examples. Bank of America implements a $5 per month fee for debit card use. After a vitriolic public outcry, BofA reverses its decision, stating “Our customers’ voices are most important to us. As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so.” GoDaddy.com publicly announces support for the Stop Online Piracy Act, and suffers a huge backlash, with well-organized “boycott GoDaddy” campaigns on communities such as Reddit.
Just a two days ago, Verizon announced plans for a $2 “convenience” fee for one-off online payments. After a huge negative response from its customers and well organized protests on change.org, which prompted the FCC to “look into the matter”, Verizon reversed its position just one day later.
Not all protests are about fees or political affiliations or stances. Back in 2010 Gap decided to change its logo. Again after very negative consumer response, Gap backpedaled, stating “We only want what’s best for the brand and our customers.” And on the environmental front, another well-organized protest on change.org was able to convince the National Park Service to move forward with its ban on plastic bottles in the Grand Canyon – despite opposition to the ban from a major park funder, Coca Cola.
If you haven’t read Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, I would suggest you put it on your reading pile. I’ve written many times in the past about the notion that companies no longer own their brand – it is now in the “public domain” so to speak. Those companies that do not realize this are destined to spend lots of time and money doing damage control. Facebook is a prime example of this. The good news is that they seem to be learning from their previous missteps in privacy control management.
In chapter 10 of their book, Li and Bernoff talk about connecting with the groundswell. One of the most important takeaways from this chapter is the realization that companies must “let go of control” to win over the groundswell and subsequently use it to their advantage. This is a very tough concept for most companies to embrace. We have tens if not hundreds of marketing people whose job it is to fiercely protect the sacred brand. Unfortunately, this model that may have worked well in the 20th century is quickly becoming obsolete in the digital age that is shaped and transformed by social media – almost on a daily basis as we have seen.
Along with the notion that your brand is in the public domain, I’ve also written about the concept of the “OOO” – Online Outreach Officer. In the social world this role might be as, if not more important than the keeper of the keys – the Chief Operating Officer, who’s charged with keeping the ship on course and the business engine running smoothly and efficiently. But this can be a challenge when obstacles appear out of nowhere, causing unnecessary course corrections or changes in speed. So it’s up to the OOO to be the lookout, ensuring that those obstacles don’t materialize. To do that, the OOO must be out ahead of the ship, amongst the community, looking, listening and learning. Only then can the enterprise avoid the effects of unwanted negative groundswell.