CLEVELAND - When are companies going to learn the power of social media? People now use Twitter and Facebook to complain about their problems and get action on them. They also use social media to vent their opinion about new policies and procedures that impact all users. Yet time and time again, we see companies making irrational changes that spark outrage among customers. Then, the company is forced to change their course of action to react to the outrage. It leaves me asking -- what were they thinking?
Facebook, a social media company that knows the power of that medium, is the latest company to make a decision that upset many users. The company owns Instagram, a photo sharing app that allows you to quickly treat your photos with filters. The new terms included some complicated and clumsy language which made it seem like the photos you upload through the app are up for grabs by advertisers without notifying you or paying you. Of course, that sparked outrage. Users threatened to delete their accounts before the changes in mid-January.
The negative publicity sparked Instagram to change the language and make their point more clear. The company now says you own the photos you upload with their app and they won't be used in advertising.
Maybe Facebook didn't think the negative pressure would be that intense with Instagram. After all, they make decisions all the time that spark outrage. Remember, the growing pains with Timeline? Facebook usually continues on with their plan despite the negative comments. People predicted Google+ would take over as king of the social media world after repeated changes at Facebook. That hasn't happened. This move was unique for the social media company. They don't always cave to social media pressure.
Social media blacklash for Netflix too
This is not the first time a company took a beating in the social media world. In 2011, Netflix was under fire for the decision to change its name and pricing structure. The name Netflix made the company famous; then it decided to split the company's DVD and streaming business by adding Qwikster. The backlash led to a change in position weeks later.
On the Netflix blog ; the CEO wrote, "It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs. This means no change: one website, one account, one password. In other words, no Qwikster."
What is wrong with these companies? Don't they use focus groups to test new products and ideas? If these companies are so easily persuaded by social media pressure, which I would argue they have no choice, why don't they propose the changes they are thinking about instead of announcing the implementation? That way they don't need to apologize or backtrack if the Twittersphere or social media landscape reacts poorly.
Some companies don't cave to public pressure as they've clearly evaluated their business decisions before announcing them. For example, the stores that opened on Thanksgiving evening around 8 PM received pressure for opening on a holiday. While the publicity was intense, these companies knew the majority of customers would still shop on Thanksgiving. The businesses even said their decision to open earlier was based on customer demand.
For a few weeks, the stores endured some negative attention. In the end, their cash registers rang and rang as they racked up unprecedented sales. Opening on Thanksgiving was a huge business win, and a win they expected because they obviously did their research before they made the decision.
Social media is powerful especially when your customer base is a tech savvy bunch as in the case of Instagram. One could make the argument that companies don't think this through on purpose because they want any and all attention. Whatever the case may be, these crazy business decisions have me asking over and over: what were they thinking?