By now all the hype about the value of “online conversations” has reached the corner offices and executive suites of the world’s top marketers (some bookshevles may even sport a ragged copy of The Cluetrain Manifesto), but sadly the dark side of this new communications model has also reared its ugly head more than once.
BusinessWeek takes a look:
The venom of crowds isn’t new. Ancient Rome was smothered in graffiti. But today the mad scrawls of everyday punters can coalesce into a sprawling, menacing mob, with its own international distribution system, zero barriers to entry, and the ability to ransack brands and reputations. No question, legitimate criticism about companies should get out. The wrinkle now is how often the threats, increasingly posted anonymously, turn savage.
Most companies are wholly unprepared to deal with the new nastiness that’s erupting online. That’s worrisome as the Web moves closer to being the prime advertising medium—and reputational conduit—of our time. “The CEOs of the largest 50 companies in the world are practically hiding under their desks in terror about Internet rumors,” says top crisis manager Eric Dezenhall, author of the upcoming book Damage Control. “Millions of dollars in labor are being spent discussing whether or not you should respond on the Web.”
This is a tough question to answer properly. Responding validates the venom. But ignoring it leads to an impression of corporate cluelessness.
The BW piece indicates that Dell recently engaged one of its more high profile critics, Jeff Jarvis–the man who ignited the original Dell Hell customer-service crusade with his rants about the company. And they did so in person! “In a flash he (Dell’s blogger-in-chief Lionel Menchaca) transformed the borgish image of Dell for me,” says Jarvis.