by Bernard Golden

The Dark Side of Web 2.0

Jul 03, 20076 mins
IT Leadership

There’s a right way and a wrong way to do Web 2.0, and, unfortunately, too many companies are finding the wrong way.

Case in point: I took my son to see Ratatouille Saturday. Expecting it to be crowded after the rave reviews in the paper on Friday, I thought it would be prudent to purchase tickets beforehand online on Fandango, since the last time we just showed up we had the opportunity to watch Happy Feet from the front row, which was a unique and unpleasant perspective.

(Funny artifact of living in Silicon Valley: I asked my son earlier in the week if he’d like to look at the online trailer for Ratatouille, he glanced at it and said “I’ve already seen it.” Since I didn’t think the site I was looking at was one he ever visited, I asked him where he’d seen the trailer. “At school a while ago.” Brad Lewis, the producer of the movie, lives in our city (and even, heaven knows why, is a member of the city council, a vital but thankless task) and it seems like the children who live here get early access to upcoming Pixar content. A year or so ago we attended a community showing of Toy Story and Lewis let us see the music competition video that accompanied Cars; he explained we were only the second audience that had seen it — the first was the Oscar judges! ).

We saw the movie. It was great. Much fun.

Then the next day I got an email from Fandango asking me, a member of the Fandango community,  to review the movie. Member of the community? I bought some tickets. A transaction, not a relationship.

Today, another email reminder that I hadn’t, as a member of the Fandango community, taken the opportunity to review the movie.

I work with lots of companies on open source stuff as well as Web 2.0, and community is a common thread in all of them. When I talk to companies about building community, I always stress that first you deliver value, then you ask for engagement.

Fandango didn’t do that. We engaged in one kind of relationship — a transaction — and then they assumed that it meant they could treat me as a friend. How is unwelcome email addressing you as a community member significantly different than

spam? Especially when I didn’t respond to the first request? There is a phrase for this kind of thing: overly familiar. In other words, behaving as if there’s more relationship than there is and asking for more disclosure than is appropriate.

Since I never volunteered to be a member of the Fandango “community,” nor, for that matter, to review movies for it, I decided to go look at my Fandango profile. Sure enough, it had a check mark in the “ask me to review movies” line. The only thing is, I never would have agreed to do that, so it was a hidden opt-out during registration. So I immediately opted-out.

Now, I get some of these same kinds of invitations from Amazon, so I decided to look at my profile there. There’s opt-out options there, though, interestingly, not one for “ask me to review things I bought.” So, at least Fandango gives me an option to avoid these irritating invitations. On the other hand, I just shrug off the Amazon invites, while, clearly, the Fandango thing put a burr under my saddle. Why the difference in reaction?

Well, for one, I’ve gotten lots of value from Amazon for years, so they’ve earned some slack. Also, I identify Amazon’s value as being really tied up with user reviews, so, even though I don’t usually want to participate in them, I understand the purpose of the email.

Fandango, on the other hand, hadn’t delivered any community value. They sold me a ticket (and did a good job doing it; it’s great to bypass the lines full of people who, when they get to the front of the line, begin to think about what movie they want to see, and then, when they’ve chosen, are surprised to be asked to pay money for the tickets and begin to fumble for their wallet or purse — just for that, Fandango should be saluted!). So, because I didn’t have any community relationship with the company, I saw their email as a clumsy attempt to foster a faux relationship.

What could Fandango have done differently so that I would be more positively disposed toward participating in its community? Remember, value precedes engagement.

They could have figured out how to deliver value before asking me to do something for them. Like sending me an email offering to let me see reviews

from people who took children to see the movie; it’s always a concern about the level of innocence you can expect in a movie you’re taking a child to, and the ratings can be more tolerant than I am. In fact, while I was going through the selection process they could have offered me that option — even though that might (might!) have put me off seeing that movie at that time. After all, if you’re really in a relationship, don’t you sometimes sacrifice short-term gain for longer-term engagement? Then, if I read some reviews, after the movie they could ask me to contribute a review. At that point, since I’d gotten value from the reviews, I’d be much more likely to engage and contribute something back.

I’m sorry to pick on Fandango so much, but the experience illustrates the difficulty companies have as they grapple with this new, more transparent world. It’s always harder to maintain a relationship than to engage in a transaction, which is why service businesses are always tougher than product businesses. Merely slapping on some “Web 2.0” decoration in the wrong way is like putting lipstick on a pig.

It can be different. I recently saw Rob Curley of the Washington Post online group speak. His group brings Web 2.0 community to the paper’s online efforts in a very natural way that provides real value. Rather than recount the entire piece, here is a link to my newsletter that discusses his group’s offerings. Suffice it to say, the Post’s community engages people — and, crucially, offers new ways for a troubled business to make money; that is, Web 2.0 is helping them overcome the decline of the newspaper industry.

The move to transparency and customer engagement is very real and moving fast. Thinking through how you’ll accomplish it in a way that provides value to the customer is critical.