Is it ever OK to drop an f-bomb as a brand? It’s complicated.
Each week, Erin Jones and I take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:
- Photobucket starts charging free account users and receives negative exposure.
- Ring.com’s customer service ensures unhappy customers are not left out in the cold.
- Netflix drops an f-bomb on Twitter. Gets mixed reviews.
If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.
Transcript (forgive us for any typos):
Andy Beal: Thank you for joining us for another episode. We’re going to jump right into it. Photobucket is in the news, but not in a good way. If you’re not familiar with Photobucket, you may be familiar with what they are for their image hosting service, and if ever you’ve gone to a forum and someone’s posted an image, there’s a good chance that they first uploaded it to the free service that Photobucket was offering, and then posted the link, because a lot of forums don’t allow you to post images because it eats up bandwidth.
So, Photobucket was pretty popular for that use, even though what they would really like you to use their service for is to upload your great travel vacation photos and stuff like that. They figured out that these free accounts were taking up 75% of the company’s overall cost, and decided that hey, it would be a really good idea if we, instead of offering this for free, let’s just go ahead and charge $400 a year for the privilege. Subsequently, those free customers were not very happy, were they, Erin?
Erin Jones: No. Going from having a free service for the better part of a decade to all of a sudden feeling like your photos are being held ransom is definitely not instilling feelings of goodwill in their users.
Andy Beal: No, and you have to kind of think of this from their point of view. If it’s costing them money to host free images, at some point, Photobucket was going to have to bite the bullet and figure out some way to charge or get these free users to upgrade, but I really feel like they could have come up with a better solution, something that would either grandfather in either completely or maybe something that phased out over time, so hey, you’re going to be free for the next year, but then we’re going to charge you 50 bucks a year, and then we’re going to charge you a hundred, something like that. Or, offer some really great discount to encourage the free users to upload … Sorry, to upgrade. But I just feel like they kind of just came out and said, “Hey, we’re going to start charging you,” and they’re just taking their loans.
Erin Jones: Right, and it kind of feels a little extortiony. A lot of people are saying that they can’t access their information without paying that $399 upfront, so everything they’ve got is being held ransom, and now all these blogs and forums have all these little gray boxes that say unlock your Photobucket account here. So, they’ve got ads all over the internet suddenly, and it’s leaving a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths, and I can definitely understand why. That, and $4.99 a month, I can respectfully pay that. I’ve had blogs, I’ve worked with client blogs. $5 a month is very easy to swallow. Jumping up to $40 a month with no notice is ridiculous.
Andy Beal: And that’s the thing. A lot of people don’t understand that a free ride generally comes to an end, right. So, there’s so many companies out there that started off offering something for free, and eventually they realized that that model is just not sustainable. So, either the company goes out of business because they try to figure out how to use ads, and Photobucket tried to use ads to support the free accounts, but it just wasn’t working. So, I kind of understand from Photobucket’s point of view, it’s like, look guys, either we go out of business, or we need to figure out a way so you … If you need to chip in to cover the costs of hosting your images. But the thing is, it’s like they’re not really losing revenue, right, so these are free accounts.
So, maybe they get 5%, or maybe it’s just 1% of these free account users that go ahead and upgrade to one of their paid plans, so they’re actually probably going to increase revenue over the long-term. However, the way they’ve gone about it, they’re taking a reputation hit, so everybody’s talking about Photobucket in a negative way. They’re getting negative publicity, and all anybody is seeing that they’re basically giving the shaft to these free users who, in good faith, thought that they were going to get this free plan.
But they’re kind of taking that reputation hit, which is going to cost them money, and so yeah, they are going to lose some revenue, whereas if they’d come out with some kind of incentive or grandfather them in, they could have achieved probably the same net result, and that is get rid of the freeloaders, get those that are using free accounts to kind of upgrade, but not taking the reputation hit that’s going to cost them money to either repair, whether that’s a reputation management campaign or just the personnel involved in answering reporters and sharing their side of the story.
Erin Jones: Agreed, and I think a lot of people are looking at this going, “I would have paid $100 a year, maybe even $200 a year, but at $400 I can buy a really nice backup device and host the stuff myself.” They went too far.
Andy Beal: Yeah, they’re not going to go under because of this, no. They may go under because they still can’t get people to pay for a paid plan, and this is going to go under, right, because there’s … Storage is so cheap. Like you said, you can buy a backup, or you can use a service like Dropbox or, what do I use, Backblaze, I think I use. So, there’s plenty of cheap storage solutions out there, so they’re not going to go under because of this.
