Three lessons to be learnt from Vodafone’s Social Media Fail

Today, Vodafone India got a story on the front page of the Economic Times — India’s largest financial daily, for perhaps, the country’s biggest social media fail. And I’m sure some people reading the story are going to blame social media campaigns for the soup Vodafone is in.

The fact of the matter is simple: Vodafone told a customer to shut up. The question they need to ask themselves is this: would they tell a customer to shut up if he were standing in front of them, complaining face to face. Chances are, no matter how tempted they might be, they would control themselves, listen, and try and mollify the customer.

You see that’s what happens in a conversation.

When brands and companies continue to treat social media as a method of communication — a one way street, where they can “engage customers” (read “get customers to click the like button”), this is what could well happen to them.

Three lessons for brands:

1. Publishing has been democratized. Everybody online is a publisher with the power to reach millions of people. Everybody. Having more money doesn’t automatically mean you can out-publish an individual.

2. Don’t tell people you don’t like to shut up by sending them legal notices. If a customer is complaining, you need to listen and either choose to respond if he’s genuine, or ignore the guy if he’s making a mountain out of a non-existent molehill.

3. You can’t afford to not be on social media. And you can’t let advertisers tell you what to do. Advertisers sell. They communicate. They don’t know the first thing about a conversation — because that’s not how they’ve been trained. In fact, most social media agencies operate like ad agencies — they talk marketing speak “reach”, “impact” etc. Wake up and smell the coffee: it’s a conversation. And you, the brand, is a participant in a conversation. Behave like you would if you were at a meeting: don’t shout, don’t ignore what others are saying, listen, and respond.

How hard is that?

Very. Most marketeers and advertisers are trained from day one to think about communication aimed at selling and brand building. Their tools are mass-media vehicles that lots of people consume, or “interact with”. I’ve always wondered what that means — interaction. Press a button and hear a sound. So what! The answer, normally, is couched in a sentence that includes the phrase: “brand recall”.

Here’s my take on it — it works.

But, it doesn’t work everywhere. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

If everybody’s a publisher, what you need to become is a reporter. You need to think editorial NOT advertorial.

Welcome to my world.

A New Social Network That Likes To Spy

Yesterday, a friend told me about AllMediaPeople, A Social Network Just For Media Professionals (their emphasis, not mine).  So, I moseyed over to take a look at it — as a believer in social media and the digital age of conversations, I love the idea of people setting up social networks, even if they don’t seem to have a business model.

The retired journalist in me still has a couple of kicks left, though, so whenever I see a website without a business model I go looking for links to their privacy policy and their terms of service. If they’re up, you find juicy tit bits about how they’re going to use the information you’re putting up on the site.

Think about it for a second: I don’t know how happy I’d be if the world could see topless photos of me — wait, they can, I’ve made it my profile picture … damn. But, you get the idea. We all have stuff we want to share with people who know us. So, I’m sure we’d all be unhappy if a pervy database administrator was sitting going through our photos, phone numbers or addresses.

Coming back to our friendly social network for media professionals: they didn’t have a TOS or a Privacy Policy that I could find: click here for an image.

That’s when the troll in me emerged: I set up two fake profiles using the names of famous journalists and posted a comment from each. I set up the accounts using throwaway email accounts (the sort that stay alive for a few minutes).

Here’s how a social network that professes to be aimed at a vertical should behave when they find fake accounts: go ahead and delete them. Better still, use a verification system that works. For example, when Facebook — the largest social network I know, correct me if I’m wrong — started up, they were only open to users with a .edu email address.

But here’s how AllMediaPeople addressed the issue. They checked the IP address used to create the account. Ran a reverse-ip. Figured out it belonged to my office. All good till here, maybe. Here’s the shocker: They called and asked if we had started to represent the two journalists in question.

When I was told about it, I burst out laughing imagining what their faces would look like if this social network had called them up instead.

As someone who has almost always signed my name to the stuff I have to say, here’s what I think of AllMediaPeople: it’s a con job. An attempt to gather and sell the data of journalists, PR professionals and Corporate Communications Managers  to real estate brokers who’re going to spam us. And I’m going to stick to this position till they upload a TOS and Privacy Policy that proves me wrong.