Categorized | happenings

Who’s afraid of the big bad tweet?

Godzilla 98
Godzilla is afraid.

This blog eschews politics like a magotty bone jealously guarded by a killer pit bull. So we really aren’t going to wade into the murk of the clearly rigged election results in Iran (really, if you’re going to steal an election, 50.1% wins the election just as well as a clearly contrived 63%). But for the first time in history, the revolutionary fervor kicked up in the dust of a fraudulent election is being fueled in part by an online chat storm. Even though the Iranian clerical mafia has clamped down on television, newspapers, and the Web, Twitter, it seems, has provided a hole big enough to drive a revolution through.

And now, the most powerful people in Iran, who’ve already shown their fear of television, newspapers, Web sites, and social networking sites, are afraid of the big, bad tweet. So scary is the big, bad tweet, that the Obama administration has asked Twitter to delay a network upgrade so as not to risk any downtime.

I hope you’re paying attention, because if you’re in business or starting one, you should be taking notes. The big, bad tweet is a democratic fellow and he can target you just as well.

It’s not just the Iranian clerical mafia that’s afraid of the big, bad tweet. Hollywood, for instance, learned to fear the big, bad tweet long before there was Twitter — when text messaging became all the rage among its target market of teens and twenty-somethings.

You see, when you’re marketing a film, a lot is riding on the opening weekend boxoffice. If you have a good film, then a large opening produces the mojo for the film to run into a successful second or third week. If you have a bad film, then you want to have the biggest possible opening weekend because opening weekend is all you’re going to get. Once word gets out that your movie stinks, it will play to empty seats in its second week.

Until text messaging and Twitter, Hollywood could always count on having three or four good days for a highly marketable film, even if it stunk. Way back in 1998, when Sony burned a sizable bankroll with the disastrous remake of Godzilla, no-one at the studio actually saw the film (or any dailies) until about a week and a half before its release. What an unpleasant two hours that was for the suits. “Geez, what a piece of crap!” and “Oh, we’re screwed. We’re totally screwed!” were the nice things they said after telling the director what a great film it was and escorting him from the room.

So the executives decided to throw their entire marketing budget — the whole thing — at promoting the film in the days before its opening. Why? This would give them three or four days to pack the theaters and, because all the suckers who purchased tickets on opening weekend would tell their friends about this major stinkaroo, they wouldn’t have a second chance. This ploy succeeded — they made almost $70 million in the opening weekend, a record. But, sure enough, the folks who paid good money to see the film went home and told all their friends all about it. So after opening weekend, people stayed away in droves. The film’s total boxoffice take over its entire run? Including the $70 million in its opening weekend? $90 million. If it wasn’t for the big opening weekend, the studio would have lost their shirt. Well, more of their shirt than they actually lost.

But now, Hollywood doesn’t even get to have that three or four day buffer where they can fill seats by virtue of marketing and publicity alone. Studio executives live in fear of the teenager with a mobile phone and a Twitter account. If the word those teenagers tweet is bad, it costs the studios millions. They fill the theaters on Friday and on Saturday they’re empty. However, if the word is good, well, then they make millions.

And, despite their huge salaries and gargantuan research budgets, the folks working in Hollywood often don’t know what people will like (case in point: He’s Just Not That Into You).

Word-of-mouth marketing has been with us since the beginning of time. Marketers began to take it mighty seriously back in the 1990′s. But as the Great Iranian Twitterstorm has shown, technology allows word-of-mouth to overwhelm every other component of your marketing. Text messaging and Twitter have made the customer the most important marketing component in your toolbox.

And what the customer says is the one thing that is the most out of your control.

In the most urgent sense, this means that customer service has to emerge as the center of your entire marketing effort. Practically (though not always theoretically), customer service is too often relegated to the hinterlands of marketing and operational concerns. But in the age of Twitter, a bad customer experience may find itself in the hands of two or three dozen people — thus overwhelming any marketing or publicity that have reached these people.

I have a new rule of customer service: assume that every customer’s experience will be broadcast over Twitter. Assume everything you say to a customer is the equivalent of a tweet that you yourself are broadcasting out to your customers and prospects.

Or you, too, will meet the big, bad tweet.

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