SmugMug, which is another image hosting, they had something a few years ago that I was personally involved with, where they practically doubled their pricing over a holiday weekend, and just kind of sheepishly rolled it out and all logged off for the weekend. But SmugMug, I stayed with them, and they recovered. So, same for Photobucket, but they could have gone about this in a way that wouldn’t have been as damaging to their reputation, and this is the problem when you offer something free. If that’s your model, hey, we’re going to offer it free, and then we’ll figure out how to monetize it later, that’s just proven over the last few years, that’s just not a good business model.
Erin Jones: Definitely, and I think you need to offer something that people feel like they need, if you’re going to take money for it. So, if they had updated their interface and made it more user-friendly, shinier, better, stronger, faster, they might have gotten a better response from this. But it’s dated, it’s clunky, and now they want this much money. I just don’t think that they’re going to get the reaction that they were hoping for.
Andy Beal: No, no. So, they’ve not lived up to their expectations, and they didn’t do the right thing. Opposite of that, I want to talk a little bit about Ring, and you’re probably familiar with the Ring doorbells. I didn’t have one, but when I saw that the Ring doorbell was going to be compatible with the new Amazon Echo Show and I was going to be able to say to Amazon, “Hey, Amazon, show me the front door,” and it would pull up my Ring doorbell feed, I was sold. So, I ordered both, and if you’ve ever seen the ads on TV, it looks remarkably simple to install. In fact, all the marketing materials claim it’s really super easy to install.
So, I ordered the pro version, which supposedly take the two wires from my doorbell, wire it up, and I’m good to go. Except in the fine print, they tell you that you need a certain transformer on your doorbell chime, and if that’s not feeded enough power, blah, blah, blah, it’s not going to work. So, I had a tech come out. He couldn’t fix it. We kind of figured out that the pro may have actually shorted my doorbell wiring, so now I can’t even use a regular doorbell. And so I was really upset, really frustrated.
Well, I reached out to Ring and told them that, and you know what, I started off on Twitter, because that’s the easiest thing to do, and they actually worked with me on Twitter and they created the ticket. They didn’t say to me, “Hey, you need to call this customer service number,” and they gave me a discount on the wireless version, and gave me some free hosting of my images. Well, okay, then I find out the wireless version wasn’t connecting to my router because it was too far away. So, they sent me an extender for free, which was great.
So, they’re really working hard, okay. Fast forward to a week ago, turns out that the doorbell that I have is not going to be compatible with the Echo Show, and so until such time as they figure out how to make it compatible, I have a wireless doorbell that doesn’t do what I bought it with the intention to do, which is to connect to the Echo Show. Long story short, again, their Twitter customer service came to the rescue, and they are actually going to send me their Ring Doorbell 2, which is compatible with the Echo Show.
So, long story. However, what I liked about this is as a business, we are going to screw up. Our products are going to, at some point, have issues and let down the customer. But when you make these wild, these … Not wild, but when you make these assured claims of how easy and how great your product is, when it doesn’t live up to that, most companies are just like, “Oh well, never mind, send it back, we’ll give you a refund.” But ring.com has really worked hard to get rid of that bad taste and almost say, “Hey, even though our products didn’t live up to that expectation that we sold you in our commercials, we’re going to make sure our customer service goes above and beyond to get you back, to restitute you back to the kind of service and the product that you were looking for.” Thoughts on that, Erin?
Erin Jones: Yeah, I think this just goes to show you that some of your most loyal brand followers and evangelists can come from some of the most frustrating experiences, and it’s just really how you handle it and how you let it play out. For me, a brand that can turn around a frustrating or tough experience and make me love them even more after I’ve been all frustrated and worked up and annoyed, they’ve got me forever, if they work that hard.
We had a similar situation with … We had our truck in the shop, and the local dealership, we were up in the mountains, things were moving very slowly as they tend to do in the mountains, and they were having a hard time figuring something out, I don’t know, with our warranty. So, I vented a little bit on Twitter as we do, and within 20 minutes, I got a call from my local dealership, and the guy said, “I don’t know what you just did, but I got a phone call from corporate. Your parts are on their way, and your truck will be done tomorrow.” He said, “I have never, ever had this happen, so you’ve got to tell me what you did.”
And it was awesome. The local dealer was doing everything in their power, but they were having a hard time getting what they needed, because we were far away from everything. It was a really fun experience because the local dealer was just as wowed with it as we were, and I feel like they handled it really well, and I know especially car companies get a lot of flack for not being customer-centric, and it was just a great experience all the way around, and we have since bought two more vehicles from them.
Andy Beal: That’s a great story. You need to remember, if you have a company that offers customer service via a social channel, then when they reach out to you via that social channel, that conversation is going to be social. Other people are going to see it, so you need to think to yourself, okay, this person is social media savvy, they have an audience, they’ve not just called in the old-fashioned way to a private number where only two sides of the story are being shared. Everybody can see how we handle this, and if we don’t handle it right, there’s a good chance that they’re social enough that they’ll write a blog post or tweet to a USA Today journalist or something like that.
