When I went to attend NextFest (read my coverage of andorids, Pinky robot, space flights, robonaut, and virtual reality games), I had a great meal at a Japanese restaurant Sharaku (Stuyvesant Street in New York City) – the food was authentic and almost all the staff was Japanese, and over half the diners were Japanese. Since it is not easy to find authentic and affordable Japanese food (Nobu and Morimoto are not for quick working lunches) in the US, this was a great find. However, I had to admit that I did not write about it, but did manage to criticize Bank of America mistreating its customers.
And that is the dilemma corporations face. Consumers act quickly when they are angry but don’t move so fast when everything went just fine. So how can they get the word out when there is so much bad information out there about them – Dell, Comcast, AOL, Merck, Pfizer, Boston Scientific, Guidant, and Citizens Bank are a few companies that I have criticized.
The answer is not the approach taken by Wal-Mart through its PR firm Edelman that operates a front organization called the “Working Families for Wal-Mart,” which was behind a blog “Wal-Marting Across America.” What appeared to be bloggers writing about their experience traveling across the country and checking out the Wal-Mart stores was in fact a well-planned out marketing campaign by the company. It reminds me how ExxonMobil and its public relations firm DCI Group tried to behave like teenagers making fun of global warming – it backfired. The same thing happened to the Wal-Marting Across America blog which was abruptly shut down yesterday (with all but the main page content remaining).
Corporations are still struggling with their blogging strategy and brand management on the Internet since they bring the press-release mindset to tell the world what is going on. We all know that when the company was in chaos, the press releases still painted rosy pictures. Unfortunately, this sort of approach does not work in today’s world where more openness is expected. Surprising, Edelman, which is at the forefront of social media, has not only stayed quite all along, even the bloggers have refused to apologize for not being transparent. In other words, a major PR disaster for a PR company.
So how can you get the good word out?
Focus on your customers and make them happy – the word-of-mouth marketing will take care of itself. You can not force buzz – it will happen if it is genuine. While I did not get to writing about Sharaku, I did tell my friends about it.