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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Trash mobs - The latest threat to branding...

In this modern age of instant communication what do we do about customer problems?  For example, someone tweeting about the bad service they got at your business...

New solutions are upon us as described here.  From the article:

"Text analysis is fast maturing into mainstream use, and there's no hotter use of the technology than sentiment analysis. Sentiment applications bring scalability and automation to the otherwise manual task of wading through high volumes of, say, customer surveys."

Let's see... sentient analysis?? no, no, sentiment analysis...?!?

Oh dear...

"text-analysis technologies to sort, mine and otherwise speed responses to Tweets, Facebook posts, blogs and other forms of social network feedback... Marketers and brand managers need the aid of the technology to quickly detect broad trends while also responding to specific comments and complaints.... To date, most sentiment-analysis apps stand alone, but the trend is moving toward integration with enterprise applications and workflows." 

My, my, where to begin... 

The first element here is the fact that I suppose someone (doesn't matter who or why but we'll get to that) has tweeted something bad about your product (or started an IHateX Facebook page, or whatever).  They could also leave a nasty or unhappy comment on your website, company blog, or other brand communication organ. 

The next element would appear to be that "brand managers" need to be able to detect trends and complaints from the milieu of electronic detritus.  While you can see the need to identify a Facebook post on your corporate site claiming that your soup killed grandma or that the new plastic, triangular vacuum cleaner killed the kitty its a little less clear what to do about it. 

And what about these trends...? 

I see two basic definitions of "trend" in this context.  One is the trend you are probably already familiar with: "The general direction in which something tends to move."  Now, to an old geezer like me this means things like hair style, clothing styles, automobile styles, that sort of thing.  These all tend to change over time and every business wants to be first in identifying where to find new customers.

The second definition of trend is new and is based on the concept of flash mob: "A flash mob is a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and pointless act for a brief time, then disperse. The term flash mob is generally applied only to gatherings organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails." 

Let's see - your companies Facebook page is a public place.  Tweeting and texting are telecommunications or social media or emails...  So, basically a trend in this second context is an electronic flash mob.  One that shows up on your web presence with the express purpose of making some sort of trouble for you - regardless of the reason - regardless even of the intention.   For example, someone posts "this product hurt my eyes" - then everyone jumps on the band wagon and soon there are thousands of posts about the product damaging eyes - regardless of whether it actually does or not.

(This can also be like the childhood game of "telephone" where someone whispers a sentence into a child's ear and each child whisper's what they heard to the next child down the line.  The child at the end then tells what they heard.  Needless to say it won't match the original sentence.  Same with this - meaning quickly get twisted by everyone wanting the to "join" the band wagon and changing information as its passed around.)

So we can call this a trash mob.

Here's where it gets scary.

(So why am I harping on the bad here?  Sure - it will be great to mine all this data and figure out that little Johnny really wants a red truck cell phone case instead of a blue one for Christmas - but once people figure out that you are sensitive to what is said and you will react to it you will become the target of the trash mob.  Wait until lawyers figure out how to "scrape" the web for brewing trash mob posts.  Imagine the fun your company will have then.) 

So there you sit, the brand manager for company X, and someone starts tweeting or posting about the fact that your product killed grandma (or its the next ecstasy when crushed and snorted or whatever) - what do you do?  

Well, for one thing I DON'T want this connected to my "enterprise applications and workflows."

Just imagine that it was...   Our product killed grandma so our enterprise direct mail and viral email campaign managment automatically kicks into gear mailing out letters and email claiming that's not true or, worse, offering 10% off to anyone who's grandma was killed by the product. 

No.  Let's not go here... 

It would seem far wiser to do two things instead of all this sentiment technology nonsense: 

First - when there are problems that appear on public forums under your control - take and keep control of the forum.  Shut it down, moderate it, address it through human means, but at all costs don't turn it over to anything automatic.  Once its out of your control you're done. 

Second - don't forget that there's the concept of libel.  If someone is defaming your company or product go after them.  We're responsible for what we say whether its spoken or writing - and whether its printed on paper or electronically.  Like sexting there are consequences to illegal or libelous postings and actions.

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