Don’t underestimate the power of the crowd

Companies today are climbing over each other to harness the power of social networks, to reach a wider audience and ultimately get more sales. Get it right and the public will love you. Get it Wrong and you’d better be prepared for some pain

They forecast snow but it looks like hfail.

Just over a week ago twitter and facebook were buzzing with news about a competition that Nokia were running to bring snow to five UK towns. The way to make your town to win was to get the most votes.

So the people of Worthing duly installed the facebook app & invited their freinds, the retweeted the link and advertised it on their blogs. They nagged everyone they knew to vote until the competition closed. After a few days the results were announced & people were delighted to find out that Worthing was one of the winning towns. Again people tweeted the good news & talked about it on facebook & bebo. “Good old Nokia, they’re bringing us some snow!”

Once again a few days passed and then an email started popping in to peoples in boxes. “Your five free tracks are waiting” it said. “eh?” said the people of Worthing “what about our snow?”. This was followed by another mail

Welcome to Nokia Music Store. Enjoy the music you love on the move.

This email is to confirm that you’ve successfully joined the Nokia Music Store. Your username is *******. You will need these details to access Nokia Music Store, so keep them safe.

The thing is, no one knew they were registering for the Nokia music store when they entered the competition.

Why had nokia registered people for a service without telling them? This is not good for trust.

More time passed. Then, Yesterday an email arrived “You’ve received this because you entered the Nokia Win Snow competition, and you’ve been selected for special VIP tickets to your town’s event!”. The email linked through to a survey which asked which session you wanted to attend and how many tickets you wanted. After completing the survey users were dumped back to the Nokia Christmas website with no idea what was going to happen next. When would the tickets arrive? How would we get in to the event? Everyone settled down to do a bit more waiting.

Then today, this:

Thank you for the overwhelming response from Worthing to the email we sent out!

We’re sorry for any confusion we’ve caused over the wording of the email and the instructions we provided. Unfortunately we can’t reply to you all individually to explain the process, so we’ll outline it in this email.

By filling in the online form you’ve registered your interest in getting tickets for the event.

Worthing Council have informed us that we can only have a maximum of 500 people at each session, so we’ll have to limit the attendees to a fixed number of invitees and a limited number of guests for each invitee.

If you didn’t fill in the form in time and the form was closed, I’m sorry, but we have had to limit the number of applicants.

We’re going to randomly select a number of invitees from all who applied, and send them an email to confirm that they are invited to the event, how many guests they have, and what they need to do to gain entry.

We’d love you all to come, but unfortunately the response has been so overwhelming that we will be unable to fit you all in and still comply with the Council regulations.

If you didn’t complete the form fully or correctly, for whatever reason, I’m afraid we can’t include you in the draw. Owing to the large numbers involved, we cannot engage in individual correspondence over any particular entry.

Oh dear, oh dear. This will never do.

Almost immediately irate Worthingites started tweeting their frustrationat Nokia, swapping details of conversations with officials from the council (who denied any knowledge of any restriction on numbers) and planning to demonstrate outside the event on Saturday if they didn’t get the tickets they’d been promised.

The local paper published an article about the fiasco & I blogged about it over on WorthingThing.  An hour or so later Nokia did a massive u-turn when a spokesman said to the Worthing Herald “Nokia’s spokesman added: “What we are hoping to do is somehow accommodate everyone and we’re just working out what we can do as we have made a commitment to more people than we planned for.”

“Nokia will do all we can to make sure everyone has some sort of experience.”

So, Nokia underestimated how many people would want to come to the event, having voted for it. and they underestimated how angry people would be when they were told they couldn’t go after all. Faced with the prospect of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory Nokia have done the only thing they can to mitigate a barrage of bad publicity.

I hope that Nokia’s underestimation of people’s expectations doesn’t lead to an anti-climatic event on Saturday.

What can companies learn from this?

It’s not a new lesson really. If you promise the public something make damn sure you can deliver it.

The difference now is that if you don’t deliver on your promises social networks mean that people can very quickly rally together and cause negative publicity and that will bite you on the arse.