Big Corporations vs Individuals

Social media is everywhere now, from TV shows, to print media, to corporate websites.  Everywhere I turn there is a “Follow <me/us> on <insert social site(s) here>” message.  I think this is because company’s have realized the impact that social media has on their bottom line.  I recently had to discuss a New York Times article in class about a “lesson” Boeing learned from the online social world.  Said article describes the aftermath of a letter sent to Boeing by an 8-year-old named Harry.  Boeing politely replied to the letter the same way it replies to all unsolicited letters (see reply).  After Harry’s dad, who happens to be CEO of a marketing agency, posted the letter on his blog and his twitter account the situation started to spread until some news outlets picked it up.  This social activity cause Boeing to react by issuing a sort of apology and invited Harry to visit their facilities.

This situation is just another example of how “social” is changing the way businesses deal with the customer experience. For the last five years or so, the emergence of social tools like facebook, twitter, digg and the now-less-relevant myspace, has enabled people to have a stronger voice. All of the sudden people can voice their concerns, complaints and preferences to an audience that may or may not agree with them. This is the “new” word-of-mouth, same concept as before just faster, louder and therefore more effective. This kind of empowerment has increased people’s sense of entitlement. People feel more than ever that companies must treat them with more respect.

The question raised in class was whether the whole situation was to “punish” Boeing or just a publicity stunt by Harry’s father… or both.  I don’t think John (Harry’s dad), or the people involved in one way or another, want(ed) to put Boeing back in line per se. I believe that they expected a friendlier customer experience from Boeing, or any company for that matter. It’s hard to determine if John intended to use the situation as free publicity, but the situation sure fits what his company offers. He created content and engaged the community the right way to create a buzz, enough to get the New York Times interested in the issue. The way the issue developed definitely helped him promote his image and his company indirectly.

As for the other questions raised in class (would you change airlines? and would airlines boycott Boeing?), I don’t think they are too relevant. First, Boeing’s action wouldn’t make me or a normal people switch airlines to ones who do not use Boeing planes. I do not feel offended by their action and finding other airlines would cost too much of my time, more than my perceived benefits. Second, airlines have limited options when it comes to airplane suppliers, limited options means that there’s not much airlines are willing to do to “support” a boycott. Harry’s issue is trivial when compared to the issue of changing airplane suppliers; however it would be interesting to look at the issues again if more people around the world support Harry.

Whether we like or not, as consumers or businesses, the barriers separating customers from the corporate world have shrunken. However, we should understand that as customers we can’t get everything we want; and as businesses we can no longer treat customers the way we’ve been doing for the last fifty years.