31 August 2007

Lessons Learned. The Hello Peter - Amazing Vouchers debacle.

A quick uppercut in Community Management - and leveraging social media platforms.

In the left corner with the washed out blue logo and the I'm-watching-you graphic - we have Hello Peter. A consumer watchdog who champions the cause of good service. Sometimes with an unbendy lance.



In the right corner, with the everything's for free, I-can-use-stock-photos-of-happy-people orangey vibe - Amazing Vouchers. Pleading the innocent victim. Wronged by the vicious watchdog.



And in the middle. The poor consumer. Who really, at the end of the day, just wants to be able to peacefully, and honestly interact on their social media site of choice. And get good tips on whether to go to Ocean Basket or not.

We can learn a lot of lessons from this mini-fiasco. Even more lessons if it winds up in court.

1. The internet is QUICK. Accept It!

Within 16 minutes, Amazing Vouchers had picked up the story, and to their credit, cajoled the journo (me) into listening to their side (evil Peter had made up these rumours and even removed citizen posts from his site to cover it up). I'm sounding a little melodramatic here. Forgive me. Go with it.

Point remains. The speed at which news, applications and communities can interact on the web is FAST. Get used to it.

2. No one can hide.

Consumer watchdogs are great. Especially local ones. Right or wrong, I don't know, point remains - Mr Peter has achieved his purpose. Within days of his name and shame newsletter - there is a buzz. People are talking, people are blogging. THAT'S the power of communities. The power of social media.

Try to cover ANYTHING up... or try to chook the system in ANY WAY (staff members giving their own company compliments. Come on! Did you not read the Great Walmart Scandal of 2006?!)... and you're in for trouble.

It's a wide open, contributing world these days. The truth will out.

3. If you've got a community, look after it. Don't lie to it.

Almost every IT dollar in America is being made selling communities these days. Cute startups invent a single minded idea, build a massive community around it and sell off to a corporate. That's the model. Ka ching.

But, as American as the Americans can be, they've learnt some valuable lessons about how to grow, maintain and care for these million dollar databases.

You don't. You just don't lie to your community. You try very hard not to moderate them. And most of all, you encourage opinion - you don't invent it. Ask Kevin Rose. The $60 million dollar man just apologised to the Digg community for moderating stolen Facebook code off their home page. The comment was something like - you'd rather see us go down fighting than take orders from a corporate. We like that. And we'll remember it next time.

This would mean nothing if Kevin was a snotty kid in a garage. He's worth more than Woolworths.

If Hello Peter covered up user posts. Shame on them. If Amazing Vouchers got customers to vote for them in exchange for discounts. Shame on them. The brand damage both companies are going to suffer from this fallout should be a lesson to tread lightly when public opionion is in play.

4. Hold the right to respond (for free!) as the sacred cow of the the new media landscape.

Hello Peter charges companies who would like to respond to complaints. While everyone understands that this is a free market economy, and the guy's gotta eat. It's a dangerous path. Here are some unhappy customers. Give me cash and you can make amends. Hmmm. I'm not sold either way.

In fact, this morning, John Robbie picked up on the issue on 702 Radio. I didn't catch the end of the show - but would love to know what happened. There is a commercial side to every story - this one in particular.

Jerry's Thought of the Day.

You know... It might be a little scary. You might feel like you're losing control. But that's the essence of this citizen journalism revolution. It's a mediascape of contribution, of opinion, of community.

Harness that, and you harness a very, very powerful marketing weapon. Muck it up - and - well, you'll land up splattered all over the blogosphere.