The WSJ/DowJones issued a story on Yahoo’s new ad-ranking technology, so the headline said, but it failed to actually describe what it was. Regardless, a few graphs caught my attention:
Mr. Semel said Yahoo is harnessing "social media," or tools for engaging consumers, so that they contribute content to Yahoo sites and spend more time there, which Yahoo hopes will in turn woo advertising dollars. "We think it’s a terrific area for growth for our company," Mr. Semel said of social media, speaking at the company’s annual event for Wall Street analysts.
Yahoo sees social media as a way to differentiate its search service and gain market share from its rivals. Jeff Weiner, senior vice president of search and marketplace, said Yahoo is leveraging its social initiatives — including Answers, where users ask and answer each others’ questions, the acquired Flickr photo-sharing service and del.icio.us tagging technology — to improve the quality of its search engine. By harnessing human knowledge and content, Yahoo believes it can better answer opinion-based or subjective search queries on, say, the best sushi restaurant in Manhattan.
Obviously, Yahoo is a business, and in business to make money – that’s justified in my opinion. And the quotes and reporting in this story come from the context of a Dow Jones/WSJ reporter, trained to write for an audience of investors, marketing and other business people – NOT consumers. Setting aside those caveats, I read this passage – as a consumer and Yahoo! customer – and can’t help but get turned off by the arrogant way in which I’m categorized. I’m not someone to be harnessed and leveraged, especially by a company that is far from perfect.
I happen to have a MyYahoo! personal account, a Yahoo! business account (which hosts this blog), a Flickr account and a Deli.cio.us account. I’m probably what you would call a Yahoo power user, or super-customer. Yahoo is an awesome company. But while Yahoo! has some great services, they don’t all work flawlessly, especially the ones I pay for on a subscription basis. Based on this story, Yahoo claims it is harnessing social media (read: me and my content and behaviors) in order to engage me and get me to spend more time there, in order to woo more advertising dollars. I like Yahoo most of the time, but I question its testosterone messaging. The audience in the room for Mr. Semel’s speech may be comprised of investors, but I happen to be digesting the same messages in my pajamas tonight and am not pleased.
My request (tough-love gift, really) to Yahoo: instead of spending so much time saying how great you’re harnessing human knowledge and my attention, and making so much money at it and attracting advertisers looking to sell me their wares, you should look inward and fix the spam filter on my MyYahoo email account so it works as good as my Gmail account. And help me figure out why I get periodic weekly outages on my blog (hosted on your servers, which I pay nearly $10 a month for) which prevent my readers from commenting! And tell me why it was impossible to get an intelligent customer-service rep to help me when some fraudster thief decided to go crazy with my American Express card in your Search Marketing storefront; I couldn’t reconcile that crime with you, so I reported fraud to the private investigators at American Express, and you agreed with them that I was victimized and deserved to be credited.
As a customer, you’re great most of the time and I truly, truly believe in a few of your services. But please get your ducks in order, and don’t talk about me as if I’m one amidst a herd of cattle, to be prodded and poked on display for your investors and advertiser clients. I truly believe you believe in customer respect and the value of customer experience. But lately, the signals are mixed. Thank you.
This makes me think…as big media companies delve into monetizing social media – which I’m all for – they will need to look at their customers more as co-creators. It shouldn’t be about leveraging and harnessing consumers; I’ve over-emphasized that point above. It should be all about partnering with them, at least with consumers who believe their participation and attention is worth something.