As it often does, the New York Times raised an especially timely issue yesterday. We've all heard the wonders of social media extolled almost ad nauseum. It provides opportunity at a level never before seen for brands to learn more about their customers and in turn, sell more of their particular product or service. In the reverse of the equation, it also enables consumers to access more information - and particularly more uncontrolled information - about the brands. If I'm left feeling significantly dissatisfied with an experience with a brand, and the brand has had the chance to make it right but didn't, you're dang right I'm going to get online to warn other people about it.
Case in point: there's a great story here from Ken Peters of the Think B.I.G. blog about his less than satisfying experience with the Nook reader device. Well worth a read.
But do you think Ken worried about being sued when he opined on his blog, and then saw his story reTweeted and referenced around the web?
The NYT article discusses the implications of this wonderful new world of transparency and free speech, profiling a disgruntled Kalamazoo student who founded a Facebook group to complain about a Michigan towing company. Within two days, the group had 800 members and the towing company well, freaked. In the form of a $750,000 lawsuit against him.
As America was founded on the principle of free speech, this seems more than a little ironic. Thankfully the law seems to agree. The NYT calls this an example of a "decades-old legal maneuver known as a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or Slapp". Perfect name, isn't it?
"The label has traditionally referred to meritless defamation suits filed by businesses or government officials against citizens who speak out against them. The plaintiffs are not necessarily expecting to succeed — most do not — but rather to intimidate critics who are inclined to back down when faced with the prospect of a long, expensive court battle."
Instead of viewing this an especially powerful opportunity to respond to the customer in question - in a public and powerful way - the towing company is being incredibly short-sighted about this by reacting with a good old-fashioned knee jerk. It is a towing company, after all. Perhaps we really need the social media titans - the Best Buys and Dells of the world - to keep setting the bar until the others catch on. Hopefully it's not too late.