Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) recently gave its Instant Play interface a complete makeover. Most users hate the change -- and have been quite vocal about it.
Some users have been even more frustrated, however, by Netflix's lack of public response, concern, or even acknowledgement regarding the issue. Other than an early, arrogant statement from a corporate communications officer insisting that Netflix knows what it’s doing and will not reverse itself, Netflix executives are keeping mum. Comments to Netflix's blog and Facebook Page remain unanswered. Tweets to Netflix employees have been ignored. One user calls Netflix's refusal to address the concerns head-on "a total slap in the face to… loyal customers."
Compare Redbox, a Netflix competitor that rents movies via vending machines instead of by mail or online viewing. Redbox has been facing its own brand crisis (albeit much smaller). Recently, Redbox decided to institute a modest rental price as a "localized test."
Numerous Redbox customers, upset about the change, have taken to Redbox's Facebook page to express their displeasure. Unlike Netflix, Redbox is showing that it is listening -- responding to the Facebook comments, explaining its actions to some degree, and directing customers to customer service.
This last step is very important. Social media should rarely be the be-all and end-all of serious customer concerns. Any customer communication that is, or has the potential to be, brand-damaging should be brought offline as soon as possible for the following reasons:
- Privacy. It is bad form for a company to discuss personal transactions publicly, and compliance issues sometimes require companies to take these discussions offline. Besides, neither the customer nor the company benefits by airing their dirty laundry for all the world to see. If the company can satisfy the socially savvy customer offline, that customer will probably let his or her online audience know.
- Improved customer response. Customers are likely to be less incendiary and more open to a resolution when speaking with a human voice on the phone. Indeed, they may feel partly appeased right away because the company has cared enough to pursue a two-way conversation with them.
- Control. This is the most important reason to engage with upset customers and actively seek to bring the discussion offline. Social media are organic; companies can manage social media, but they cannot control them. They can, however, exercise some control over "regular" interactions, guiding their tone and direction.
Because Netflix has failed to engage its disgruntled customers, it is now paying the price. Not only are Netflix's disgruntled customers continuing to inflict damage on Netflix's brand across social media, but they have even sought to take the discussion offline on their own terms, telephoning individual Netflix executives and leaving them irate voicemails.
This is not even Netflix's most recent social media snafu. On June 13, Netflix Instant Play suffered an overnight outage. As users took to Twitter to vent their frustration, Netflix's response was de minimis (although a full site outage the following week received improved Twitter attention from Netflix).
Unfortunately, this is par for the course with Netflix. For instance, Netflix does not respond to any posts on its Facebook page (not even one customer's recent cri de coeur: "What's going on with my account? I can't access my account information and it's been over a week of trying!").
Instead, Netflix makes amateurish status updates, often pleading, "Click the Like button if you've ever…" (translation: "I don't know the difference between 'Likes' and ROI; thankfully, neither does my boss"). Netflix is hardly more sophisticated on Twitter, actually retweeting itself earlier this month.
Social media are conversations (thus the "social"), not lecterns. Unfortunately, Netflix is too afraid of social media -- too afraid of what its customers have to say -- to truly engage with its audience. By refusing to so engage, Netflix has allowed the organic power of social media to work against it, not for it. Brands, after all, do not define themselves; audiences define brands.
Like its interface change or not, Netflix's disengagement from customers is not just bad social strategy, it is total brand failure.
— Joe Stanganelli is a writer, attorney, and communications consultant. He is also principal and founding attorney of Beacon Hill Law in Boston. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeStanganelli.