Everybody has multiple customer service complaints. It's human nature to tell and share a story once you feel that you have been wronged. In a Social Media world - where sharing that story with the world is only a Blog post away - the stakes (for most companies) have been raised. One of the main reasons the stakes are so high has very little to do with the actual complaints, comments and Blog postings as they happen. It's the lingering Google results that represents the real "death by a thousand paper cuts."
It's a topic that has been discussed, debated and dissected in the Blogosphere since early days. I guess the big question is this: do the complaints actually have an affect in the world or are people just talking in their own, little fishbowl?
In reflecting on some of the bigger Blog rant memes I've picked up on lately (everything from Hasbro defending the Scrabble brand trademark against the creators of the Scrabulous Facebook application to Ford and their current discussion with Cafe Press over a bunch of Ford Mustang owners who created and sold a calendar with pictures of their Black Ford Mustangs) and foregoing my constant interest in how the Blogosphere is quick to spread these stories without doing any research regarding accuracy or getting comments from the other side (check out my Blog posting, Firestarter, for more on that), does the general public know and care, or do these stories still live and die in the fishbowl?
How many people do you think know who Jeff Jarvis is or what "Dell Hell" was all about (and, I am talking about people who do not Blog)? If you were to canvass a group of people walking downtown in any major metropolitan city in the world, what percentage of them would have even heard about the Hasbro - Scrabulous story? Does that make the story a non-issue?
I think the game has changed. Here are four shifts in media and what it means to Marketers:
1. Media is much more fragmented. Not too long ago, there were only a handful of ways to get your media and because of this, the stories were fairly similar. Cable brought the whole "57 channels and nothing on" culture to light, while Blogs have made individuals their own personal media empires.
2. The "mass" is quickly going away. People get their news/information from several unique and targeted outlets now. So, what's news in my world is not news in your world. If you forgo the Blogosphere, just look at specialty television. You could spend the whole year and only watch Home and Garden related programming (and you wouldn't even have to change the channel).
3. The fishbowl is getting bigger and bigger. While these customer service rants seem more like annoyances from a small group of people playing around with Blogs, the numbers indicate that there is a shift in how people get their content and news. We're moving from trusting "similar others" to trusting "similar others" as trusted news sources. Readership in Blogs and Podcasts continues to rise as more and more people find this content via search or as an alternative/addition to their current media consumption regime.
4. The Google Effect. All of this content lives forever in a search engine optimized environment. As more and more people go online for their primary research, those search results (and these customer service Blog posts) rank high on the trust barometer. Even if a customer service rant gets resolved quickly and efficiently, the story lingers in those search results forever. Stories don't get "buried in the back of the paper" anymore.
More than even, companies need to monitor, analyze and strategically plan what (and how) they're going to say and do in these channels. More than ever, just reacting is proving to not be an efficient response. More than ever, companies need to be looking at Blogs, Podcasts and even twitter or Facebook status updates to hear the voice of the customer.
Blogs are not "so yesterday." If anything, this type of content and communication is just starting to find its voice and establishing itself as one of the strongest media forces that can shape a business and the brand.