In an expression of people power, on the web we regularly observe a smaller tribe who feel strongly about something enjoying a louder voice than a larger tribe who feel less strongly. This has big implications for how we manage our brands and our reputations online.
Since the birth of the web, accelerated by the advent of the social networking revolution, internet users, including you and I, have aligned ourselves into tribes. By the people and causes we follow on Facebook and Twitter, and the comments we leave on social media, we define our values, beliefs, and interests very publicly. Whilst identifying the tribes to which people belong in the offline world can be tricky (albeit tattoos and sports jerseys can often give us a clue), in the online world, a cursory look over someone’s Facebook or Twitter profile will tell us a huge amount about them. Thus people make connections with those of like mind and join up their voices behind common causes more easily than ever before.
Just ask Bangor’s Roland Bunce, recently on the end of an online viral campaign to have him crowned Ireland’s Next Top Model how powerful the network effect can be.
A few years ago, Chevrolet launched an SUV into the US market, called the Tahoe. This thing was a monster (seriously, Google it, in Ireland you’d need an HGV license to drive one) but it was perfect for soccer Mom and soccer Dad to take soccer Brad to soccer practice on a Sunday morning. It was pressing any number of middle–class–dream buttons in that marketplace and was selling fairly well.
Their marketing department, wanting to leverage the power of the crowd, decided that they would run an online promotion, whereby they would produce the first twenty seconds of a TV advert and give their online audience the tools to finish the last ten seconds. Customers could upload photos and videos and add their own marketing slogan and text to the final seconds of the advert. Once all of the contributions were made, they would be put into a voting system, with the plan being that the most voted for advert conclusion would be put into post–production and make it on to the TV.
The slogan on the most voted for commercial? The Earth is not your Bitch! Second most voted for slogan? Global Warming isn’t a Pretty SUV Ad.
Needless to say the winning adverts never made it to the TV.
So what dynamics drove this outcome? Well quickly their audiences separated themselves into tribes, with two tribes dominating. The first tribe was soccer Mom and soccer Dad who were very happy to live the middle class American dream but who didn’t feel particularly passionate about their Tahoe. The other tribe was the environmentalists, fewer in number but with much greater strength of feeling about the product. The outcome was that the tribe who didn’t like the fact that the SUV drank a gallon of gas every 10 miles felt much more motivated to contribute to the discussion than those who liked having an impressive car sitting in the driveway.
For commodity and everyday experiences, think about what drives us onto social media to comment? It’s typically an uncommonly good, or more often, uncommonly bad experience. Therefore if brand managers don’t work out ways to balance their most extreme customer opinions with the views of the silent majority, they are doomed.
Think of telecoms providers use of social media. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do we feel overjoyed at their service when their broadband and telephone services work for another day in life? Barely. But do we feel angry beyond reason when their broadband and telephone services are down? You bet we do. So unless they work hard to engage us in conversations outside of the context of their service they can never win with online conversations.
What do the hotels who rank at the top of Trip Advisor for the term Hotels in Ireland have in common? Firstly they run really good businesses; secondly they work hard to ask their regular customers to leave feedback on the web letting people know they are happy with the service they receive.
Edmund Burke’s famous dictum reminds us that for evil to prevail good men need simply do nothing. Online, for your brand to flounder, you need simply ignore what people are saying and make no effort to influence the conversation. To ensure that your extreme customers, often your negative extreme customers don’t have a disproportionally loud voice, you’ve got to work hard to motivate and mobilise your majority of happy customers. And as with Ireland’s Trip Advisor trailblazers, that involves firstly running a first rate business and secondly asking your customers to second that online.