What was your free time like when you were a teenager? I loved shopping at the mall and talking on the phone with my best friend for hours about life’s critical issues (or nothing at all, if you subscribe to my parents’ interpretation). Teens these days engage in many of the same activities, albeit via more advanced technologies. But they also have the time and knowledge to put a hurting on your brand image.
“The most dangerous thing to your brand is a kid with a blog,” joked Andy Sernovitz during a presentation at CADM DM Days this past March. Well, he was sort of joking. Over-promise and under-deliver to teens, and be assured they will tell the world about their experience through their blogs, MySpace pages, message board posts, etc.
And it’s not just teens speaking out. The results of a search I did on Technorati produced 469 results for the term “Dell sucks.” Some of these were junk posts by spammers, but most were the opinions of an assortment of Dell customers of all ages who were unhappy with the firm’s products and service. Primarily, the posts by teenagers were histrionic and not all that influential from a brand-opinion standpoint—at least to me, anyway. To a fellow teen, however, these rants can be a galvanizing force. What struck me about the blog posts from more mature consumers is how authoritative they sound and how well-documented some seem to be. With top bloggers pulling in tens of thousands of loyal readers, such negative publicity can do some damage despite how carefully you craft your marketing efforts.
Because search engines don’t discriminate against negative content, the blistering review of your company’s return policy by a disgruntled customer gets equal chance to display highly in search results. What’s more, bloggers love to link to one another, and lots of links help produce better search rankings.
But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Your customer evangelists can help you wage a positive publicity blitz without the need for big-budget media investment. Plus, there’s no better place to learn from both happy and unhappy customers like the Web. A well-managed corporate blog is less expensive than focus groups, says Sernovitz, but you have to commit to being 100 percent honest with customers. The last thing you want is your own communication vehicle used against you as proof that your company sucks.