Don’t Play Lifeguard in the Social Community Pool

While some may secretly harbor the dream of being the next David Hasselhoff (present company excluded), it’s important to not act on that dream and be the corporate lifeguard in your social community.

“The Hoff” aside, we should all learn from the mistakes the music industry made and continues to make with regard to their customers. We don’t want to go down the same lane twice.

The music industry didn’t first seek to understand the huge benefits of digital music when it first arrived (no more physical inventory, shipping, store theft, real-time feedback, trackability, etc.). Instead, the music industry immediately focused on the negative effects of piracy.

Their first approach was attempting to put their users — the people who loved their music and wanted to listen to it — behind bars or preventing them from listening to the music. Funny strategy since, prior to the digital age, record labels used to drive around giving radio stations free promotional records and CDs. More than a few of us have CDs labeled “For Promotional Purposes” and the closest we ever became to being a DJ was using our Speak & Spell.

Let’s not allow history to repeat itself. Social networks are a new pool to swim in for many corporations. As discussed in my previous column, “Don’t Be Afraid of Social Media — Your Customers Aren’t,” the John Deere corporation boasts more than 500 John Deere groups being developed by the Facebook community (none by John Deere); companies may be slow to move, but customers and fanboys aren’t.

Let’s dive a little deeper into the John Deere example (a lovable brand). A logical first reaction of an executive at John Deere who stumbles upon these 500 groups, many of which are using trademarked material, could be: “send a cease and desist letter to all these groups — they can’t use our name or logo — who do they think they are!” Instead, remember that these are loyal customers so in love with your brand that they took time out of their busy lives to write, post pictures, and share an experience around the John Deere brand.

Sending a cease and desist letter is exactly the tact the music industry would employ. What will this likely accomplish?

  1. Alienate a loyal customer base.
  2. Highlight the fact that you “don’t get it” with your Web savvy customers.
  3. Could turn into bad public relations if the user scans and posts the letter on the Web (including the social network itself).
  4. Waste time and energy sending flame letters rather than formulating a social networking strategy.

Instead, wouldn’t a company see this as a valuable opportunity to further connect with some of their most loyal users? Wouldn’t this be a more prudent course of action?

  1. Select the customers that posted the top 10 most popular groups.
  2. Invite them to your headquarters.
  3. Learn from them.
  4. Let them share their knowledge and help formulate your social network strategy.
  5. In turn, they’ll then most likely point the thousands of users in their group(s) to one centralized group.

Just like that you’ll now have a start at a social networking strategy, as well as the added benefit of a consumer advisory board you can call on for future issues. Of course, you’ll would want to send a cease and desist letter to the owner of the “John Deere Sucks!!!!!” group with the correspondingly offensive urination graphic.

After all, if you have to be the lifeguard, you don’t want anybody to pee in the company pool.

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