Like it or not, there are people talking about your company on the web right now. You must be aware of that conversation and engage it with authenticity. If not, your company will be another Target. Recently, Amy Jussel of the blog ShapingYouth wrote that Target's billboard in Times Square was offensive to women because the center of the logo in the giant ad pointed to a woman's crotch. In response, the company said the model was "making a snow angel" on top of the Target bull's-eye. After Ms. Jussel contacted Target to complain, the company not only did not answer her issue, but also said their policy was to not respond to non-traditional media. The online community was outraged, naturally, but not about the billboard, because many people disagreed with Ms. Jussel. The netizens were outraged over being dismissed by the company. Target will have to come to a new relationship with its net audience -- and soon. Indeed, it's already reconsidering some of its current policies. For retailers, the online channel is growing four to ten times as fast as their physical channels. Target cannot afford to have an active "anti-Target" campaign only one click away from their online stores. It would be the equivalent of allowing picketers to be just outside the Target parking lot and doing nothing about it.
Trying to shape perception of a firm is as old as business. Think of the "current wars" when Thomas Edison wanted to electrify the country with Direct Current (DC), and George Westinghouse wanted to use Alternating Current (AC) designed by the mad genius Nicola Tesla. Legend has it that, upon the electrocution of murderer William Kemmler via AC, Edison bribed a local newspaper editor to have the headline read that the executed criminal had been "Westinghoused," in a desperate effort to scare the public away from the competing technology. Despite the scorched-earth approach, Tesla's solution prevailed.
What is different today from Edison's time is the speed, the scale and the persistence of the audience's ability to organize and adapt. And retailers shouldn't underestimate the power of in-store media: The TV network inside WalMarts is one of the U.S.'s largest TV networks. Some pundits expect 90% of all retail space to have in-store media by 2010. The argument can be happening in the aisle itself!
Don't become a Target. Do you know what conversations are occurring about your company online right now? Is your company a true, honest, and engaged part of those conversations?
Also at conversationstarter.hbsp.edu