Social media are credited with fueling the uprisings in the Middle East, and two cases this week show the influence it can have on business.
As Al Maag points out in his blog, the changes Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) made to its site have raised such a hue and cry that the uproar is its own news story. (See: Is Your Business Face on Facebook?) Facebook invited user feedback, which so far seems overwhelmingly negative. It doesn't sound as if Facebook is going to change things back, though. The vibe I'm getting is that, like Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Facebook is telling users, "We know what's good for you. Just hang in there." The first iPhone had connection problems when handled a certain way, and Apple's original response was "So don't do that." It has since fixed the problem.
In contrast, we have OnStar, which reversed its policy yesterday regarding data collection and its subscribers. OnStar told the press:
OnStar announced today it is reversing its proposed Terms and Conditions policy changes and will not keep a data connection to customers' vehicles after the OnStar service is canceled.
OnStar had recently sent e-mails to customers telling them that effective Dec. 1, their service would change so that data from a customer vehicle would continue to be transmitted to OnStar after service was canceled -- unless the customer asked for it to be shut off.
"We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers," OnStar President Linda Marshall said. "This is why we are leaving the decision in our customers' hands. We listened, we responded and we hope to maintain the trust of our more than 6 million customers."
If OnStar ever offers the option of a data connection after cancellation, it would only be when a customer opted-in, Marshall said. And then OnStar would honor customers' preferences about how data from that connection is treated.
Maintaining the data connection would have allowed OnStar to provide former customers with urgent information about natural disasters and recalls affecting their vehicles even after canceling their service. It also would have helped in planning future services, Marshallsaid.
"We regret any confusion or concern we may have caused," Marshall said.
Not all the correspondence between Apple, OnStar, and their users was via social networking, but you can bet a big chunk of it was. Even if comments weren't sent directly to the companies, readers, users, "Friends," and the news media were able to gauge public reaction through posts, Tweets, blogs, and Likes. I know OnStar was monitoring posts, because it sent its statements directly to me, and I quoted the Wall Street Journal as my original source regarding OnStar. (See: Measuring the Value of 'Big Data' in the Supply Chain.)
OnStar has impressed me on two levels. First, it responded quickly and decisively to its users' concerns. Second, it went the extra mile to track down EBN's editorial e-mail address. (I'm sure there is an automated data-collection technology behind that, but still…)
These businesses will continue to collect data, but that's not the point (at least for today). Social media played a big role in the decisions these companies made. I've had my doubts about social networking and its application in business, but I'll never deny its power.