One of the ways that citizen marketers are really making themselves known is by sharing their consumer trials and triumphs with their blog readers.
We experience, through them, how the company does or doesn’t respond. We cheer on the wronged. We boo the corporate villains…or herald them if they’re listening and respond to fix the problem.
Here are some of the recent ones I know. And because I know these people…I know the stories they tell are true.
- Best Buy (this story has a happy ending!)
- Papa Johns
- Overstock.com (another happy ending!)
But I don’t know this blogger. And I have no idea if her story is true. But dang, it’s compelling.
Etta’s mom tells the heart-tugging story of how her daughter Etta was invited to an American Girl store (by a friend) so they could get their dolls’ hair styled. Etta brought a doll from Target and when it was her turn in line, was told by the stylist that her doll "wasn’t real" and she wouldn’t do her hair. To make Etta’s experience even worse, some of the moms in line mocked her for bringing a non-AG doll to the store.
As I write this, there are 394 comments to her post. Most of the commenters were brought to tears (you have to read the post…it really is incredibly well-written and heart breaking.) Many of them were vowing to stop shopping there and several say that they’ve called the store and demanded action.
One commenter even posted a response she got to an e-mail she sent to AG corporate. Google "American girl" Etta and you will be amazed at the number of articles, posts etc. that 12 days after the original post, are now telling the story.
Here’s my question. What if she made up the story? I am not suggesting for one minute that she did. But, I am asking "what if?"
In 12 days. Less than 1,200 words. What damage has been done?
How can/will AG recover? For how long will they be called on to respond and apologize? Will they have to train their staff on how to handle it when a customer brings it up?
We are behind the driver’s wheel of a very powerful medium. Not everyone is going to be ethical. Not everyone is going to care about anyone but themselves. Not everyone will be transparent about their motives.
How will we know?
Thanks to Brett Trout for sharing this story with me, thinking it would appeal to my fascination with branding. As you can see, it did much more than that.
To me, that is one of the biggest weaknesses and dangers of the Web. There is no real vetting process, so anyone can start a ball rolling that can mislead people or damage an individuial’s or a company’s reputation.
It’s not unlike offline, where you try to filter all thethings you hear from people to determine what’s real and what may be exaggerated. But there’s something about seeing information in print that (even if the print is on your computer screen)gives it an air of credibility.
Your’re right — we are the drivers and we need to exercise care in what we put out there.
It really is a matter of balancing influence and responsibility. I tend to be very careful and selective about the blogs I link to — because it provides implicit support.
And when I read something provocative — then I check the comments and commenters. If there is too many Anonymous commenters then it tells me something about the community and readership.
Sure some damage can be done … but how wide can it go without a check/balance? And anyway, it provides a real opportunity for brands to join the conversation!
That is a very valid question, Drew. Even MSM has been known to highlight one angle and aspect of a story — usually the most controversial — to draw eye balls.
The corporate communications function has just added a whole new role: that of conversation joiner. It would be naive to ignore such information even when we know it’s not true. Here’s my question back to your readers:
* What kind of response would this story warrant?
In many corporate environments, the belief is that we they respond to allegations, they provide additional fuel. Instead, many a management team chooses to dismiss such stories when unfounded. Yet, as you point out, the damage in public opinion may already be done…
Excellent points, Drew.
And I’m with Valeria – This is another reason why it’s crucial to track and manage your brand online.
If a story such as this is true, then you can apologize and address it. If it’s not, you can work to tackle it more effectively. (Which you CAN’T do if it is true. You can only show some humanity and apologize.)
The old-school head-up-the-rear approach doesn’t work anymore.
You can be part of the conversation, or the subject of the conversation. Smart companies are choosing to be part of it.
Great post, Drew. You’ve nicely layed out the complexities of social media, which does indeed have an underbelly.
As we welcome this new media into our life and as everyone speaks with authority (even if it is just assumed on their part) its easy to get sucked in.
And much like e-mail communication, what we miss are all the non-verbal cues that give us context in which to place the news or information.
And its a two-way street. We have to be mindful of what we say, but we also have to be very mindful of what we listen to and comment on.
It will be interesting to see how we sort this whole aspect out.
I agree — we bear the responsibility from our own blogs.
But we both know that news/gossip/drama passes through the blogosphere at the speed of light.
Imagine the damage to American Girl’s reputation 24 hours after that initial post went live. And all those initial commenters are not only commenting on the blog but they’re talking about it at work or church. They may never see AG’s reply (if there is one) or find out if the original claim was true or not.
The community’s power very quickly gets bigger than the community itself.
Good and bad.
A good point…the old “no comment” position. I’ve yet to see that be an effective method od dealing with a PR maelstrom.
Good points. Basically, in today’s citizen-driven model — you are going to be the subject of the conversation.
You just have to decide if you’re going to allow it to be one-sided.
A good offense is a good defense!
But, even if we don’t engage — does this sort of thing threaten our ability to use this medium with credibility?
In other words, if the blogosphere is exposed a few times (like LonelyGirl15) as a place where posers and liars gather — do we risk getting painted by that same brush?
You’ve been living in this medium for a long time. What do you think the answer/s to the problem are?
Or is it just part and parcel of the whole and we have to put up with it as a nod to citizen-driven marketing good and bad?
Thanks again for the thought-provoking post, and for challenging those of use who blog.
Blogs and other forms of citizen-driven media are here to stay so I think we should also discuss how to address them, from a marketing point of view.
I think blogs, YouTube and other online media generated by consumers offer a huge challenge to marketers, not necessarily a problem. I guess it’s a glass-half-full point of view. These kinds of stories are going to happen with or without the blogosphere, only much slower. Unlike offline word-of-mouth, however, marketers have great tools available to them to counteract any damage – and leverage any positive comments – if they choose to use them.
If my choice is to catch someone talking about my brand quickly and respond to it full force or finding out that they’ve been saying things about my brand for years without me knowing it, I’ll take the former.
And monitoring the blogosphere today is easier and cheaper than the old-school tools of surveys and focus groups to stay ahead of the curve.
Very valid points. Better the enemy you know.
However, I do expect that we will see legal action being taken again irresponsible bloggers or people who embellish for the sake of rankings or attention.
Unlike mass media, these are unregulated waters. I doubt that will be the case forever.
I agree! In fact I was very upset by the story(having 4 daughters of my own).
I went to American Girls Website and emailed them about the story. And, if it DID happen (or didn’t) what measures are being put into place by AG to prevent this from happening (again)? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt… afterall – we can’t judge an entire company on the acts of one employee – I’d have quit my job a LONG time ago 🙂
I hope to hear from AG in the next few days.
I’d be interested to hear what AG sends you back, in terms of a reply. Talk about a firestorm…this was all over the web.
Agreed, one bad employee (or a good one having a bad day) is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water. But it does suggest some more training is needed.