From the category archives:

waxing philosophical

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That's right, it's all about me, as per usual.

That's right, it's all about me, as per usual.

If you were on Twitter on Thursday morning between about 10:00 and 12:00 PST, you might have caught a little showdown of sorts in the mommy blogosphere as it exists on Twitter. By the way, we like showdowns in the mommy blogosphere–perhaps you’ve gleaned as much in recent weeks. Now, this particular showdown came as a response to tweets made by everybody’s favorite mommy blogger, Dooce, that concerned her bad experience with a brand new Maytag View definition in a new window washer. This is a pretty standard use of Twitter, incidentally–to complain about products that are failing to meet expectations–since people tweet about anything and everything, it’s bound to come up at some point. And in and of itself, I don’t really think there is a problem with using Twitter as a means of getting the attention of customer service representatives–many companies have set up accounts specifically for this purpose–or simply to vent. If a product is crappy, then the company bears some responsibility in the public perception of it. And as a consumer, it is valuable information for me to have when a product doesn’t meet expectations, which is why I occasionally give bad reviews of products that did not work for me on my own commodity fetishism blog.

The thing is, Dooce View definition in a new window has, at last count, almost 1.2 million followers on Twitter. I have just over 400. Me complaining about DreamHost is pretty easy to ignore, but Dooce tweeting repeatedly to NOT BUY MAYTAG? Not so much. Companies know this, too, which is why other companies quickly came to offer new appliances to Dooce:

Oddly enough, i didn't get this response after complaining about my Apple in-ear headphones. Huh.

Oddly enough, i didn't get this response after complaining about my Apple in-ear headphones. Huh.

Dooce’s Changing Twitter Behavior

Now, before I get too far in my deconstruction of The Maytag Incident, let me take a moment to point out that Dooce’s Twitter behavior has changed considerably in the last month or so. Yes, I noticed this phenomenon myself, but no, I’m not a stalker, I’m just one of the nearly 1.2 million people who follow her on Twitter. And also I have kind of an acute knack for pattern recognition. So here’s the thing, up until about two weeks ago (or so), Dooce has been notorious for not participating in @replies (or commenting on blogs, usually, or responding to email). If you’re not familiar with Twitter, then MOM I TOLD YOU TO QUIT READING MY BLOG. Just kidding, if you’re not really into Twitter, it might be time to join the 21st century, but also an @reply is where you basically just reply to someone by putting an “@” in front of their name. You don’t have to be following someone to get an @ reply, so for a big blogger like dooce, who follows far few people than who follow her, this is important: she could potentially read a tweet from somebody who @-replied her, even if she doesn’t follow that person.

But anyway, up until one day recently, Dooce has been what people have called a “broadcaster” on Twitter, viz., she’ll make one liners, maybe respond to her husband, or somebody very close to her, but for the most part her tweets are not part of a conversation as such. There are many people who do this. Still, it is kind of thought of as being snotty, particularly if you get @ replies regularly and ignore them. But something changed in Dooce recently, maybe her heart grew three sizes after having her most recent child, Marlo, maybe the fact that the White House responded to her husband on Twitter made her realize, ‘Huh, maybe I could interact with my public, too,’ maybe there was a PR consult–look, I don’t know, I just know that now she makes @ replies sometimes, beginning with this one, which is to another quasi-celebrity, but maybe @replies are like gateway drugs, I don’t know. And that’s great, but it is also what enabled The Maytag Incident to happen.

Come on. You know you LOL'd at this.

Come on. You know you LOL'd at this.

The Maytag Incident

Like I said, Dooce was having some problems with her brand new Maytag washer. And so she tweeted about it, and everyone who follows her was therefore told, repeatedly, “DON’T BUY MAYTAG.” Now most people, when they see this kind of thing, are just going to say, “Eh, maybe Dooce got a bad washer, but it was a freak thing,” or “Maybe she doesn’t like her Maytag, but I love mine,” right? Because that’s what reasonable people would do. But when you’re as big as Dooce, your following unfortunately starts to include people like this:

