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« Goodwill Online: A Key Factor for Persuasion | Main | Boston Blogger Meet-Up »

April 05, 2006


Andy Beal

I personally don't think a business can ignore even a single negative blog post. They don't always have to respond either, but they sure need to keep an eye on it to ensure that single voice doesn't become a choir.

Elizabeth Albrycht

Yes, a good clarification. I agree with you.

Jeffrey Treem


I was listening to Michael Wiley, GM's Director of New Media and one of the men behind their FastLane blog, last week and he said that customer complaints to the blog are filtered out, sent to the appropriate customer service person, and often followed up on creating a faster and more personal response.

When the moderator of the discssion asked Wiley if the best way to get good service was to post a complaint to the blog, Wiley did not really dispute the comment.

Is this a realistic customer service model? not completely. However, I think it points to the accountability attached to interactive communications.

From the public's side, yes I think there is a growing opportunity to create a collective voice to initiate change.

However, organizations need to empower communicators with the ability to not only respond, but help faciitate more fundamental organizational and cultural changes offline.

It is nice that we as communicators want to help people, and that we tell organizations that they should communicate this to the public. However, in the end too often our hands are tied.

We are a long way from this model, but these are important issues to discuss.

John Wagner

I've written a lot about this same issue, as I believe that for some companies, trying to respond to complaints is a losing proposition. I get frustrated when I read bloggers espousing total engagement on blogs without considering that so many consumers are, as you state, just blowing off steam.

Does an organization need to know every complaint? I like to consider an issue like that by using a real company ... i.e. does it benefit McDonald's to read in 40 MySpace or Xanga sites every day that their food sucks?

And if the answer is yes, is it necessary for them to respond to each of those posters?

I think most reasonable people would agree that McDonald's is aware that some people don't like their food, and that it doesn't really benefit them to hear it daily.

Does this mean that McDonald's shouldn't monitor blogs? Of course not. But there needs to be common sense and a dose of reality before insisting that companies take heed of every post or "engage" consumers across the board.

John Wagner

Another factor to consider ... despite all the publicity in the blogosphere about high-profile complaints, is there any real evidence that such campaigns did any real damage to the companies involved?

Word of mouth works both ways. Just because I read a complaint from Blogger A doesn't mean I forget what I've heard and seen from others, all added into my own experiences.

Mary Schmidt

Hmmm. On one hand, I'd like to think that a blog post could bring about marching in the streets (and quick change). I'd be blogging my little brains out 24 hours a day. Freedom of speech. illegal wiretapping. torture. global warming. So much to post about, so little time. Far smarter and more famous people than I are blogging on such things and I've not seen one person in the street (yet).

And coming to that "yet" I think it's like anything else - there's a flash point - be it with companies or governments. One day, it reaches critical mass, and the least little thing touches off an explosion.

I do believe people are often "just" blowing off steam but they're also communicating and connecting. And, a few will follow through with action. It only takes one person to start a rebellion (among citizens, customer or stockholders).

John W. brings up a good point - is there any research/data on the impact of blogging on companies? But does it even matter whether it's been measured or not? Just one unhappy customer represents lost sales - multiply that by even two and the total effect is significant.

(No, I'm not advocating armed rebellion - but we do need to all take responsibility for speaking up and standing up or things will never get better - rather it's a lemon of a car, lousy customer service, a hamburger or a government policy.)

Alice Marshall

"Does this consumer commentary represent a safety valve, allowing them (us) to blow off steam, ease frustration etc. with little real expectation that something will change, that their problem will be solved? Or do consumers truly expect real change to occur or real action to be taken?"

It depends.
(I'm from Washington, DC, can you tell?)

Kathy Hale


The points of your last paragraph remind me of organizational theorist Charles Handy --I THINK he's the one who uses the metaphor of organizations who make the mistake of squeezing the goose that lays the golden egg to death, rather than nurturing and sustaining the goose. I think he's referring to such things as raiding the budgets and freezing hiring, etc. for the bottom-line good of quarterly reports rather than long-term sustaining of the institution. I think this applies to the subject of this conversation--if institutions are not willing to "put their money where their mouth is" by budgeting for "action engagement"as well as "talk" engagement--to improve their product or service or diffuse the negative social impact it's having, they are squeezing the goose by their budget choices.

Max Kalehoff

In many ways, the blogosphere is an extension of the customer relations group. That said, I think a lot of companies need to do some sole searching and look inside at the basics, at what already exists. For example, where does the customer telephone help line rank among the marketing group's collective priorities? Usually not very high. Companies should first embrace even the most direct customer feedback, then go out and actively listen in other places -- such as the blogosphere.

