THE SITUATION: An epic phone-hacking scandal abruptly forced Britain's News of the World, the largest-circulation English-language newspaper on earth, to shut down. An online boycott of the tabloid's advertisers played a critical role in the paper's demise.
THE MARKETING TAKEAWAYS: I want to share three important Reality Checks... and three essential Lessons that marketers should take away from this watershed moment.
Reality Check #1: Social Media Groups Form at Lightning Speed. The online revolt that helped to take down the News of the World slammed into the paper with the suddenness and velocity of a hurricane. The speed was a function of the empowered, interconnected nature of today's social media communities.
As this blog relates, the initial idea for the boycott was first raised by a single outraged Twitter user on a Monday evening, following revelations that reporters had hacked into the phone of a missing teen. The boycott passed from one user to another to another, one of whom happened to have Web coding skills. By Tuesday night, the new online movement had a website, a Facebook page, and 41,000 hits... all within 24 hours!
Reality Check #2: Angry Consumers Now Think Strategically. Today's consumers aren't just savvy about the use of social media tools. They're also savvy enough to know how to target businesses at their most vulnerable points. In this case, British consumers didn't simply stop buying the News of the World. They targeted the paper's advertisers. By hitting the paper right where it lived, in its advertising base, the boycotters caught mogul Rupert Murdoch's attention. At least seventeen accounts pulled out of the paper. This brings us to...
Reality Check #3: Crossing Ethical Lines Now Means Risking Our Companies. Note why the boycott gained traction so quickly: Murdoch's crew of reporters crossed a bright red line when they hacked into the phone of a missing thirteen-year-old girl who turned out to be a murder victim. There are now credible reports that the paper's reporters may also have hacked the phones of 9/11 victims. In doing such things, they alienated not only their own audience of readers, but a global, digital audience as well.
Those reporters jeopardized their 168-year-old paper, their jobs, and the brands of their advertisers by crossing that red line. There are many ways you can cross a red line, not all as egregious as Murdoch's. You can cross a red line by shipping a product later than you promised, or being rude to a customer who calls Customer Service. Nowadays, crossing the line and getting a single customer angry means you may be dealing with a major level of consumer pushback.
Now, the three critical lessons marketers need to draw from this event.
Lesson 1: Monitor. You must closely monitor what is being said about your brand in social media forums. There is no longer any room for complacency about this issue. Even a day of ignorance about what is being said about your brand on Twitter or Facebook could literally take down your business. Remember: 24 hours is now enough time to launch a revolution!
Lesson 2: Engage and Listen to the Voice of the Customer: If you don't have real conversations -- voice-to-voice and digital -- with your customers, you will not know what constitutes a "bright red line" in their world. Simply avoiding egregiously offensive behavior is not enough!
Lesson 3: Stay On the Right Side of the Ethics Line. If it's wrong, just don't do it.
Ernan Roman is President of the marketing consultancy, Ernan Roman Direct Marketing.
Recognized as the industry pioneer who created three transformational methodologies: Integrated Direct Marketing, Opt-In Marketing, and Voice of Customer Relationship Research.
Clients include Microsoft, NBC Universal, Disney, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.
Ernan was named to "B to B's Who's Who" as one of the "100 most influential people" in Business Marketing by Crain's B to B Magazine.
His fourth and latest book on marketing best practices is titled: Voice of the Customer Marketing: A Proven 5-Step Process to Create Customers Who Care, Spend, and Stay.
Ernan is also the co-author of "Opt-In Marketing: Increase Sales Exponentially with Consensual Marketing" and author of "Integrated Direct Marketing: The Cutting Edge Strategy for Synchronizing Advertising, Direct Mail, Telemarketing and Field Sales."