Clicks ’n Tricks: The internet’s greatest lies
by Charlie Stewart (@CStewart_ZA) The internet is full of lies. A perfect cesspit of false promises and deceit waiting to snare the unwary in all manner of traps. And, no, I’m not referring to dodgy Tinder profiles; I’m talking about our willingness to make false claims when dealing with brands and the way they, in turn, hoodwink us by pretending they care about our opinions.
Greatest porky pie
Some argue that that cyberspace’s greatest porky pie is that single sentence we’re all guilty of acknowledging without so much as a cursory glance: I have read and agreed to the terms and conditions.
In a 2016 study, two researchers at Michigan State University asked a bunch of students to open a fictitious social media account. The end-user license agreement (EULA) included gems such as a clause requiring subscribers to hand over their firstborn children to the company, and a waiver allowing all personal information gathered to be handed to the NSA.
In spite of this, 98% of the students accepted the t&cs; of the 550 or so who participated in the study, 399 clicked the checkbox without even opening the terms of service. The ones who did open the document scanned it for just over a minute before accepting it, although the lawyers who drafted it reckoned it would take around 45 minutes to read and understand. And that’s just the point. Most EULAs run to thousands of words of unintelligible legalese (for an entertaining distraction, check out this story of a British guy who decided to examine all the small print on the internet), so it’s hardly surprising most of us fib about reading them.
Deafening silence of the feedback loop
To my mind, the bigger online deceit is the almost always false ‘we value your feedback’ claim made by companies which implore us to tell them what we think of them.
A couple of months ago, a car arrived to take me to the airport for an early morning flight. I nearly gagged when I opened the door and was engulfed in a putrid stench of BO and general mustiness. If I hadn’t already been late, I’d have cancelled it and ordered another, but I braved the ride. A bad decision, as my sleepy driver proceeded to fart loudly before shooting through the first red light we encountered. No sooner had I been dropped off (alive but dazed and somewhat out of breath) than the app pinged, prompting me to rate my ride. After scoring Lucky a 1 (zero, sadly, isn’t an option), I was asked to explain where it all went wrong. That led to an email from the taxi service telling me that it values my feedback and that someone would get back to me.
But no-one did.
It’s not the first time my comments — which were remarkably constructive, given my ordeal — have been deemed to be of such value that a service provider has chosen to file them in the same receptacle into which I entrust most of its correspondence. While I’m not sufficiently self-important to think that my feedback really does matter, if someone goes to the bother of telling me they will look into it, I kind of expect them to. Any of you marketers encoding CRM autoresponders, please take note to map out the next step in the process.
Driving me nuts
One of the things that irks me more than a company that promises to get back to me, and doesn’t, is a company which hounds me for feedback in the first place.
The last time I bought a car was an absolute masterclass in how to use insincere customer survey requests to piss a customer off. Apparently, it’s become standard practice for the dealership agent to ask you to fill in a form rating its service before it’ll give you the keys. Given what happens next, I can only imagine it quickly packages the responses up and ships them off to the abovementioned taxi service’s feedback filing depot. No sooner are you out the door than the dealership’s head office team is on the phone, asking the same questions you’ve already answered. And, to rub salt into the wound, the auto-manufacturer then feels the need to check in and get a rating on your experience. By phone and email. Would be nice if it spent a little more time talking to each other and a little less time talking to me.
So, the internet’s full of lies. Around 50% of its content is false (there’s a one-in-two chance of that being a lie, too). Perhaps it’s time for those of us who care to stop moaning and start acting. To the software companies out there, please simplify your EULAs to avoid making liars of us all. And to the brands which so crave our feedback, please follow up on it. For our part, we’ll stop pretending we’re all perfect 10s, 6’4” with chiselled looks and 36-24-36 physiques.
Charlie Stewart (@CStewart_ZA) is CEO of Rogerwilco, a multi-award-winning independent digital agency best known for its expertise with Drupal, SEO and content marketing. A Scot by birth, he moved to South Africa in the early 2000s in his quest to support a winning rugby team — a search he’s reluctantly forsaken. Together with Mark Eardley, he co-authored Business to Business Marketing: A Step by Step Guide, (Penguin Random House, 2016) and may be found on LinkedIn. Charlie contributes the monthly “Clicks ‘n Tricks” column, which looks at how brands are using digital channels to engage their customers, to MarkLives.
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