It astounds me. It’s 2009; the Internet is over a decade old. Only now is it sensible to actively monitor online customer opinion.
Every business journal, academic, and guru has advocated for years that companies must listen to consumers to keep their business sustainable (or not). Why is every company suddenly hopping on the online “listening” band-wagon?
Ignoring the Signals
Social media did not immediately surge in 2008. Since the Internet’s inception, people have used the medium to contribute opinions. Usenet, one of the first online public forums, began in 1980. Blogging began as early as Usenet, but the term existed since 1997. Blogger and LiveJournal both launched in 1999. By 2004, “blog” was the “word of the year.”
In 2003, two iPod owners, pissed off about the device’s failed battery, released their anger on the Internet. They created a website and video, protesting the $250 battary replacement fee. With over 2.3 million visits to their site, Apple lowered the price, demonstrating the power of two consumers’ voices and establishing the credibility of “social media,” at least in my eyes. This PR nightmare, however, had little effect on corporate behavior.
Marketers Get a Reality Check
It’s easy for a marketer to ignore these signals. But two shifts recently occurred, changing the game for the Fortune 500.
Online Convergence of Marketers and Customers – Previously, commentary on blogs and forums was siloed. Most marketers and CMOs never physically observed consumer opinion in their normal online activity. But marketer and customer behavior converged. Twitter and Facebook are scalable, popular, mass communities that bring the two groups together. No longer could marketers continue their arrogance and ignore their customer’s voice, especially when it’s directly in front of them (i.e., if a CMO observes a nasty comment on the company’s Facebook fan page, sh*t goes down).
The Media’s Lovefest with all things “Social” – Not only are customers and marketers frequenting the same sites, but so is the media. Their incessant coverage of “social media,” as noted by the ridiculous emphasis on the Motrin and Tropicana backlash, places an overwhelming emphasis on online consumer opinion. A few negative comments on Twitter are interpreted as a PR nightmare, ignoring the fact that this has occurred for years on the Internet, only on obscure sites. The possibility of media coverage is huge, placing corporate PR in a frenzy, monitoring as closely as possible.
In short, it’s one thing for customers to rant in a dark corner of the Internet; it’s another to actively observe it, especially via major media sources. It’s great that companies are beginning to monitor customer opinion, but it’s definitely for all the wrong reasons.