It’s just the fact of a numbers game like this: with 1.2 million followers on Twitter, you’re going to have some dumbass nutbag misogynists in the group, and some blind followers. It’s kind of unavoidable. So while me complaining about DreamHost to my 400 followers might influence them, maybe, in some way, to think before signing up with DreamHost as a web hosting company, my readers are all pretty reasonable people who can weigh the pros and cons of a service critically without my help. I don’t think we can safely say the same for people who say things like this, though:

According to Dooce, her tweets about Maytag were only made after trying (and failing) repeatedly to get customer service from Maytag on the phone. And since she has a newborn at home and another child, I’m sure that this has created a substantial mess at the Armstrong household. So I don’t blame her for being frustrated, frankly. I did a similar thing with my DreamHost experience a month ago. But as was first pointed out by @Sundry, another pretty well-known mommy blogger, Dooce’s tweets mean a little bit more than other people’s tweets:

Linda later followed up on her blog with a post about the whole conversation And, she makes very good points: mobilizing that many people against a company, particularly when your audience is big enough to be 1) impossible to control and 2) to possibly be able to vouch for the sanity and/or reasonableness of its members, is something to be taken seriously. Because now you’ve got people jumping into the fray willy-nilly, some of them (individuals and brands alike) just hoping to catch Dooce’s attention, and maybe shine a little bit of that limelight on themselves. When what probably happened was that the Armstrongs just got a defective washer, and yes, it sucks, but big deal, shit happens. And they should complain, because companies should be concerned with keeping their customers happy. And to be honest, I’m kind of predisposed to being on the Armstrong’s side, because I don’t like the kowtowing to corporate America that I’ve been seeing lately in the mommy blogosphere (more on this later), but then I see this mass of blowhardry and I have to rethink everything I’ve been thinking up to this point:

This is from Jon Armstrong's (@blurb) twitter feed. I would have put the actual link up, but he's since protected his tweets. Hmmm.

This is from Jon Armstrong's (@blurb) twitter feed. I would have put the actual link up, but he's since protected his tweets. Hmmm.

Because? OK. Enough with the bleeding-heart Si! Se Puede! bullshit, Dooce getting her washer fixed in like 8 seconds after complaining on the internet is like Oprah getting a new pair of defective Manolos after wearing them on TV. Or something. Because, like I said, I did not get anything like that kind of response to my own piss-poor consumer experience that I tweeted about for well over a week on Twitter. In fact, I wasn’t even acknowledged by the customer service team at DreamHost. Now this might be because it’s a different company, or it might be the fact that, oh yeah–I’M NOT DOOCE.

She makes a good point, you have to admit.

She makes a good point, you have to admit.

So then, to make things even weirder, Dooce responds to accusations of bullying, first on Twitter, and then by writing this post, in which she apologizes for the last big hullabaloo on the interwebs in which she was involved, which happened about a year ago, after Jenny The Bloggess referred (jokingly) to her as a mythical hobbit in her blog. [That whole thing was a misunderstanding and should never have turned into a big deal, but because of Dooce's reaction and her celebrity everything got very strange very fast. You can read various recaps on the interwebs View definition in a new window, I'm not going to waste time on rehashing that whole thing here.] The important point is: now, one year later, in the face of other criticism, from other quarters, Dooce is finally doing what she probably should have done a year ago, which is just to say,”Dude, I didn’t know what to say, so I said something snotty. Mea culpa.” So good. I’m glad that happened, but I’m not sure why it took a year or–more importantly–why she has to do it now, to kind of stick it to the other people involved in the fray this morning? Is it because it’s been a year since the last incident? And now she has perspective? Or, is it because Jenny The Bloggess View definition in a new window has real talent and is beloved by her audience, and this fact has become apparent to everyone, even Dooce, over the past year? Is it because it’s becoming increasingly clear that The Bloggess isn’t just some random follower anymore, while she still has the luxury of treating the people who criticized her actions this morning as such? I don’t know. But I’ll tell you these recent developments: Dooce is following both The Bloggess and Mom101 now. As of today. But Sundry? Still out of luck.

Is this one of those awkward, passing-of-the-torch moments? I'm not sure.

Is this one of those awkward, passing-of-the-torch moments? I'm not sure.

