I don't like to use this Blog space (or Twitter, Facebook, etc...) to gripe about brands (more about that here: Making Customers Attack). Bottom line, I don't like to leverage this community for my personal gain. By complaining, it forces the brand to take a look at who I am and who I am connected to. I would not want any kind of favorable resolution simply because I have a small semblance of a community, or because I write a newspaper column. I don't write a column or build this community so that brands will pay attention to me when I'm not satisfied. On top of that, you are not here to watch me publicly deal with a customer service issue. You're here to be a media hacker along with me. You're not here to be a part of my personal bidding.
But, it's not all about me.
Most people don't have a following. They're online and they're following their close friends while doing some celebrity stalking. On top of that, they're not getting any help or resolution through the more traditional channels, and someone probably told them to try complaining on Twitter or Facebook. In turn, brands are responding to public outcry, and this must be making them smarter and better. At the very least, it gives everybody else watching some kind of inkling about how the brand performs (positive, negative and neutral).
Is this real consumer advocacy?
If you look at some of the more respected online people who complain about a brand (those with a semblance of a community that extends beyond their personal family and friends), you hardly ever see much consumer advocacy beyond their own, personal resolution. That bothers me because most of them claim to be doing it to "keep the brands honest," but if that's the case, wouldn't those individuals do more? Things like: help their own community members if they have similar issues or really explain (in gory detail) how the resolution came to be? More often than not, you get this big, long, complaint rant and if the problem gets resolved, there is a one-liner that reads like, "great news! Brand XYZ responded and everything is right in the world!"
Consumer advocacy is about much more.
Real consumer advocacy is about much more than one issue and one resolution. It's about ongoing education. It's about not getting something fixed once (and for yourself), but getting the laws changed so that no one else has to go through what said individual went through. It has to do with something bigger than just one brand (there's usually similar issues within an industry). It's about caring for the interest of every consumer (not just yourself).
I do worry about this.
It's easy to fall into a trap. It's easy to be stuck in a place where each individual leverages their online clout to get a customer service resolution. Let's be clear, the more commonplace this becomes (and it's happening each and every day), the more brands will start paying attention to people based on who they are (and who they are connected to) instead of doing the right thing because it's simply the right thing to do. What we'll all wind up with are brand feeds that are filled with apologies and boring content about another customer service issue and individual's feeds that will be similar. I'm not sure I have a solution to this, but that isn't the point of this Blog post. The real point is for all of us to be aware that - for the most part - the majority of people doing the majority of complaining, aren't doing this as a public service, they're doing it to get their stuff straightened up... and their leveraging the fact that you are connected to them to get this done. In more simple terms: they're using you (sometimes with, but most of the time it's without, your permission). Or, is this the future of consumer advocacy? A world where it's totally fragmented, unorganized and driven by the individual?
How do you feel about consumer advocacy online?