Sunday, February 12, 2012

A heightened sense of importance?

This week, I am heading to Vegas for the 5th Annual Social Media Conference put on by Ragan Communications. This will be my third trip to this event. I keep going because social media is evolving so quickly. There is always something new to learn. I also like this event because, on two previous trips, there were few pat-yourself-on-the-back presentations. Not a lot of "look how good we are at social media." Instead, it has tended to turn into a forum... lots of discussion that turns out to be constructive. A lot of people realizing that while many have established best practices, we all still have a lot to learn from one another.

Since last year's event, we've seen the launch of Google+. We've also seen Pintrest come out of nowhere and, seemingly, take all the buzz G+ hoped for. And this little thing called Timeline launched from Facebook.

While I am sure the discussion will hit on all of these, the topic I am hoping to bring up - either in a session when it's appropriate or in end-of-day networking - is whether or not we overestimate the power of the individual in a social media world.

Without a doubt, the world of customer service has changed with the emergence of social channels. JetBlue can tell you how to rebook your weather-delayed flight - or the best place to spend your layover at JFK - if you tweet at them. The recent uproar over Susan G. Komen for the Cure certainly showed how social media channels can gather the masses to rally around an issue.

What has been grinding my gears lately has been people attempting to turn their individual problems into national crusades against a brand. I've seen many examples of this, but the tipping point for me was a blogger whose relative had a problem changing to an earlier flight on American Airlines and had to suffer the injustice of waiting for an originally-scheduled flight. The flier didn't want to pay the fee to change to an earlier flight and the blogger used this as a call to arms.

Maybe I fly too much. But, despite the outrage folks have over checked bag fees and the like, there is a rather complicated business model behind airlines and they have their reasons (primarily, profitability, but I digress...) Still, I can understand the frustration. But, the blogger turned this into a crusade. He repeatedly tweeted the link to his blog to the masses (which appeared to have not been proofread) and imploring people to tell the world just how bad it is flying American Airlines.

I was tempted to note in a comment that, given that American is in Chapter 11, they have a boatload of other problems, but I am not one to troll.

The larger issue is how this is just one example of all of us feeling... over-empowered? I realize that word of mouth is the most powerful brand tool in the arsenal. Bad word of mouth has killed more than a few products.

But word-of-mouth is greater than the sum of its parts. I hate to say it, but everyone has had a bad time with at least one airline. You had a bad flight and didn't get your money back or whatever you demanded of the gate agent who somehow endures eight hours every day of being yelled at? Join. The. Club.

I guess what I am trying to say is that FedEx screwing up your shipment, United losing your bags or whatever individualized injustice you have suffered is not a reason to start a social media crusade. Why? Because in most of these cases, 99% of the other people doing what you did that day probably were OK with things. And if other recent events tell us anything, people will not rally around the 1%.

Yet, it seems we are deluded by the power of social media. That something could "go viral" and start a movement. And then we blog. We tweet. We start Facebook groups. We do anything and everything to try and rally people to our individual search for validation.

The thing is, at some point, people in a movement ask why they're fighting. Heaven help you if they're fighting only for your cause. Maybe we're just all looking for affirmation.

To me, though, the beauty of all of our social channels is how movements grow organically. Usually informed by champions who not only have a gripe... but a solution. One that aligns with the business or goals of their targets in a meaningful way. Something that gets the target to listen.

I think this is an issue we have to address. The customer service aspects of social media are amazing. But to assume this opens the door to clutter of every individuals' axes to grind, we run the risk of trivializing the power of the channel to truly address worthy causes.

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