Have you seen this video at least by now? I’m sure you would have – it is one heck of an angry mob, at Delhi’s new swanky T3, also featuring a couple of completely clueless, lost, scared looking Air India staff. I’m amazed that they even made it alive out of this. This fascinating video is courtesy Aneesh Bhasin. Watch it now.
Now, pause and think about this. Vodafone is on the ‘Stay Away’ list of a site called ConsumerComplaints. People address it with miserable nicknames on Twitter (‘Chodafone’ is one!) and post tons of complaints in this site and elsewhere as if they are being read by a vigilante God. How different is that collection of online comments from this angry mob in the video? Not very different at all, in my opinion. Here’s how.
Air India fiasco:
1. The video above shows people under high stress in a short span of a few hours and they are behaving out of sheer annoyed impulse.
2. They united for one cause and vented their feelings out at the Air India guy who got caught.
3. The video will stay on forever, online, and cause continuous PR damage for brand Air India. Twitter is already abuzz with many messages of people swearing that they will never fly Air India again, quite understandably.
Other brands that get negative comments online:
1. Online, comments about Vodafone are by a group of annoyed customers too – but, over a period of time.
2. They haven’t united yet on their own, but websites like ConsumerComplaints and aggregators like Google do the job of uniting them all under one roof..one page…one search result!
3. And, these comments too will stay on forever, causing continuous PR damage to brand Vodafone.
You may ask – ‘who the hell reads this odd site called ConsumerComplaints?’. It’s not just that site – there are a host of similar sites – consumercourt.in, consumerforum.in etc. and these rank mighty high in a Google search when searched using keywords from a brand, plus a negative sentiment (bad product, poor service…)! Going beyond these sites, a simple Google search for any brand + a negative sentiment will throw up a lot of comments about the quality of any product or service. In that case, Google does an impressive job of uniting them together.
If the above 3 were the similarities, there is one big difference between the Air India fiasco and online negative sentiments for other brands – that is ‘immediacy’ – the former is a case where not just the platform (T3 at Delhi Airport), but also the time period that brought people together. In the latter, the platform does the job single-handedly and brings people from various time periods towards one cause – dent the brands’ reputation by uniting all complaints together.
Any company in Air India’s or Vodafone’s situation should be terribly worried over the kind of damage these online evidence of poor service can do. Air India’s problems are compounded as news television crews have found interest in this video – it’s a salacious piece of news worth immense repeat value. So, at least during the period that this issue is alive, Air India will try to do some damage control PR.
What are other brands that are being mauled online doing? Are they even aware of these innocuous looking comments from random customers that are just a Google away? These brands’ nonchalance or ignorance is perhaps a result of a combination of low internet penetration in India and poor awareness about how such online comments can erode their reputation gradually over a period of time! But if we are all gung-ho about internet penetration (3G pricing for Tata DoCoMo out already!) getting better in India and make grandiloquent plans using that optimism, why not also start worrying about brands’ reputation management given there are already many, many opinions about all kinds of brands online?
In essence, creating your Facebook page and Twitter profile when your ‘social media’ agency tells you that is the best way for ‘social media outreach’ is all fine, but please do work harder on earned media – you’ve earned all that already and it’s a combination of both positive and incredibly negative!