Adapting to Well-Informed Customers

The power of knowledge and information is no longer in the hands of companies, businesses, and products. The spread of information has grown exponentially with the advent of search engines, Wikipedia, and most importantly, customer reviews via sites like Yelp. According to SAPVoice via a Forbes article, “Customers are tracking down information via Google; looking at what other consumers have to say about products and services on Amazon and Facebook; and researching what other business buyers are saying on LinkedIn.” This means that you, as a business, are no longer in total control of your reputation, and every blunder, misstep, and snafoo you make can be broadcast to the public. And you cannot delete them. You shouldn’t even try, because we all know attempts to delete or hide information from Internet users will only lead to an exponentially opposite reaction (see the Streisand Effect). So what can you do? The landscape of business and closing a sale is forever altered, and those that fail to adapt will fall behind. Social media and customer engagement is the key.

Social media sites are where you customers congregate, socialize, and subconsciously share information that may be valuable to you. That’s how sites like Facebook advertise to their users so effectively. As a company, you have to stop thinking like a company and start connecting with people on an individual level, and that means appointing a Community Manager – someone who knows the ins and outs of social media sites, and most importantly, someone who is great at interacting with people. In other words, you need a face, a voice, and a personality to be at the forefront of where your customers and potential customers will receive their first impression of you. As a company, your priority is to make a sale, but with a great Community Manager, you can leave a positive and lasting impression that will keep a customer coming back for more. Play your cards right, and they’ll bring some friends with them. Creating a stellar personality and profile and your customers will become your advocates, and this is where you want your social media presence to land.

Customers as Advocates

Like I mentioned earlier, people’s impressions of you and your products come not from you, but from the experience of others. If you have ready, willing, an able customer advocates, you’re essentially receiving free advertisement! If you’re good to your customers, they’ll be good to you.

The Streisand Effect – Natural Anti-Censorship

The Streisand Effect is a peculiar phenomenon born from a reaction to the suppression of information, usually with help from the Internet. The term had a rather innocuous origin: it was coined after actress and singer Barbara Streisand filed a lawsuit in an attempt to have a photograph of her Malibu home removed from a website that documented coastal erosion in the state of California. Prior to this lawsuit, the image was only downloaded 6 times, and 2 of those were by her attorneys. However, as details of the case became public, over 420,000 people visited the site over the course of the next month.Streisand_Estate

The Internet is a living, breathing creature that is apathetic to individual preferences. It documents everything (almost) that is submitted to it, and it doesn’t respond well when someone tries to delete something. Once it’s out there, it’s no longer yours to control; your only defense is obscurity. Once the Streisand Effect takes hold, the more you struggle against it, the more it drags you under. Many have championed the Streisand Effect as a way of spreading and preserving truth, especially in the case of  poor business practices. Here are two examples of this phenomenon at work:

Union Street Guest House – In 2014, a story broke out about a popular wedding venue charging clients $500 for each negative review the establishment received. Ridiculous as this policy sounds, it was even plainly stated in their agreement, which they tried to delete from their website the moment the story went viral. Much to their chagrin, the Wayback Machine keeps snapshots of websites, creating a sort of timeline of how these sites looked through time; the $500 charge policy can still be seen there. Furthermore, when the owner of the Union Street Guest House claimed it was only a joke that was not reinforced, the negative reviews came pouring in, dropping the venue’s star rating on Yelp to a measly 1 star.

Samsung and ghostlyrich – In late 2013, user ghostlyrich on YouTube posted a video of the Samsung Galaxy 4 catching fire when charged. Samsung later sends ghostlyrich a contract agreeing to remove the video. The contract then goes on to say that ghostlyrich must sign and agree to drop any negative claims against Samsung and their products, that he takes responsibility for the defect and damages, and that he’s not allowed to talk about the contract or make any future claims or lawsuits against the company. ghostlyrich did not sign the contract and posted a video about the contract. Both videos have over 1.5 million views each. See the second video here:

Condemning as these events may be, the Internet tends to have a short-term memory. People tend to forget and move on, so long as the company or product amends its mistakes and prevents them from happening again in the future. Sometimes the best option is to take your licks and apologize in a sincere and concise manner. Learn to recognize a situation where the Streisand Effect might come into play. Don’t fight it. The old adage “no publicity is bad publicity” does not apply when virality and  mass online outrage comes into play.