Dyson Airblade vs social mediaOne of the big fears about social media is that it provides a platform for consumers to make lots of bad noise about brands. This is what most senior marketing folk are afraid of, if they have reservations about the impact of Facebook and Twitter. 

When the customer experience falls short of expectations people can easily complain about it in public, and if the network effect takes hold then the brand concerned could be in for a rough ride. 

At that stage the brand needs to figure out what to do, and fast. Any social media ‘expert’ will tell you that transparency, honesty, responding in public and a hands-up-we-screwed-up approach to taking the blame all matter, in terms of how you react.

But hold on a moment: let’s not believe that stupid mantra about the customer always being right! What happens if the customer is wrong? Or worse, what happens when one of your competitors teams up with the aggrieved customer to stick it to your brand / product / service? 

Dyson has found out the hard way…

Dyson is dealing with a small social media fire, sparked by Nick Donnelly’s post called ‘Why Dyson Airblade is Shit’, on his often insightful (and amusing) Usability Hell blog. 

Nick’s beef with the Airblade is that it provides an “awkward an unnatural” way of drying your hands, among other things. He lists a bunch of other reasons and signs off with a “back to the drawing board on this one, James…”.

Dyson made all the right moves by responding quickly. It asked Nick for the location of the machine to see if it was faulty. Nick was “quickly impressed with the engagement – thinking ‘wow, Dyson gets it’”. So far so good.

But then something dastardly happened. A competitor, Mitsubishi Electric threw a massive curve ball at Dyson by wading into the comments on Nick’s post (the first comment, as it happens: fast work, ye competitor reputation monitors!). ‘Mitsubishi’ claimed that it has a dryer that is quieter, quicker and more effective. Uh oh.

At this point Dyson decided to call it a day, as far as further participation in the discussion was concerned:

“We entered this conversation looking to locate a faulty machine and clarifying what we felt were factually misleading statements. We feel that the direction that this thread is going in will go nowhere (apart from some interesting fodder for you, Nick) and we’re not willing to play, I’m afraid.”

Nick’s view on this? “Dyson threw their toys out of the pram and went crying home to mummy.”

I’m not sure I agree. Dyson backed up as soon as a competitor windmilled into the action. The main problem here is one of validation: nobody knows that the comment from ‘mitsubishielectric’ was actually from Mitsubishi Electric. There was no signature, no URL and no proof that this was the real deal. It looked like it was, based on the content, but who knows for sure? Not Dyson. 

So what to do? If you take it at face value and assume the comment is from a competitor, as you must, then you need to figure out whether it is worth getting into a slanging match with a competitor?

Dyson thought better of it, and I think it was perfectly fine for the company to back out of the room as soon as a competitor appeared. For another brand it would be a sackable offence not to have a fight with a competitor in public (can you imagine Ryanair NOT wading in?). It’s horses for courses. There are few fixed rules in social media: you have to do what’s right for your brand.

What’s important in social media is the way you respond to complaints, and convincing consumers that you care enough to listen and learn. I don’t think going mano-a-mano with a competitor in the comments section of a blog is particularly classy, or necessary (although we’ve done it before!).

Brands need a thick skin and large ears. Nick was certainly being critical, but constructive too. We review new websites on this blog and while it’s hard not to take criticism personally we’re genuinely trying to help people make better web experiences. Websites, like most products, should be finessed over time through a series of design iterations. Criticism is simply an opportunity to make a better product.

At any rate, social media offers no hiding place for products and services that are (rightly or wrongly) perceived to be inferior, or below expectations in some way. So perhaps one social media trend will be to raise the bar, in terms of product quality, in order to combat badmouthing in public?

I’d love to hear your views on this. Did Dyson do the right thing? Should it have stood up for itself a little more, in the face of competitor combat activity? Was Nick being reasonable when he called the Airblade ‘shit’, or when he described Dyson’s approach to social media as an ‘abortion’?

Do leave some thoughts below…

[Image by jonrawlinson via Flickr, various rights reserved]