December 3 2008

When Consumers Attack

As an industry, we can not ignore how social media is affecting our companies, our brands, and our reputations. If we blatantly ignore, turn a deaf ear, turn a blind eye, or just quietly deny that consumer voices on the Internet are shaping our brands and reputations, we risk the vicious attack of our very own consumers.

We’ve spent years of physical, emotional, and mental toil into building our brand. We’ve spent millions of dollars in ads and media that build our reputations. And now, social media facilitating the public attacks of consumers, we risk those negative messages eroding what we have labored for years to build.

Many of us remember the late 1990’s Fox series “When Animals Attack”. “The shockumentary series presented unbelievable footage of people caught in dangerous situations with animals. Stories included one man defending himself against a great white shark, a boy being attacked by a mountain lion, a woman almost swallowed by a whale, and a vicious killer bee swarm descending on Texas.

We have never figured out why animals attack, but the terrifying footage showed us what happens when they do. This blog follows a similar line; much less terrifying, but similarly tragic consequences for business that care about how consumers perceive their brand and reputation.

You’ve seen the videos of when animals attack. Take a look at the Internet to see what happens when consumers attack.

Here's a link to a Business Week article entitled Angry Homeowners Take To The Web. Here is a list of a few more angry homeowner websites.

When Consumers Attack
Google Search Results for – K Hovnanian or K Hovnanian Homes

 

In this example, both the #3 and #4 results are consumer attacks - and they are ugly. 50% of the top 4 results are attacks. The crazy thing about this nasty (you know which one I'm referring to) site is that the last time anyone posted anything to the site was August 2007. Complaints go back as far as 2005. This is the most extreme example in the building industry how consumer voices on the Internet can influence our brands in a negative way.

When Consumers Attack
Google Search Results for – Pulte Homes



In this example, the #4 example is a YouTube video of people at a construction site getting repeatedly pelted with water from a Pulte truck. I don't know the story behind this but it looks really bad. I would love a Pulte representative to comment on the video so we can know the other side to this story. Come on Pulte; just let us know the story and it won't look as bad as it does now. You don't deserve to look this bad.

When Consumers Attack
Google Search Results for – KB Home



Another nasty example. The #3 spot is another YouTube video entitled "KB Home's Bombs - See How Housing Developer Manipulates the System and builds ..." Read the comments. There are people both denouncing and defending KB Home in this. I think we all would like an authentic KB response to this. Then the clip isn't just negative.

Think this is no big deal? John Eric Pearce, Editor of Not-Khov.com reported on 6/10/08 that he found two emails for people who stated that they DID NOT purchase a KHOV home because of the information on this website! 


Staving Off The Attack
Google Blog Results for – KB Home



This is an example of both negative and positive press. On the one hand there is a voice pushing that KB Homes are disposable but there are two other voices right alongside insisting that KB is an "extremely good builder" and that KB is the "most admired" of all builders. Balance is what we find in this example.

Staving Off The Attack
Google Search Results for – Lennar Homes



In this example the Lennar Blog is in the #4 spot for a company search.

Staving Off The Attack
Google Blog Results for – Lennar Homes



In this example the Lennar Blog is the #1 result for a company blog search.

My take:
Everyone is on the Internet today. The first thing we do when we want to find information is to "Google it". Social media, and specifically Blogging, is the simplest way to accomplish two critical business elements.

1. Blogging opens the door for strong connections with consumers. Consumers want to hear authentic messages from a person, not a company. They also want to be heard.

2. Blogging is Marketing Through Dialogue. In most cases, the content from the company blog will be displayed on many company related search phrases. This doesn't go away and is a powerful way for other Internet consumers to gain a connection with the people inside the company.

What should be done?
There are many obstacles for a corporation to incorporate blogs. Here is what makes sense to me.

Blogging Guidelines: I suggest implementing corporate policies that say that employees can’t sexually harass anyone, they can’t reveal secrets, they can’t use inside information to trade stock or influence prices, and they shouldn’t talk ill of the competition in any way or via any media.

These guidelines should include e-mail, writing a blog, commenting on blogs, and other forms of online communications such as forums, chat rooms, and Internet messaging.

Any builder that builds homes is susceptible to the homeowner that will never be happy no matter how hard the builder tries. Shame on those people. I write this to the executives and the legal counsels of builders that have concerns about the impact social media are having on our industry right now.

Yes ,it is a new media to contend with. Yes, it is something new we need to learn. Yes, it will take time. Yes, it will take a small reorganization. No, it is not expensive. No, it is not difficult.

So let's try to navigate our way through this media and Join The Conversation.

Sincerely,

Jim Adams - CEO
New Homes Directory.com

 

Comments

Posted by: Victor Sequeira | December 4 2008 2:28 AM

Jim,
I've been in marketing for over 15 years. This is not about marketing (or blogging). The homebuilding industry is rife with fraud and the mainstream media is reporting that (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25465130/).
The internet is just another tool to shine the light on these practices and keep the light on them until they are corrected.

Posted by: Mike Lyon | December 7 2008 7:01 AM

What we need is transparency. The people with bad experiences tend to make the most noise. With every builder, there are plenty of great experiences!

My builder says, "It takes 10 'atta boys' to make up for the 1 negative comment."

In order for builder get the good news out quick enough, and in the right places,  they will have to let there individual employees participate in the social media scene.

Posted by: Jim Adams | December 7 2008 10:22 AM

Victor and Mike, I completely agree with you both.  Many builders fear public conversations.  A primary fear is that everyone will complain and say negative things.  If your product and service are bad, that is a possibility.  Transparency will reveal deficiencies.  Fix the deficiencies and problem solved.  The reason we only see negative things now is that there is no place to say anything good.  Give consumers a place to say good things and they will.  It's been proven in many different industries over and over.

Posted by: Bill Kelm | May 16 2009 3:01 AM

I am empathetic to both the buyer and the seller.  It may have to come to some kind of independent "Truth Commission" set up by new legislative action to determine whether a consumer's complaints are founded in any kind of truth whatsoever.  Yes, there are new home consumers who are the kind that no matter what you do for them, they are not satisfied ("There are always a few in every tract").  However, in these hard times for builders, "Buyer Beware" is more true than ever, IMO.  Some builders just don't care what they put their customers through, or what is said about them on the Internet, and the problem may only be at a local, divisional or regional level, and not at a national level.  

Either way, the need for "objective, third party, truth" is becoming more needed because of the impact of the web.  Both buyer and seller have a responsibility to treat each other the way they would want to be treated if they were in the other's shoes.  I see the need for new legislation that can set up an independent "Truth Commission" that can determine if the buyer is, in fact, a greedy, selfish buyer who is not happy unless he is complaining, or a legitimately upset buyer with unfair situation that could set a precedent for future customer relations in the entire building industry.

Yes, Jim, there also needs to be an independent website on the Internet where happy customers can place their good comments.  Maybe that "Truth Commission" could have a website with reviews of builders?      

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