We're often talking about the need for brand owners to 'listen to the conversation' and to develop cogent online reputation management strategies. Why? Well, if you don't know what people are saying about your organisation, how can you respond? For corporate recruiters, if you think of the internet in terms of a long tail of opinions and experiences, how do you begin trying to ensure that the prevailing view is positive?
It's not always easy however to articulate why - and how quickly - social media conversations happen, so I thought it might be interesting to consider this example from the Guardian's over by over ( OBO ) coverage of the recent England vs. India test match. To give this some context, the Guardian 'commentator' is watching the game on Sky TV and providing a loose overview of the action, whilst engaging in email banter with readers. It mightn't sound very compelling, but it's actually quite a social / engaging way of following the game. Anyway, Mike Adamson was reporting on this session; England are in trouble at 94 for 3, but - most importantly - Mike is not happy with British Gas. The entire session is basically taken over by participants giving BG a kicking, and it graphically illustrates how fast bad news spreads and how willing people are to dive in with their experiences, which are then in turn commented on and shared. These kind of exchanges happen in real life all the time of course; but it's not recorded ( and searchable ) as internet conversations are. And the audience to this little exchange is likely to run into 000s. The same treatment, of course, is also meted out to brands as employers, whatever the industry. ( One of the most visceral has to be the Professional Pilots Rumour Network which has a forum "...the beancounters hoped would never happen. Your news on pay, rostering, allowances, extras and negotiations where you work. Let others in the industry make educated choices on where the grass is less brown" )
So, a good reason for brands to take notice therefore. The question in this case is - have British Gas? In the 18th over Mike prints the following:
I'm going to open the floor up to Chris Armstrong all the same: "I'm going to incur the wrath of every other OBOer here, but I'm afraid I can only report good things about British Gas and my HomeCare 400 policy, they've come quickly (OK, within a day or two), phoned me half an hour before hand so I know they're coming, and fixed the problem and s*dded off." At least you can say this session of the OBO now contains a balanced arguement. For once.
So what's happening here? Has a real person bothered to write an email to defend British Gas??? Has Mr Adamson suddenly been gripped with a desire to be even handed?
I don't think so. I think what we're looking at here is BG moving fast to ring alarm bells at GU towers, and to organise the intervention of 'Chris Armstrong'. The use of light swearing suggests someone trying a bit too hard to be *real*, but the real giveaway has to be the precise use of policy name and exact capitalisation in 'HomeCare'.
What do you think? And whose clients / brands have suffered at the 'hands of crowds' like this?