So, if you offer customer service via a social channel, you need to empower those people that are behind that channel to do as much as they can and to go above and beyond, because this person has demonstrated that they have the ability to amplify their complaint, just as if you make things right, they have the ability to amplify their praise. And sure enough, with Ring’s doorbell, I’ve tweeted out how happy I am with them. It’s the same with … There’s a local car cleaning company called Spiffy, and they do a really good job with their Twitter customer service. It makes me want to tell everybody, “Hey, get your car cleaned with this service.” So, You’ve got to consider that when you’re on there socially, you’ve got to go above and beyond.
Erin Jones: And not just for the person you’re interacting with, for everyone who’s watching.
Andy Beal: Correct, yeah.
Erin Jones: You never know where a third, fourth tier sale could come from, or complaint. I’ve been turned off to brands that I have done no business with, just seeing how they interact with other people online.
Andy Beal: That is an awesome segway to our last story, and we didn’t plan that. But talk about getting turned off by a brand online. Did you see Netflix’s tweet? They were promoting a new adult animated series, like an R-rated series, and to promote it, they thought it would be a good idea to get all adult too, and they dropped an F-bomb. I mean, literally, F-U-C-K in their tweet, which is a Twitter account that you don’t really associate with that kind of language. Kids following that Twitter account to see what the latest cartoons are being released. It blew my mind.
Erin Jones: Yeah, I found it really off-putting. Like you said, it wasn’t the Twitter feed for the show, it was the Twitter feed for Netflix. They air everything from My Little Pony to music videos to some of these edgier shows. But you don’t expect the Netflix feed itself to be edgy, and to me, it really came across like they were just trying too hard, like an elementary school kid trying out bad words.
Andy Beal: You’re right.
Erin Jones: It didn’t fee edgy to me, it just … It really just elicited an eye roll.
Andy Beal: And the responses were a mix. Now, those that are fans of this particular genre, this particular series, were super excited about the tweet, responded with similar, colorful language, and that was great. But you saw a lot of faithful customers that were shocked, were disgusted and let Netflix know, and my question is, why risk it? It’s like you said, this is not a channel that is known for its coarse language. It’s not the channel for the actual series itself. They could’ve gotten away, they could have used what all the … I guess all the trendy people are using, and they could have said, but just use the letters AF, which everybody knows what that means, and still got the similar kind of edgy sentiment across. But I doubt they’re going to pick up new subscribers because they took this risk with the language, but they’ll probably lose some.
Erin Jones: Right, and you’ve said this time and time again. No one gets offended when you don’t use that language, when you leave it out, so why would you bother putting off part of your audience by trying to get new people using it?
Andy Beal: Right. It’s almost like, hey, go ahead and set up Netflix profanity or @NetflixRRated, and have at it. But if you’re going to have just a general account, you need to understand that you have a general audience, and you can still get across whatever you’re trying to convey without having to use the language that’s going to alienate … And you’re right. It’s like I say, nobody ever gets offended because you didn’t use bad language, but they are going to get offended because you did. Now, Netflix is kind of an essential for a lot of people, so they may lose some viewers, some subscribers. It’s probably not going to lose a lot, because they’re over here thinking about hey, I want to have access to this particular show, and so I’m not going to cancel. Maybe a lot of people don’t even follow the Netflix account, and so they didn’t even see it. But why take the risk? It’s not like Netflix is pivoting its brand to become this more edgy brand. There was no need for it to take any risk at all.
Erin Jones: Right, and to me, it just … It really backfired in the way that it … It didn’t appear edgy to me. I read that I was like, whoo, you’re so edgy. Go Netflix.
Andy Beal: Yeah, it’s like you said, it’s like a young kid that’s learned a new bad word and wants to use it, and thinks that they’re being really cool, but all the grownups are either shocked or telling them, “Hey, that’s just not as cool as you think it is.”
Erin Jones: Right. I can appreciate a well-timed F-bomb, I really can, but I did not feel like this was the right venue to do it.
Andy Beal: Exactly, I agree. All right, well, appreciate your insights. Thank you all for joining us for another episode, and Erin, as always, thank you for joining me and sharing your thoughts.
Erin Jones: Yeah, thank you.
Andy Beal: If you guys are listening, please head over to our Facebook page, Andy Beal ORM. If you’re not listening, then you won’t be heading there, so I don’t know why I said that. But we will be back again. We appreciate you joining us, and hope you’ll catch us again next time. Thanks a lot, and bye-bye.