If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you’d remember the post on Leela Palace (Bangalore), a 5 star hotel, turning away a cyclist citing a policy that does not allow cycles inside its premises!

This was back in March 2010. A lot has happened since that incident and most of it is documented in my post.

The main opposition came in the form of a very popular bikers’ message board called BikesZone and it took on a shape of its own. Leela’s PR and management goofed initially, but did come back on the issue admirably.

A lot of people ask me about this thing called ‘social business’ and many of them also try to explain it with detailed infographics and charts. At the bottom of it, it is simply what Leela did, eventually.

I do understand I’m simplifying things to a massive degree, but consider what Leela has done now. It has a cycle stand! In other words, it has a well-publicized cycle stand.

Leela’s cycle stand has been spoken about in mainstream media (some of them also wrote about the cyclist being turned away!) and also in the BikesZone forum, with pictures. That’s some closure!

So, what we have is this.
1. A 5 star hotel turns away a cyclist based on their ‘policy’
2. That causes a mild online uproar.
3. Leela tries to pacify the people causing the uproar; goofs up a little.
4. Leela promises to set things right…and does, finally.

You may ask – all this is merely Leela reacting to set their image right…what is so ‘social business’ about all this? Yes, good question.

The ‘social business’ angle is the fact that all 4 of the above steps happened in full public glare, predominantly online. So, it does not impact or affect just Leela management and the group that started to crib, but all those who read about this issue…and most importantly, comment. Yes, this was written about in mainstream media too, but we merely read and consume mainstream media news. It is very different when we’re given the power to respond or comment on such stories and more so, when it comes to us from someone we trust and believe, like a friend on Facebook.

Consider how Leela announced the addition of a cycle stand.

First, a notional follow-up to the original issue, on their Facebook page, on March 26, 2010.

It merely says, “And the Good News is that you should be able to park your cycle at The Leela Palace Kempinski Bangalore.. pretty soon 🙂 Cheers !”.

But, almost a month later, a member of the page posts an update, on April 23, 2010.

“Finally the good news 🙂 It is done. 2 stands and 1 can carry 10 cycles. Really good news. News courtesy – Abhi from BZ forums.”

Yes, the news was first out where it all started – on BikesZone! It was first posted on BikesZone on April 23, 2010 (and it flowed the same day on Leela’s Facebook page!) and the same member followed it up with a detailed post and a photograph on September 24, 2010. The kind of reactions are something that Leela would love to hear.

(Photo courtesy ‘Abhi’ on BikesZone)

So, in essence, people complained; people forced Leela to reconsider and people eventually forced a change in policy. Leela started out as a bystander to the issue, trying corporate-speak to assuage the crowd. It did not work, so they decided on simpler, more obvious things to change the mood – they did what they could to help cyclists and changed the policy.

It may be good to consider this whole issue not merely as a small group of people forcing a large brand to change its policy. Besides the fact that mainstream media jumped into the fray, what we can’t deny is the fact that social media (in the form of a niche message board and Facebook) powering this policy change.

What social business, as a process, enables is to help brands be more aware of what their customers want and make changes appropriately, where it matters and where it is possible. The changes need not be policy changes alone – they could be anything from resolving customer issues, changing features in products or services, update a line of products based on feedback and so on – the difference is that it all happens in public, thereby impacting the perception of the brand not just with one person interacting with the brand, but a whole lot of people who are watching the conversation.

The point of it all is not to be a sitting duck when one or more customers/stakeholders share updates or feedback with a brand – in full public glare, if I may add – but anticipate and embrace such feedback. This means brands need to know and understand who their key stakeholders online are…their preferences and keep in touch with them.

Leela was forced to get this process and perhaps aren’t doing anything besides fixing a specific thorny image problem. But other brands need not be sitting ducks, if only they start to listen (not just on their Facebook and Twitter pages, but wherever people are discussing their brand, their brand’s category or industry and also their competitors), engage and adopt…constantly.

In very simple terms, THIS is social business.