Social media has turned the brand-consumer relationship completely on its head over the past few years. As Twitter and Facebook reached critical mass, consumers discovered they finally had the most effective way of providing feedback (read: complaining) about their experiences with different brands and connecting with like-minded people on the matter.
For every brand on the planet, social media is still a political minefield. But what constitutes the right fan usage of a brand? Should brands aim to control this?
One of the most recent faux pas made by global brands was IKEA’s Cease and Desist notice issued to the fan blogIKEAhackers.net. A move which angered many fans of both the brand and the DIY blog when it was publicised on popular news and technology site gizmodo.com.
This same passionate defence could just have easily been used to IKEA’s advantage, had they handled it the right way.
“Your best defence is to have a connected group of very passionate supporters,” says Jill Avery, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, in a recent Working Knowledge blog post.
In fact, Avery even talks about the concept of “open source branding” where consumers take ownership of the brand by championing it, and even, recreating it. Which you would think is exactly what IKEAhackers pseudonym-named Jules Yap has done.
Fans were quick to suggest IKEA would have been far better off in affiliating the website with the brand officially, or even offering Yap a role with the company.
IKEA released the following statement following Gizmodo’s post on the matter.
“We very much appreciate the interest in our products and the fact that there are people around the world that love our products as much as we do. At the same time we have a great responsibility for our customers, they should always be able to trust the IKEA brand.”
There’s always going to be a fine line between what constitutes the right way to protect brands, usually dictated by copyright lawyers, and the best way to create brand loyalty and a sense of community.
As mentioned by Harvard Business School’s blog post, brand Goliaths Coca-Cola and Nutella went the way of social media. Their Facebook fan pages were created by just that, fans, and the brands let it remain so. They now capture an audience of over 80 million and 23 million likes respectively.
Those passionate fans are the same ones who will be the first to defend a brand’s reputation, when slated by other consumers.
Businesses like IKEA do have a responsibility, with their particular product lines, to make sure their customers furnish their homes in as safe a way as possible, which doesn’t lend itself well to a hacked Billy bookshelf with the potential to fall on top of you.
Does that mean shutting down IKEAhackers was the right thing to do in this case? We don’t think so, but we’ll let you decide.