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.