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Why listening is the only guidline you need

November 11, 2008

This article from the Economist was e-mailed to me yesterday.

The subhead of the article is: A tale of two airlines and their Facebook fiascos.

The article reports on the fiascos thusly:

On October 31st Virgin fired 13 of its cabin crew who had posted derogatory comments about its safety standards and some of its passengers on a Facebook forum. Among other things, crew members joked that some Virgin planes were infested with cockroaches and described customers as “chavs”, a disparaging British term for people with flashy bad taste. On November 3rd BA began investigating the behaviour of several employees who had described some passengers as “smelly” and “annoying” in Facebook postings.

Aedhmar Hynes, the boss of Text 100, a PR firm, gets the award for stating the obvious:

“Anything you now say online is amplified by these services”

The Economist

Image via Wikipedia

His solution to this scary fact: reiterate online guidelines frequently. He seems to think it’s important to ensure these conversations don’t occur by regulating them with ‘guidelines’.

In other words, don’t address issues that come up in online conversations, take action to limit people’s abilities to have online conversations.

He’s suggesting brands bury their heads in the sand.

Admittedly, this is unfair to Virgin. They had employees saying that people smelled. But they also had employees talking about safety, a hyper-sensitive issue for airlines. Virgin claims to have outlets for staff to vent, but the reality is, they aren’t in control anymore.

Brands can’t hide the flaws in a product by imposing guidelines on Facebook and MySpace. Well, they can try, but trying to turn off a conversation moves it underground and makes it sexy. It will seem like insider stuff the brand doesn’t want people to hear.

For this reason, I think we’re miles past the point of guidelines. Brands are at the point where it’s vital to listen (ie monitor), and then address things they hear. If the brand can’t be on top (or doesn’t know how to listen), pay someone to do it for you.

That’s web 2.0. The Economist got it right when it said ‘managers need to monitor’, they just got it wrong when they said that the thing they should monitor is the rules.

Because the rules keep changing.

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