No doubt you've probably been following the latest brand social media kerfuffle or perhaps I should say, "scuffle" with Nestle and their Facebook wall.
In one of the many trade articles written on the story, one particular reader comment caught my eye (see below). It is this comment that in my opinion is the real reason why these kinds of missteps are occurring. The reader in question demonstrates an acute lack of knowledge and understanding of the current landscape, the changing relationship between brands and their communities, the increasing expectations and demands that consumers have from the companies they buy from and without question, the new consumerism or customer activism that continues to sweep through markets as we know them.
By Felliott | Shawnee, KS March 19, 2010 04:27:52 pm: Every time one of these social media shitstorms flares up, and the twitterati grab their pitchforks, the picture becomes more clear: Brands are the cool adult down the street, who don't have kids but who let the neighborhood kids play in his yard anyway. Once upon a time, when one of the kids go out of line, it was perfectly acceptable for the homeowner to say "that wasn't cool, now get the hell off my lawn", and the other kids thusly knew their boundaries, if social convention hadn't already prepared them. But NOW, in a day when the kids all have megaphones and a sense of unassailable entitlement, the new social order is that when one of them lights a bag of dog shit on the homeowner's front porch, the homeowner is supposed to proclaim what a funny little kid he is. When one of them spray-paints grafitti on his garage door, the homeowner now has to praise him for his edgy creativity and create a contest asking all the kids' friends for more of the same. When they stomp his garden and call his wife a whore, he's supposed to respond very sweetly and say "my, my, you are an intelligently creative lot, thank you for contributing". Is that about it? Can we cut to the chase? If he doesn't respond this way, he's a dinosaur who doesn't get it.
In the particular case of Nestle, they were more forces in play that contributed to the inflammatory situation - with sweeping implications with respect to organizational structure, process, training, empowerment and education. Also, it's nothing new that one person's actions become a face for the entire brand experience e.g. a nasty or rude cashier at McDonalds can eradicate any and all goodwill from "I'm loving it". What is new of course is how this action (in a virtual environment) can have widespread implications or tremors that spread across the entire organization and its entire customer base.
That said, it's not Nestle's situation, nor their response that prompted me to write this post. It's the complete disconnect between the commenter's understanding and perception of the marketplace and ultimately, how brands need to structure themselves to deliver, fulfill and serve their customers accordingly.
To even remotely portray a brand as "the cool adult down the street" and its customers as the "entitled neighborhood kids" not only misses the point, but also exposes a potentially fatal flaw which could have dire repercussions on BRAND equity, health, reputation and...oh yes......revenues as well.
I couldn't help but wonder if the person behind the comment is either a marketer in charge of curating and shepherding his or her brand or an agency executive that has been hired (or outsourced) to help with this mission critical function.
How many other marketers or agency executives out there do you think share this arrogant, delusional or misguided sentiment?
Don't get me wrong....consumers who disrespect, degrade, deface or sabotage brand or corporate efforts deserve to be treated accordingly, BUT (and it's a huge BUT), there's a pretty clear line between subversive efforts and everything else (passion, emotion, opinion, curiosity etc) It's not a fine line. It's not an ambiguous line. It's a very clear line and if you can't see it, it's time to purchase a pair of common sense glasses.
Start here: when people (individuals) have ulterior motives - especially ones that are veiled, opaque and/or hidden - that's very different from a person or even a group with an opinion or point of view. Where it gets a little tougher, is when those people are organized in a group and to what degree that group is formalized (organization) versus organic/informal (community).
There's really no playbook when it comes to handling these kind of situations, but a great place to start is at the beginning. Doing something versus doing nothing. But also recognizing that doing something is not always better than doing nothing, especially when the "something" is a chide, rebuke or "get the hell off my lawn."
Bottom line: if you're still thinking of your consumers as spoiled, obstreperous, immature and demanding children, you're probably setting yourself up for a visit from SOCIAL (media) SERVICES.
Get it? Got it? Good!