In February 2002 Forbes.com wrote an interesting piece about “The Best Corporate Complaint Sites.”
The author wasn’t talking about the customer care site ran by the company, but sites that were launched by aggravated consumers who wanted to be heard. The best complaint sites included a list of top brands that had aggravated so severely that they took the web into their own hands.
The Forbes opening line sums it up:
Hell hath no fury like a paying customer scorned. Whether because of a declining level in customer service or the ease of publishing on the Internet, hundreds–if not thousands–of dissatisfied customers have taken their complaints public, giving birth to a new form: The Corporate Complaint Web site.
That was in 2002!
In 2010, the industry has evolved into a business model that includes hundreds of sites that use advanced content strategies to encourage consumers to write polarized commentary.
The site owners then use search engine optimization to score that content on the top of Google for the companies name.
When search traffic is captured it is converted into
- visitors submitting more content (driving more search traffic)
- selling advertising to competitive brands/products.
The business model itself is developing so many segments, that the federal government is launching two sites to organize complaints and harness the consumer power of the web.
- The Consumer Product Safety Commission (March 11 launch)
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (July 21 launch)
MSNBC wrote a piece title “Companies warily eye new consumer complain sites” that highlighted a shift in business thinking from 2002: businesses are finally thinking about the ramifications of the digital consumer and what public consumer conversations can do to them.
The shift from 2002 to 2010 helps to clarify the speed at which businesses are realizing the damage possibilities of the internet.
The federal government’s entry into the reputation and brand management marketplace doesn’t address the hundreds (if not thousands) of private entities that have built significant business models from brand traffic related to company names and executive profiles.
While the government’s involvement may highlight a critical mass being reached, private complaint sites like RipoffReport, Complaints.com, and Glassdoor.com are making a hefty profit by eroding the brand value of another entity.
As we think about this topic across many industries, I’ve covered how bad it gets in the hospitality business with Hotel reputations, search brand value under attack to the tune of $67.5 million a month.
The same value can be seen leeching away in many other industries.
What are your thoughts on how businesses are reacting with online reputation and brand value? Do complaint sites serve a purpose or are they just leeching off old-school businesses?