Internet Resonance

Last Friday I posted this on Twitter:

Netflix/Quickster, GoDaddy, Verizon… fascinating to watch an Internet beat-down cause a business decision to be reversed.

2011 should go down on record as the year that companies – some of them, anyway, experienced resonance to the point that they were forced to reverse a key business decision. I refer to resonance as the innate amplification of topics across the Internet as they reverberate from user to user that agrees with the sentiment. Amusing topics that catch people’s interest spread fast. Topics that agitate people or make them angry? Much, much faster. This is how Twitter works – it’s a sentiment amplifier. Sites like Reddit and Digg are not that different, though sentiment there spreads and amplifies differently.

While it is possible that Twitter isn’t solely responsible for this effect, I believe that the half-life of tweets on Twitter demonstrates that topics that don’t just “die out” organically in a relatively quick manner can turn into a pretty steaming pile pretty quickly. Become a trending topic on Twitter, and you’re likely to wind up on mainstream news outlets as the latest company getting “Tweeted in effigy” by angry consumers.

Sure, United, FedEx, and numerous other companies have experienced resonance at the hands of indivual employees. That’s unfortunate. But it’s also a different problem, since it is those individuals acting on their own and making bad decisions that leads to the problem.

But this is different – Netflix, GoDaddy, and Verizon experienced resonance made exponentially more impactful because they made decisions that, if thought about beforehand, could have been avoided completely. When making a decision that impacts public policy (GoDaddy), will take away features from your product or service (Netflix) or cost your customers more (Netflix and Verizon) especially while adding no net value for your customers, you need to ask yourself, as an executive at a business, “is this decision something that is going to either take away perceived value from our customers, or could it agitate people who don’t see eye to eye with our political viewpoint?” If it is, you probably want to know the answers to:

  1. Why you are doing it?
  2. What’s the cost of not doing it?
  3. What is your worst case scenario if it resonates?

If you can’t answer those points, you should probably duck and cover, and hope for the best.

Businesses made decisions every day. I’m not saying that you can’t, or that you shouldn’t move forward as a business. But in an age of Twitter resonance, businesses need to be aware of just how fast the bad word can spread, and how damaging it can be to their brand. Be proactive on social media. Understand the emotions of your consumers. Be prepared to message your decision in a positive light, but understand that your consumers may not see it that way, and you need to prepare for the worst. For goodness sake, test it among a sample of customers before you do it if it will take away perceived value from your product or service. Don’t just shoot first. Because otherwise there will be way more questions later than you are comfortable with.

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