Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Report from BlogOn 2005: The Myth of Customer-Friendly

In what universe are Google and Apple considered bad at marketing?

In the blogger universe, apparently.

I read with some amusment Mark Pincus' post defending the charge that Silicon Valley is full of "tech-heads who don't listen." The examples he uses to support the contention that there are people listening hard: Google and Apple. I am amused because Google and Apple both came under fire repeatedly at the recent BlogOn 2005 conference for being "customer-unfriendly."

You know, blogging has come a long way in the year since last year's BlogOn event. The hype is ever-present, both positive and negative. The numbers are staggering. But the last thing we, as an industry, should do, is let this go to our heads, making us insular and arrogant. You could hear the self-satisfaction permeate otherwise rational discussions. Everything from claims that the blogging "tipping point" had already occurred (which I have already blogged about disagreeing with to sweeping declarations made about how a company's success or failure would be predictable based on the quality (or existence) of their blog.

One panel where this was apparent was in the panel on "Markets are conversations" moderated by Steve Rubel. At one point I even felt compelled to rise to the defense of two companies that probably don't need my assistance. Shel Israel made the grand statement that Apple and Google don't respond to customers, and that it "will hurt them."

How does he support that statement? Well, he doesn't, or he didn't get a chance to. And I could not help myself from commenting as follows:

We cannot be so insular as to think blogs are the only ways to support customers. As an Apple customer, when I have a problem I go to their web site and am directed to moderated forums where I inevitably find assistance. I don't need a blog to resolve my issue. Believe me, cranky anti-computer moments aside, I'm perfectly satisfied. Those forums are customer-friendly. (Not to mention that an earlier panel had documented how Apple had gone from a state of reluctant responsiveness on the iPod batetry issue to one of immediate responsiveness on the Nano screen issue...if that's not listening, learning and adapting to the online and blogging cultre, then what is?)

As for Google, perhaps my view is unusual, but I see Google as a company that's constantly creating and releasing various little applications and tools to its users. Tease them all you like (and I do) about being the eternal beta-release company, it doesn't strike me that most of these options are big money-making machines for Google. Rather Google wants to be a one-stop-shop for online denizens...and releases various niche features that we talk about being cool and/or fun. I think their product development ethos is customer-friendly.

The fun continued the next day, starting with David Weinberger's keynote on what blogs aren't. I really like David and his perspective. He's one of the few guys who can write about gender issues and seem completely self-aware and open-minded. He's one of the few speakers, male or female, who uses feminine pronouns ergularly without sounding deliberate or contrived. And his advice on what a blog is not is solid. But to spend as much time as he did attacking the JuicyFruit blog was a waste of time he could have better spent in other ways.Nowhere in his very energetic thrashing of JuicyFruit was there the slightest hint that Dave thought perhaps it was simply a failed (in his case) attempt at humor, not an egregious and immoral exploitation of the blogosphere! I mean really, does he seriously think the people at JuicyFruit take their Click & Hold game seriously themselves? Does he not, perhaps, see the humor in the "top scores" indicating someone has played for 99 days? Has he not seen the ads that their "blog" is riffing on? The ads are kinda funny, actually. Sure, I won't be visiting this blog and hanging out there, but it's not evil personified, dude!

Frankly, by the end of the two days at BlogOn I felt a simmering resentment rising to the top, as corporate and agency traditional PR-types got tired of being spoken about derisively, dismissively and derogatorily. I agree with the PR person who said they were there to learn, but that it wasn't really very instructive to simply engage in bashing the attempts of companies to dip their toes in the blogging water.

But I've digressed a bit from my original point: the Myth of Customer-Friendly behavior in the social media sphere. Blogs are one way to be customer-friendly. A great way. I am a blogger, a professional blogger, a blogvangelist, a huge blog proponent...and yet I will commit heresy right now and remind everyone: blogs are one way. We must be open to accepting that for some companies there are other ways that they can be customer-friendly too.

Big tent, guys, big tent.

Bravo! Love your realistic approach towards blogging.
glad to hear i'm not the only one!
Well said, Elisa. Some blog evangelists are tad too parochial. Blogging is a marvelous new medium that evolves every day and we have only just begun to see how it will be used personally and commercially in a changing marketing environment.

I'm sorry that I didn't actually meet you at BlogOn. I read your blog often and usually enjoy it. I'm also sorry you did not like what I had to say. Perhaps that's because you seem to have heard it differently than I stated it. I mentioned Dell's support problems, but I made no mention whatsoever about Apple's support. What I did say is that because Apple and Google do not blog, I believe that they are beginning to be perceived as closed cultures and that is hurting them. I further disclosed that I hold stock in both companies, a disclosure that was supposed to make clear that I hold both of these companies in significantly high esteem to invest my retirement in them.
My hope is that they will listen to the many voices that are being raised in this very same area. There are a great many people, like yourself, who are clearly very loyal to Cupertino, which I think is just fine. I just wish that you would listen clearly to what other people have to say and not immediately assume its an irrational assault.
Shel: Sorry I didn't meet you as well.

I don't think I made assumptions. I have in my notes, in reference to Apple and Google specifically, with quotes around it:

"They don't respond [to customers], and it will hurt them."

And that's all I quote you directly as saying in my post. That they don't "respond to customers." In the context of not wholeheartedly buying into the blogging culture.

You added further context after in response to my comment during the Q&A part of the session, and yes, then, it made a lot more sense, but during the discussion itself, no one on that stage with you questioned your comment at all, but rather nodded in agreement.

In this post I was just trying to make clear that yours was just one among many comments that I felt demonstrated a certain "closed culture" of our own among the blogging community.
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