Without dragging us all back to a debate on the definition of Social CRM, it might be a good time to re-open the whole ‘control versus ownership’ part of the conversation. Back in July 2009, Paul Greenberg put his stake in the ground definition of Social CRM. During the year that followed, some took issue with the last phrase (or the Tweetable part) of his definition “its the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation”. This past July 9, Paul posted to “Close the Loop” and revisit that phrase, plus a couple other important points. Paul changed a few words, for good reason: “It is the company’s programmatic response to the customer’s control of the conversation.”

Not trying to open up an old wound, but…

If for some reason, in your mind this discussion (wound) is still open, I am not trying to pour salt in it either. If you have any doubt that customers have both control and ownership of the conversation, then take a look at what is currently being discussed by over 400 brands within the travel industry (How will the TripAdvisor defamation action impact social media?):

“Hundreds of hotel and restaurant businesses are said to be eyeing a group defamation action against travel community TripAdvisor in response to what they view as ‘unfair’ reviews…. It was recently revealed that over 400 hotel and restaurant businesses in the UK and US are exploring the possibility of joining a ‘group defamation’ action against TripAdvisor, in response to what the firms complain are ‘false’ and ‘unfair’ reviews being posted on the travel site. While the news was a major surprise, it clearly demonstrates the power of the ‘voice of the customer’ – and the concern that some organisations harbour about the potential for misuse of user generated content.”

The article begins by asking a great question: “Will it backfire on the companies, do review sites have a case to answer, and what are the implications for social media if the legal action is successful?”

Yes, they are going about this the wrong way, or, well, maybe not?!

As the article itself suggests, there are those within the industry who think that this is the exact wrong approach. But, wait, is it really. Tactically, it is a really bad thing, the venues will look bad. But, what if there really 400 of them, then maybe in numbers they will not take much of a hit, after all, we still need to travel, no? Suppose the legal battle does work, it could stem the flow of bad reviews, or worse stem the flow of sites who allow bad stuff to be written. Things could really change…nah, not likely. What do you think? From the article:

“Hotels and restaurants are going about this in the completely wrong way, and showing themselves to be particularly old fashioned and unenlightened. If this campaign is successful, the hotels and restaurants which will come out on top will actually be the ones still willing to allow customers to review them, showing them to be transparent and trustworthy. Banning customer reviews suggests that the other chains have something to hide,” says Louis Halpern, CEO of Halpern Cowan.”

The whole thing does stop and make you think about the many angles and issues presented here. But, the simple fact remains that no matter how you look at this, the customers do have both control and ownership of the conversation. I am not sure that the individual vendors within the travel industry all read Paul’s changes, but legal action is definitely a ‘programmatic response to the customer’s control of the conversation’. While legal action is a possible response, I am not sure it is the right one. Is legal action always wrong, no (I am struggling for a good example here, so feel free to add one), but in this case, I fail to see what it would accomplish.

Is this nothing more than a publicity stunt?

That would be really bad – for TripAdvisor. In theory, I could be considered one of the possible people they ‘duped’ into writing about them. Just in the off chance that this is possible, I am not linking to their site, nor any articles (yeah, that will really show them!!). Even if in this particular instance the issue never reaches on actual court of law, it may have an impact in the court of public opinion.

If one of the results is that authenticity and transparency of their user generated content come under increased scrutiny, then we will all benefit. Will it encourage businesses to consider, or reconsider their approach to negative reviews, maybe, or maybe not. I am not sure there is a specific lesson here, other than going legal may seem easy, but I do not think that is really the case.