About a week ago, the famous tech blogger Robert Scoble announced that his family was expecting another joyous care package from the stork. (Congrats, Robert!)
Shortly thereafter, he tweeted:
“State of marketing on Twitter? FAIL. Not a single company got back when we announced our pregnancy. This is a good thing but won’t last.”
Let’s ignore the weird logic of simultaneously complaining about being ignored while at the same time saying it is “a good thing” that the twitterstream was not polluted with marketers. (If P&G had quickly tweeted an offer for “free Pampers,” would you have been surprised to see Robert vilify them for cheapening his wholesome family news?)
Let’s focus instead on this possibility: Consumers may increasingly expect that their online ruminations will be monitored and responded to in real-time.
As Robert’s tweet and Jeremiah Owyang’s recent post about “community representation” suggest, the day may be coming when consumers — singly or in ad-hoc special-interest groups (SIGs) — demand instant satisfaction from corporations.
This represents a monstrous scalability problem as the hordes increasingly move online. For the firms who figure it out, though, the karmic and revenue benefits could be equally monstrous.
Imagine this scenario:
You bought a lightweight laptop. Just 3lbs.! But the powercord that the manufacturer shipped it with? It’s another 2lbs. So much for alleviating your achey shoulder! You blog about it. You post a Flickr photo of the laptop and cord tipping the bathroom scales at over 5lbs. You tweet about it. A handful of your online buddies commiserate.
… And not long after, the manufacturer reaches out to you publicly and offers a lighter-weight powercord if you’ll just ship back the original two-pounder.
That laptop-maker just made a customer for life. They’ve birthed a new evangelist who will sing their praises online; who will defend the manufacturer from other consumers who complain.
Now imagine you arrive at the airport only to find that the flight’s just been delayed by three hours! You’re peeved. You tweet about it. Suddenly you get a tweet from a rival airline: they’re taking off for your destination in the next terminal, in 90 minutes — and they will save you a seat, including a free upgrade, if you can hustle over there. Now that’s worth eating the change fee! And, again: a new fan-for-life is born.
This is the new, hybridized service/marketing dynamic that ComcastCares and RichardatDELL are striving to achieve. As such examples become less hypothetical, we’ll pity and hiss at the companies that DON’T listen and respond in real-time.
PR does have a role in this new world order. Though, unlike Jeremiah Owyang, I don’t foresee SIGs banding together to pay PR to intermediate with brands (the brands are better off treating directly with the communities).
However, I do see PR sometimes serving as a stopgap between Corporation and Consumer: PR already does a ton of monitoring and analysis of both media and socialstreams. We can vet the issues; alert clients to rising customer angst; analyze which users need to be ushered into the red-carpet service channel; defend against frustrated claimants; etc.
Isn’t this the business of Customer Service? Not marketing or PR?
That’s more debatable than you might think, in a world in which every consumer is becoming a standalone media outlet, indexed by Google.
The stakes are too high to allow direct public interaction with online consumers to outsourced foreign workers or underpaid college kids. PR becomes the middleman — escorting the disgruntled to the right Customer Service resource and soothing the crowds at the gate in the meantime.
(Not to mention getting hits in the mainstream media, and all that traditional stuff. We’ll be busy.)
I can tell you that this future is coming because I’ve seen it happening with our own clients. Not necessarily every day, but such services are on the rise, almost by necessity. Pissy tweets must not languish unanswered. Not anymore.
Is that the future you saw for yourself when you joined the PR industry? Probably not. Is it a role you want? Is it appropriate? Do you see an alternative path?
UPDATE: Loic LeMeur also recently wrote about a similar topic.
Posted on: March 30, 2009 at 11:10 am By Todd Defren