Brand names face the ire of the Internet

For the London Free Press – October 26, 2009

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CUSTOMER SATISFACTION: It’s a lot harder to manage online when reputations can be made or smeared by campaigns that may or may not be fair

An old customer service axiom says a dissatisfied consumer will tell eight other people about their experience.

Perhaps that axiom should now say 800, 8,000 or more, given that the Internet has made sharing dissatisfaction easier than ever.

The axiom emphasizes the importance of good customer service for business owners and the danger of even a few irritated customers.

The Internet and all its tools, such as websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube is a double-edged sword for any entity promoting its brand.

It provides many tools to raise brand awareness and promote goods and services — but it also allows anyone to comment on a brand for all to see. Even brands selling quality goods and services will draw negative comments from someone, somewhere, even if undeserved.

Maytag learned this lesson first hand when a customer who was displeased with attempts to fix her washing machine voiced her displeasure on Twitter. She explained her complaints and asked her 1.3 million Twitter followers to join her in boycotting Maytag.

Though the company was aware of the posting and rectified the situation the next day, the damage was done — the dissatisfied customer had shared her aggravation with a very large audience.

Brands are becoming more about what people think of them, rather than what the brand owner tells people to think about them.

Where brands once could portray the image and message they wanted to represent, they now find themselves reacting to postings from bloggers and tweeters.

Recognizing this trend, tools are being introduced to let individuals comment on products more easily. Google, for instance, has introduced Sidewiki, which allows anyone to comment on anything on the Internet, whether the website owner condones their comments or not.

Sidewiki appears as an overlay on the side of the page that the Internet user is viewing. Users can make comments regarding the webpage they are viewing within the Sidewiki. For example, if the user is viewing the webpage of a restaurant they have eaten at recently, they could post a comment on their dining experience.

Such tools and the ability for anyone to comment strike fear into even the most reputable business.

Businesses are understandably concerned about a situation where even undeserved negative comments garner attention.

Reputation tools are, however, available to monitor comments posted on theInternet.

For example, Seth Godin has developed the Brands in Public website, which collects tweets, blog posts, news stories, images, videos and comments about a brand. With all the information in one place, companies can easily track what’s said about them.

Business owners should be aware of what people are saying about their products so they can respond accordingly.

Businesses generally can’t suppress negative comments — except to the extent they cross legal boundaries, such as defamation or intellectual property infringement — but they also can’t manage what they don’t know about.

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