I don’t envy Dooce in many ways. Well, in many ways I do envy her–the fact that she was on Oprah–HELLO?!–and the fact that she always looks so pretty, and her incredible eye for design–I envy her on those points. But I don’t envy being under the level of scrutiny she is. That would be hard, I suspect. And so when she is criticized for doing what many people have done before (complain about shoddy service), it seems unfair. But then again, do other, real world celebrities go on Twitter and bitch about brands? Or do they go on David Letterman and bitch about brands? I don’t think so. I think that is part of being a celebrity, no? That you cannot do stuff like that, without suffering consequences? Maybe Dooce did not set out to be a celebrity, but she is one now, and so that’s the way it goes, I think.

And then on the flip side, why are we always so excited about jumping to the defense of companies? Why is there this impulse lately, first with the #nikonhatesbabies View definition in a new window backlash, and now this–to defend well-established institutions of capitalism? Don’t you think Maytag can stand on its own? Don’t you think Nikon can defend itself? And it’s often people who have well-documented relationships with PR companies who are jumping in and saying, “Hey, let’s not bash the big conglomerate, people.” Why? Why cannot we bash them? Or more importantly, why are we so quick to defend them? The impulse to want people to react sanely to thse kinds of things is understandable, but of late the imploring to “not jump to conclusions” is seeming a little bit convenient for me–like people are worried that maybe the PR companies won’t want to play in our sandbox anymore, if we don’t put badges View definition in a new window up on our blog or if we don’t promise to say nice things after they throw us a party. And as much as I’d like to work with brands, I feel like we need to ask at what price? At what price do we do this?

Here, Dooce reveals that she'll be able to make good on @MommyMelee's suggestion that she try to get Maytag to donate some washers to charity.

Here, Dooce reveals that she'll be able to make good on @MommyMelee's suggestion that she try to get Maytag to donate some washers to charity.

So I guess what I’m saying is, internet, what is your take on this latest dust-up, from a future-of-the-blogosphere-and-branding standpoint? Was Dooce out of line? Or were the people who criticized her out of line? Because I cannot really decide who to side with here. And though I’m glad that some good might be coming out of this after all, I’m wondering what the best way to deal with these issue in the future is going to be.

UPDATE: In the extremely unlikely event View definition in a new window that you’re reading this before you read Dooce, you can now read Dooce’s full story of the Maytag Incident here. There are a lot of all-cap sentences, so be forewarned.

Photo by Gingado at Deviant Art

Photo by Gingado at Deviant Art

My oldest friend, R, recently stayed with us for a night at the end of her vacation to California, just before she had to go back to the Midwest. When we originally made plans for the visit, the idea was that she and her daughter would come by the house to spend time with us on a Monday afternoon, stay the night, and then I’d take them to the airport the next morning.

Well, things went swimmingly until I really focused on the fact that their flight was at 8:00 am, which would require us to leave the house at 6:00am–with Mini in tow–in order to to get to the airport on time and, in all likelihood, it ensured getting stuck in traffic–again, with Mini in tow–on the way home. Mr Right-Click had to be at work, so there was no way I could make the trip alone and I was very skeptical about Mini’s ability to make it through LA mid-morning stop-and-go traffic for upwards of an hour without having a meltdown. In short, I thought it was probably not the best idea for me to give them a ride to the airport, but I also felt terrible about making them take a shuttle, considering I had made all these grand promises about rides.

Ultimately, I apologized profusely and arranged for an airport shuttle to pick them up in plenty of time for their flight and take them to LAX. They would still get there on time, and perhaps miss my company on the way, but this cannot have been much of a disappointment, particularly that early in the morning. And because I felt bad about the whole thing, I paid for the shuttle myself. It wasn’t a lot of money, by the way: it was about $40 total, and to make the reservation I had to give them my debit card so I kind of did it before I even considered why I was doing it. I told R that it was all taken care of, including the tip, don’t worry about it and I’m sorry that I was a total flake by not taking them to the airport. R was very cool about it, and on the way out, she said she’d send us a check for the shuttle.

I disregarded that comment because I figured she’d forget, and I wanted to pay for the shuttle anyway. So anyway, time passes. And then I get a card from R thanking us and enclosed is a check for the shuttle. Now my first impulse is to just tear up the check and forget about it: it was a gift, no big deal. But then I start thinking, is that going to annoy her? Is this going to mess up her accounting? Should I just call her and tell her I’m ripping up the check? But then I’ll get in another discussion about it and I don’t want that . . .