Sidebar on the customer relations help line: My colleague Pete Blackshaw made a good point recently: how many customer help lines actually ask callers, "Do you blog or comment in message boards? Or how likely are you to tell others about your experience?"

benito castro

Hi Elizabeth.

I am Spanish, and I have English written mistakes. So sorry about that. My point, from south Europe, is a little bit different in terms of evolution of the blogosphere. For us it´s too far, just thinking the idea of a sort of organitation in between bloggers (even more, people off line) following an idea of action against a bad produt o service. Too much. Honestly. Too far. At least for us. I think the organitation among blogger people is impossible, from the 'real world' point of view. To get that organitation is a matter of casual junction of behaviours.

Elizabeth Albrycht

Thank you all for these really great comments. It seems one common theme is that PR/Communications should be much more closely tied to the customer service department. And yes, that will create the need for structural change in many organizations. Any examples of where this has already occurred?

As for measuring the impact of negative blogging, I suppose the Kryptonite example is one documented one. Blog-->major media-->recall-->$10 million cost. In prep for a panel with Andrew Bernstein of Cymfony and Sam Whitmore of Media Survey we did an analysis of FedEx Furniture vs. FedEx and it showed a significant drop in stock price at the same time that story hit mass media. We couldn't PROVE that it was related, but it looked pretty much like it was. But it wasn't a long-term hit. Lots more work needs to be done on this.

I'd also like to see a survey of bloggers who have complained and what their expectations were and what happened.

And clearly cultural differences play a role here (thanks for commenting Benito). Note to self: do some reading on activism/group organization.

David Phillips

This is just so good. It is right to get our feet firmly back on the ground.

I think that the idea of the 'long conversation' is important here. It is the conversation that picks up the point, identifies the common ground, explains what is involved and what is being done, how long it will take etc. Now this need not be a one off, highly researched and panic stricken response. It is a conversation. As information is or becomes available it time to discuss it. Calm man!

As I have commented for For Immediate Release today, the research is showing that blogs are good for building relations including trust with constituents and that the organisations that do this tend to out perform other organisations in terms of profitability and growth.

So, we do need to heed what you say and to create strategies that make sense in relationship and business terms.

Essentially, we are exchanging information and values about, as you put it, cultures. The culture of the organisation and its constituents.

Mary Schmidt's comments are apposite and we have a quite a lot of experience to fall back on. I have a number of case studies (and a book) that covered this phenomenon of compliant moving from a passing comment to full bloodied consumer protest and even 'war'.

The most interesting one is McSpotlight. It should have destroyed McDonalds but in the five years after the court case McD increased turnover and profitability. How can this be? The answer is that the campaign was in a minority media (the web at the time was for geeks). The actual level of posting in Usenet was not high (until far too late) and it was not until well into the court case that the story jumped from the Web into (the then) mainstream media, the press. Worse still, the press story was about the cost of the case and not the issues behind the litigation.

Move forward a few years. More people were using the Internet and it was much easier to use Usenet, IM was available and Chat was in full swing. The Seattle riots showed where 'blowing off steam' and 'feet in the street' converge. In that instance, the most used online technologies were Usenet and Message Boards. Messageboards was where people formed into active groups but it was Usenet where the activists groups found common ground. The subject had 'jumped media' (Usenet/message boards). It was Usenet which that triggered a huge groundswell of enthusiasm for the marches (which led to the subsequent riots). The press was introduced to this huge volume of comment some weeks before the the WEF meeting and began to hint at the coalition of activists groups (in those days, most government officials and politicians did not go online and they 'washed every morning' so they had no means for engagement). This second jump from one medium to another added fuel to fire and the outcome was inevitable.

Almost always, angst does not transfer from one medium to another, often it stays inside communities in those media. The time to look for 'feet on the street' is when the 'story' or complaint jumps media.

The lessons we learn is that engagement at an early stage is critical, it has to be consistent, it needs to be conversational, It has to be in many media not just blogs and it is important to watch for the issues that jump from one media to another.

Simon Collister

Well.... how do you follow that?

In terms of applying the theory of blogging/dialogue or the 'long conversation' as David terms it... I currently work with an organisation that champions customer service in the UK.

It has plenty of evidence and experience showing that successful businesses and organisations listen and respond to their customer's needs. However, very few (if any) of their members use new media tools to engage in this way.

Maybe it's time to test the theory and see what tangible benefits web 2.0 can offer.

Watch this space......

Harry Chittenden

I found this in the "popular" tags at this morning.

AOL rant:

The extreme frustration of the writer is palpable. However, his complaint is well documented and his style amusing. Futhermore, I found it where a lot of people had tagged it on delicious. So it's getting around.

Rather than riot in the streets, people in agreement with the writer will do worse from AOL's point of view: close their accounts.

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