FeedBack 3.0: Have We Reached Full Transparency? (Think Not.)

In October, I posted an article “Consumer Say-All”, discussing the inherent footprints of Consumerism on Web 2.0, and how WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) is taking actions to classify assorted forms of word-of-mouth and the correlative affect on online companies and businesses. The pressing question for the leading trend research company, TrendWatching.com, in their 2009 Trend Report is which major consumer trend will continue to give, or take? Interestingly, the third trend to be on the lookout for is dubbed “Feedback 3.0” and is apparently starting to make some waves in Web 2.0.

One of the earliest web phenomena was with the emergence of Feedback 1.0, which started with outraged consumers posting contemptuous product reviews, complaints and feedback, which was often to the delight of other ‘netizens’, and much to the dismay of brands. In the first round of the Feedback sphere, brands chose to remain unaware, and snub these ‘outburts’ from the consumer public, often dismissing what they saw as outburst and customer dissatisfaction. The internet has evolved from those early days, and now we find ourselves in the Feedback 2.0 where consumer rants and raves has become a norm, albeit the conversations being conducted are between the customers themselves, and not as yet as intended, among corporations and consumers. Most brands lurk in the murky shadows of consumer word-of-mouth trying to ‘learn’ from the flood of all-to-see review revolution. In 2009, trend experts are predicting Feedback 3.0, which encapsulates companies taking on the smart-business model and joining the conversation with consumers. We can expect companies to post apologies and solutions for discontented customers, and likewise, candid rebuttals for customers who post unfair or inaccurate reviews.

The conversation has started with some well-known brands that have taken the first steps towards the customer. TripAdvisor.com has created a management response feature that allows representatives of hotels, restaurants, and attractions to respond to consumer reviews if directly related to their property. Yelp.com, a local business review site, provides business owners with their own page to manage detailed information on their business, and to respond to reviewers in private. The abovementioned can also been seen at Bazaarvoice.com, where business owners can conduct direct conversations with customers who post negative reviews.

For years, conversation-expert research firms such as Feedback20.com and SalesForece.com have strongly argued in favor of ‘self-organized right of reply’, whereby businesses and brands setup a website for customers to engage in their own conversation, which is the only way to avert damning reviews exploding over the internet. For Dell and Starbucks this conversation has been taking place for quite some time on their sites, DellIdeaStorm.com and MyStarbucksIdea.com respectively – where anyone can post suggestions and feedback, only to receive direct replies from the companies themselves. General Motors has taken another theoretically unusual approach with GMfactsandfiction.com, a site that tackles propagating myths about the company and its current economic plight (Last time I checked, there was no comment feature enabled).

In the upcoming year, we can expect to see many corporations, businesses, and major brands jumping the open-conversations bandwagon. In the ubiquitous financial crisis it is interesting to note that many of these grandiose and omnipresent corporations of mammoth size are facing dismal prospects because the conversation should have started a long time ago, and for some in 2009, it may be too late to start talking.

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