The Great Shift in Consumer Behavior

We are in the midst of the greatest shift in consumer behavior in my lifetime. I’m only 25, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that the internet is changing the way consumers behave, and that this is upseting decades of traditional corporate behavior.

Companies are used to strong arming their customers, giving them “if you don’t like it then leave” attitude. That stuff doesn’t fly anymore, and one bad complaint/review can cost you millions, no joke.

Social media and blogging has changed the game, and the ball is now in the consumers court. I’m still amazed at how callous fortune 500 companies are when it comes to customer service.

You can either train all your employees to treat people with respect, or train 1,000 new employees to monitor social media/google for all the people you’re about to upset.

All followers are not created equal, and neither is social influence. One thing that running websites have taught me, is that there are thousands of consumer reviews filed on the web every day. Most of them are by random consumers with little to no sphere of influence.

Every once and awhile though, somebody comes along who brings with them thousands (if not millions) if followers. Just like the example from Gripe, these people are heavily connected across the largest social networks. Their followers are in the millions, and their words pack a punch like you wouldn’t believe. They know how to leverage their own klout.

A good casino caters to whales, so why don’t more websites cater to power users on the web? If you have ever seen a huge spike in traffic to your website from a social network, it wasn’t because somebody’s grandma shared your post with her 19 friends on facebook.

Here’s where we might disagree, but I would give up hundreds of below average web surfers for 1 with a ton of influence online. For the same reason, I normally cater solely to SEO traffic. It’s what I know best, and it’s easy for me to get thousands of visitors from Google to a website each month.

For most large websites, the only time social media is ever more than a blip on the radar is when somebody with influence shares your best stuff with their social network.

Some websites that monitor trending topics are the exception, but honestly how many people have the staff to constantly be breaking news 24 hours a day. The ability to execute like that isn’t for everyone, and it doesn’t come cheap.

For the rest of us, we need to be more aware of these power users on the web. Instead of monitoring meaningless tweets and shares all day long that get immediately buried, why not spend your time where there is the greatest return? There is a huge ROI when somebody popular stumbles your goodies.

All people are not created equal, and the same goes for tweets, stumbles, and facebook shares. How can we do a better job at quickly identifying and rewarding these kinds of people as they navigate the web at large?

Customers have the power now, and they are beginning to realize it. Who will you be in the years to come, the company that thrives on consumer intelligence, or the one that falls by the wayside in ignorance?

Gone are the days when large corporations could just bury consumer complaints, they have the world wide web to thank for that. If Twitter can help overthrow the Egyptian government, it can certainly take down your business.

It’s time to start taking negative brand mentions seriously, and form a solid strategy for dealing with them in a timely manner. If you aren’t a company like Google, Facebook, or Walmart, the world can do without your services. Depending on the competition level in your niche, one share or tweet can cost you millions, and that’s not an exaggeration.

Just to clarify, this isn’t about keeping everybody happy, just addressing them if they get upset enough to take to the proverbial streets with their battle cry against you. To make things easier, realize people will take the path of least resistance, unless of course you have a serious nut on your hands.

They may go to insane lengths to deal with their issues, like build an entire website devoted to their rants and raves about your company. In most cases though, you’ll find people search for simliar complaints, and piggy back off what is already out there. Which is why staying on top of things is important. It’s much easier to stop a small snowball than an avalanche of negative press.

So stay on top of Google searches related to your brand, and always keep your ears to social networks for negative mentions.

Remember that people don’t want to complain, they just want their problem solved. More often than not they don’t even care that the problem gets solved, they just want validation.

So either take a few moments to be interested now, or take hours and possibly days later to figure out how to deal with it later.

Ready or not, here they come. If you have a business of any size online you are going have consumers, and those consumers are going to voice their opinions. Whether their experience involved satisfactory or unsatisfactory service, people want to share now more than ever.

It used to be that these reviews and complaints would go largely unnoticed, but now thanks to Google instant, what people are saying about you WILL affect the way people see your company. If those words are complaints and problems, then you are going to experience what I call the Google instant snowball.

Let me be very clear, if people say negative things about your company, those negative search predictions will begin working their way into Google instant.

The more people that see negative reviews, the more people that will follow suit and post their own negative reviews and complaints. Now we have a snowball affect, and a basic Google search for your business is followed by suggestions of “complaints”, “scam”,  or “problems”. So what do you do, and how do you stop the snowball from spinning out of control destroying every bit of your reputation online?

First things first, take consumer reviews seriously. Gone are the days when you could just shrug it off and say “what are you going to do about it”. Our society, thanks largely to the web, has shifted to one that is consumer driven. In a world where a single tweet, picture, or video can get millions of views an hour, you need to actively monitor what people are saying. Instead of having a fire drill every time you find a complaint, begin a process of actively pushing out positive content to counteract the negative.

Don’t be afraid to use those negative searches in your favor, addressing complaints and problems right there in the title of your posts. People are already going to find bad things about you on the web, why not give yourself a chance to set the record straight first?

Consider reputation management a vital part of your online strategy. It’s not an afterthought anymore, consumers want to see good reviews before they make a purchasing decision.

Those thousands spent doing online advertising is useless if a simple Google search for your brand yields a tidal wave of negative content. Think like a consumer, take complaints seriously, and continue to push out positive reputation management on a regular basis. Don’t let the snowball get you too.