Six years ago, a journalism teacher at New York University coined the phrase “the people formerly known as the audience” to alert big media to changes coming as new digital devices and platforms allowed users to decide when, where and how they would consume the news, rather than letting a newspaper, TV station or radio outlet determine it for them.
“There’s a new balance of power between you and us,” Jay Rosen, an associate professor at the college, told big media.
Likewise, the new devices and platforms have tipped the scales for buyer and seller. To borrow from Rosen, “the people formerly known as the consumer” no longer quietly lodge a complaint about a product or service. Instead, they vent loudly on Facebook and Twitter — and woe to the company that can’t handle the shout-out.
Remember how Lowe’s was upbraided last year on celebrity Twitter accounts after pulling its home-improvement ads from the cable TV show “All-American Muslim”? (A conservative Christian group was pressuring advertisers.) Or the whipping the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation took earlier this year on Twitter and Facebook for cutting breast-screening funding to Planned Parenthood? (The money subsequently was restored.) “Companies really need to have a strategy for these backlashes,” Carolee Sherwood told me this week when I called to ask her about the pros and cons of business involvement in social media. Sherwood has the title of “conversation manager” at Media Logic, a Colonie marketing firm that ramped up its social media services last year. Sherwood’s job is to help clients develop an online presence and “voice” through platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to enhance brand loyalty.
I was looking to Sherwood for guidance on the kerfuffle that arose last week after Price Chopper announced a change to its popular Fuel AdvantEdge program. Beginning May 13, shoppers holding the grocer’s loyalty card will need to spend $100 to earn savings of 10 cents a gallon on gasoline purchases, up from 10 cents earned on every $50 spent at the supermarket. Price Chopper officials said the change would allow the company to lower prices “on more than 10,000 of the products that customers need, want and buy most.” Customer reaction to the change was swift on Price Chopper’s Facebook page and Twitter account, where complaints were posted by the hundreds. Most critics painted the program as a key reason they shopped at the Schenectady-based chain, which has 128 stores in six states.
Sherwood, who watched Price Chopper’s Facebook page over several days, said the company clearly had a strategy in place for monitoring and responding to the comments. Sometimes that was through the persona of “Lisa Price Chopper,” which offered a human voice, and sometimes through an official company response — and both were consistent with the longstanding tone of the page.
(Spokeswoman Mona Golub declined an interview request on how Price Chopper tackled the dust-up. In an email she said, “We will continue to post, watch, listen and respond when appropriate, which is how we engage with those who follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We believe in being candid and forthright and staying in the conversation.”) Sherwood said the company’s response to comments seemed “canned” at times — “cutting and pasting … the official line.” And she saw a “missed opportunity” in not underscoring Price Chopper’s local, family roots.
In the end, though, “People are bound to vent and move on,” Sherwood said, calling occasional criticism on social media “the price of doing business.”