It's hard to be great in business today.
It's not that businesses don't try, it's that their every waking move is now being recorded in text, images, audio and video and being published live for the world to read via social media in real time. Who would have thought that 140 characters on Twitter could do so much damage to the character of a brand? In a world where close to one billion people are connected on Facebook, we have to start asking the very difficult question: does any of this even make a difference any more? The mass media used to jump on stories of people being wronged by a brand. Look no further than Dave Carroll. The Halifax-based musician wrote a song and created a YouTube viral video sensation with United Breaks Guitars in 2008 after his guitar was busted during a trip on United Airlines. With over twelve million views on YouTube, the incident became not only a public relations nightmare for United Airlines, but according to Wikipedia, "The Times newspaper reported that within 4 days of the video being posted online, United Airline's stock price fell 10%, costing stockholders about $180 million in value."
Carroll is still a musician but also a sought-after public speaker on customer service and the author of the newly published business book, United Breaks Guitars - The Power of One Voice In The Age of Social Media (Hay House, 2012). Yes, his career seems to be growing strong. So, is United Airlines now a decimated brand? Do you think any less of the airline?
Analysts have debated the stock value drop (according to Wikipedia: "...since the video was posted on July 6, the cumulative stock price drop was only 2% (from 3.34 to 3.26). According to UAL's stock prices, the stock started the year at $11.87, but dropped to a low of $3.94 on March 6. On July 2, UAL traded at $3.31 and $4.12 on July 31, growing by 24% for the month. It traded $12.91 by Dec 31, 2009, up 390% since July 2."), while others will simply shrug their shoulders and say, "it's an airline, what did you expect?"
Social media as revenge... and justice for all.
While Carroll and his viral video are only one of a myriad of instances where one disgruntled customer took to social media for revenge or to get a settlement, it has now become commonplace for everyone with a Twitter account to take to social media for personal justice. Some marketing professionals will tell you that this is a good thing, as it keeps brands honest. Others will tell you that in a world where everyone is screaming, it's hard to tell the differences between the boy who cried wolf and those with a legitimate complaint. If you ask those who work on the front lines of these companies, they'll tell you, quite frankly, how tired they are of each and every one of us using the "do you know who I am?" line on them, which has been updated to: "I'm kind of a big deal on Twitter."
I'm kind of a big deal on Twitter.
Scott Stratten is actually one of the people who really is kind of a big deal on Twitter. In 2008, the music industry marketer and national sales training manager, joined Twitter and performed an experiment on himself by covering his office windows with aluminum foil, shutting out the outside world and focusing exclusively on Twitter as his platform to build an audience and recognition. With close to 130,000 followers, Stratten's test proved positive. His first book, UnMarketing -Stop Marketing. Start Engaging (John Wiley & Sons), became a national bestseller before it was released in 2010. It hit the bestsellers list everywhere from the Globe and Mail and National Post to Amazon. It was also named one of the top business books of 2012 by 800 CEO Read. This attention launched his speaking career, and he just published his sophomore effort, The Book Of Business Awesome - How Engaging Your Customers and Employees Can Make Your Business Thrive and The Book of Business UnAwesome - The Cost of Not Listening or Being Great At What You Do (John Wiley & Sons). It's not two books, but rather two-books-in-one (leave it to a whimsical marketer like Stratten to make it a flip book: one side is the awesome part, flip it over and you have the unawesome side).
"Ten years ago, we would look at brands in the grand scheme of things," says Stratten from his home office outside of Toronto. "We would look at the data and be happy if the brand could get customer satisfaction to seventy or eighty percent. The problem is that we are now into the minutia. It's the conversations and stories of the one individual that now spreads to everyone. I don't think that it's right just because DKNY fixes someone's shirt and sends him a better one that it makes them an entirely amazing company. Nor does one bad instance of Southwest Airlines throwing Kevin Smith of a flight make them a bad airline. The challenge is that this is how people now judge brands. It's no longer about what the brand manager does to create a brand perception, and it's much more about me, the big mouth, spreading a story about something that happened to me at your store. It really is the power of one and the story of one that pushes it."
Time for that cold, hard look in the mirror.
So, you will have to take a cold, hard look at your business and decide what customer service looks like in 2012 and moving forward. Is it about the masses and how your business performs at the monetary level, or is much more about the sentiment, feeling and experience that people have - day in and day out - as they tweet, create Facebook status updates, +1, post, share and comment and each and every inch of the customer experience? Either way, brands can't afford to ignore the reality that each and every one of their consumers now has a publishing platform and media outlet to fight back or share the warm and fuzzies, ultimately making it increasingly difficult for any business to get it right, all of the time.
What are you going to do?
The above post is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure. You can also listen to the full conversation that Scott and I had right here: SPOS #318 - How To Be Business Awesome (And UnAwesome) With Scott Stratten.