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Social network marketing and customer relations

The following is a reprint of the Ad Nauseam column which appeared in the December 9, 2008 edition of the Metaverse Messenger.


All I wanted was an H2O™ mop.

You’ve seen them advertised on television. They look like the old-fashioned stick vacuums, only instead of a bag there’s a water supply, and instead of sucking up the dirt they steam it away.

Clever gadgets.

While I love the Swiffer Wet Jet™ for the tile floors in the bathroom and kitchen, I’m less than pleased with the sticky residue it leaves behind on the wooden floors. I hate feeling like I live in a movie theater every time I walk across the floor.

The H2O mop seemed like the perfect solution.

Of course, just because it works on TV doesn’t mean it works in real life — just look at those ShamWow™ cloths. When that guy in the commercial demonstrates them, while yelling at the camera, he can take a wet ShamWow and use it to leave behind a completely dry surface. In my hands, however, all a wet ShamWow leaves behind is water. Maybe I’m not doing it right. Plus, he never mentions that they can’t be washed with detergent, which means that they need their own separate wash cycle. I have no idea what happens if you disregard this instruction. Maybe they absorb all the detergent and the next time you use them they fill the house with foam allowing the guy from the commercial to sneak in and steal your CD player.

The point is, I wanted to know more about the H20 mop and, seeing as how I write about advertising and such, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to explore the “social network marketing” that’s all the rage among cutting edge marketing experts.

Social network marketing, we’re told, is like having a thousand or more friends who share information, trade handy tips, and possibly even tell cute stories about a particular product. You know, just like in real life (if your real life is in Pleasantville).

Of course, in reality, social networking is a mish-mash of conflicting testimonies. I tried getting some information from YouTube and while I admit the results were entertaining, they weren’t particularly informative. One video shows a woman calling the company because her mop spread hot water all over, burned her baby’s foot, and scratched up the floor. That will happen when you fail to put the cloth on the end of the mop like it shows in the directions (which the woman complained had been “blurry”). In another video two girls filmed themselves sideways as they demonstrated that the H20 mop wouldn’t clean a stain off a carpet if you just leave it in one place, as opposed to moving it back and forth (as per the instructions). On the other hand, the frenetically energetic man on a morning show found it to be quite effective as he cleaned the floors for a family of five.

As for text reviews, I discovered that the H20 mop was “a piece of junk,” “everything I could ask for,” and “has no learning curve at all.” (Say what?)

Yep. That was helpful.

The only sane advice I got was from my wife.

“If you don’t like it, you can always get your money back,” she pointed out.

Of course.

The next step was finding out who sold them. The logical choice was Wal-Mart, so I gave them a call. After going through several “Your call is very important to us” messages combined with a brain-challenging puzzle which involved pushing various numbers in response to ambiguous questions, I was finally connected to a young girl who had obviously been wandering through on unrelated business when the phone rang and she decided to pick it up.

Either that or she was just plain stupid.

“Do you have the H20 mop in stock?” I asked.

“I’ll put you through to the chemical department,” she answered.

“I don’t think that will help,” I said.

“Well, I don’t know what we have in stock, I have to send you to the right department,” she answered.”

“Sure,” I said, “but the chemical department isn’t the right department.”

“Well I can’t answer your question,” she said.

That’s because you’ve got the brains of a turnip that’s been hooked up to an iPod for a hundred hours straight, I thought.

“I know that, but it’s just a mop, it doesn’t have anything to do with the chemical department,” I said.

“Is there anyone here who wants to talk to this guy?” she said, thoughtfully holding the phone a good six inches away so I wouldn’t hear.

I was on hold for about half a minute, fully expecting another voice to come on the line to deal with this difficult customer. I was somewhat surprised, then, when the same voice came back.

“Just hold on while I put you through to household supplies,” she said.

“That makes more sense,” I said.

“Well,” she said indignantly, “you should have said right at the beginning…”

She got no further.

“Just get me away from you!” I yelled.

To her credit, this was one instruction she seemed capable of carrying out.

In the end, I bought the mop. Not from Wal-Mart, mind you. Even though it turned out they had them in stock, I spent another half hour on the phone finding a different supplier. No way I was going to spend my money at a place with customer service that sounded like a bad sketch on Saturday Night Live.

When you come down to it, this is the foundation of social network marketing. It’s not exciting, and it’s not particularly cutting edge, but if your customer service sucks, you’re going to lose business. I doubt that all Wal-Mart stores have such catastrophically poor service, but those that do will suffer.

As for social network marketing, when you open your product up to reviews from every brain-damaged moron in the country, the results are bound to be less than optimal. Just because it involves the latest in communications technology doesn’t mean it’s a good medium for marketing.

I’d heard about the mop through traditional advertising and I decided to try it based on the old-fashioned “money back guarantee.”

The rest was a pain in the butt.

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