The Growing Feedback Fiasco

Twitter _ Search - #fixrepliesWhat is the obligation that companies have to their customers to listen to — and act on — the feedback they receive from customers? Well, if you are in the Social Media Age of 2009, the obligation is high, the pressure intense. No longer can developers put out a product or service, form a business around it, and then expect to run their business however they choose. Today, customers have the unprecedented power of social media communication tools at their fingertips, and feedback is no longer relegated to easily ignored emails that pass through the ether into oblivion. Feedback is now big news.

Take this week’s #twitterfail and #fixreplies fiasco. Social media darling Twitter “silently” implemented a fundamental feature change — removing the ability to view @replies from people you are not following — and the Twitterstream is in turmoil with tweets and retweets of displeasure, protest, petition-signing and Twitter-bashing. What did Twitter do wrong?

Twitter — like Facebook a month or so ago — failed to fully understand the turbocharged power of social media that could actually work against it. Companies can no longer make major business decisions without the input — and approval — of their very vocal customers, or so it seems. The irony is that many of these companies are the creators of the same powerful communications tools that are suddenly used against them when customers don’t approve of their business moves.

So what are companies to do when the entire landscape of customer input and feedback mechanisms has gone haywire? Here are some thoughts about this new feedback frenzy that can send a company reeling from the impact of input.

1. Pressure for transparency rules. Now, more than ever, there is tremendous consumer pressure for companies to be transparent about their every move, their strategic thinking, their process. Set some internal guidelines for how your company will handle this pressure — then post them publicly. Brace yourself for the onslaught of opinion.

2. Community voting sucks. Do you really want to relegate your strategic business decision-making to thousands or millions of users? You may not have a choice, but how realistic is this? From experience, I cringe at the thought of making any decision by committee, and now our “committees” seem to be growing exponentially, globally and without an end in sight. Make a decision about your decision-making process now, but realize that anything you set in stone today may be worthless tomorrow.

3. Business objectives still count. You thought you were in the business of running a business? Think again. When your customers can make or break your business, when they can protest and boycott and rally their friends, fans and followers in an instant, you are in for a new way of setting your business objectives and trying to reach them. In the old days, you wanted to win over new consumers, hold onto your loyal consumers and upsell. Now you have to be aware of what your consumers are saying because their audiences are potentially much larger — and more influential — than your own, especially as your traditional means of communications are starting to fail. Newspaper advertising, anyone? Whose business is this anyway?

4. Decide, Communicate, Acknowledge, Incorporate, Decide, Communicate. Welcome to the new feedback loop. No longer do you put a “click to give feedback” link on your web site and call it good. You are now forced to share your process with your consumers, acknowledge their feedback publicly, actually consider and use some of their feedback, and even if you still feel like the buck stops with you, your company must communicate the end results of the feedback process. Consumer demand for participation and acknowledgment is insatiable.

As consumers, we used to suck it up and take it when we were using tools, applications, products and services created, managed and hosted by others. Today, we are almost drunk with the power we have to make or break a company by what we blog, tweet, Facebook, and more.

What are the new rules of feedback, input and transparency? And where should companies — and consumers — draw the line?

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