So the question is: how to best handle situations like this, when you wanted to do a favor and failed, and gave a gift to assuage your guilt? What is the proper etiquette? What would you do?

The New Consumerism

by anna on August 7, 2009

trains

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but it seems like we are in a different phase of consumerism lately. It used to be that people would buy what they had to buy, regardless of what the company did who put out the product. They might rather not buy from a company made up of assholes, but in a pinch, they’d always do it. And so the companies, themselves, were pretty much resigned to being assholes, because it’s easier to cut corners and make profits when you’re an asshole. And thinking about what the customer wants is not something that an asshole wants to do most of the time.

But things are a little bit different now, and it’s not just the recession. Now people are like, “I want things to be quality, and if they are not, then maybe I’ll just not buy them at all.” And they mean it, too. They will either not buy a product that makes them feel good, or they will let everyone they know about how a product or a company doesn’t live up to their expectations if they purchase a product that is sub-par. It’s not just that Web 2.0 has made it easier for people to pool their consumer resources and create a voice in the culture, it’s that how the internet is run has come to fundamentally shape the way our experience of other, seemingly non-related parts of culture are run.

Here’s an example: when I go to the gym, sometimes I take Mini with me and drop him off at the childcare at Equinox. Now, you can bet that investors in Equinox were not super jazzed about the idea of installing a childcare area in their gyms at first glance: it costs more, introduces liability concerns, probably requires oodles of soundproofing. But luckily they had some kind of marketing consultant that told them, “Hey, people will pay more for a gym if you make it easier for them to do so. If you have a nice, clean, room stuffed with toys and a chalkboard wall, they will pick our gym over the one across the street, even if it is twice as expensive.” And see, Equinox really gets the new consumer culture: it’s an expensive gym, but they know that people will pay more for certain things that they cannot get elsewhere. They’ll be annoyed by the expense, but they’ll pay it, because they want to be able to grab a snack on the way out of the gym, or drop their kid off, or just not have to look at gross machines that haven’t been cleaned off for months at a time. They will pay more for a gym that has stacks of towels out for them, so that they don’t have to bring one from home. They’ll also pay more for a gym that guarantees enough machines and classes so that everyone can participate, rather than having to introduce wait times or sign-up sheets.

Mini plays with one of the toy helicopters at a local kids' store.

Mini plays with one of the toy helicopters at a local kids' store.

Another place that seems like it “gets” this knew consumer culture is a baby/kids store I take Mini to after the gym sometimes. They have a bunch of parenting stuff like strollers and potty training stuff, but they also have a toy section in the back that is filled with wooden trains and cars, helicopters and buses, that everyone can play with, pretty much for the whole day, if they want to. So we go back there, Mini running to the back of the store to find his favorite bus and just sit there for an hour or so, playing with the toys. It’s very hot here in the summer, so you are always looking for things to do to stay out of the sun, particularly in the middle of the day. This store allows us to sit in an air-conditioned room and play for as long as we want because they know that people in this area have a need of this kind of thing, and that we will buy stuff for them, even if it costs a little bit more, to have this convenience. We will know that we don’t have to buy anything, that it’s free (technically speaking), but we will want to buy something from them because they’ve thought about our experience as a consumer. And we like to reward that kind of thinking.

Mr. Right-Click is a big fan of Yelp, and has used it to find new restaurants in Los Angeles for us to try. We went to a sushi place last week that was fantastic–some of the best sushi I’ve ever had–and at a price point that was like half or less of what Sushi Roku or one of the other more well-known places goes for. We were talking about how the place was full, even though it was so far away from everywhere else, because word-of-mouth is such a phenomenon now, given that we can use our computers to get the word-of-mouth from mouths we’ve never actually seen and don’t personally know. And I started to wonder what was going to happen to companies now, when they will be expected to produce quality products and services, or else lose customers they have, and possibly even lose ones they might otherwise have gotten? Because it seems like this will have to change so much, we will finally get quality because companies will know (eventually) that we have to have it, or else we will just go home. Or else we will just go to the next business that is offering it. It sounds simplistic, but what a radical change! And where will all the titans be, do you think, once the dust settles?

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