Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

What Am I Missing?

So, I’m reading Facebook and see a posting from Starbucks. It tells me that I can download ten songs from iTunes on their dime. Okay. I’m not a fan of iTunes but I’ll take it for free. Then I made the supreme mistake – I looked at the comments. To begin with, I couldn’t imagine what the comments might be saying. A coffee company that you have chosen to hear from offers you free tunes. What more is there to say? You can say “Thank you”. That’s a bit vacuous but at least it’s appropriate. What else could there be?

I started paging through the 152 (that’s right! 152 and growing!) comments to see if there was a theme or some meme that I was missing. There were several as it turned out. They could be classified as:

  • Inane – comments like “I love Starbucks"!” and “yummy!” They don’t add much to the sum total of the knowledge of the human race but at least they are harmless. Besides, even Starbucks needs to hear the love from time to time.
  • Reasonable Complaints – mostly that people have a hard time downloading the songs or that they’re not available in Europe. These are okay too in that it’s good information. Doesn’t change the world but some marketing flunky at Starbucks will find it valuable.
  • Whining – folks who complain to hear themselves talk. I love the misspellings in these. It says something about the people writing these comments. If you are going to complain at least take the time to do it properly. And it’s not spelled “sux”.
  • The Haters - by far my favorite comments are the ones that say how much they hate Starbucks. Why would someone friend a company on Facebook if they hate them so much? It stretches credulity until it is paper thin.

This leads me to two thoughts. The first is that although social media is about creating community, it doesn’t always work out that way. Clearly, if you have people who friend you just to whine, complain, and say they hate you they have no real interest in belonging to a community. This is one of the biggest problems with social media for marketing purposes. Not everyone is interested in forming a positive community around your product. Quite a few just want to make themselves feel good by dumping hate on you. Unfortunately, social media is like a bug light for antisocial personalities.

The second thought was how difficult it is to control social media. This is yet another risk of social media that needs to be managed. Simply put, you can’t control your message and image the way you would in other media. All it takes is a bunch of complainers and haters to ruin whatever positive thing you are trying to accomplish. Give something away for free to gain a little brand loyalty? Some idiot who only means you ill ruins your effort. This is the same reason I no longer allow comments on this blog. Between the spammers and flamers it wasn’t a healthy conversation. At least with Facebook, it stays in the community of mostly good customers. On Twitter, it gets broadcast to the world. Ouch!

Social media opens up a whole can of risk that wasn’t there before. Part of that risk comes from the unprecedented access we give to our brand. Anyone with an ax to grind or who just wants to rain on everyone’s parade can mess with your message. The worst part of it is that you really can’t reply. If you get into a back and forth with a complainer you will turn off the people who are there for the right reasons. All you can do is hope that the inane and reasonable outnumber the whiners and stupids.

So, unless you already have a strong brand, solid message, and loyal customers, think twice about social media. You might not get what you want.

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