I recently attended Download Festival, and am a reasonably active member of their forums.So far, so normal, really, in this day and age. I go to the festival, I comment on the festival, I give feedback, interact with other people with the same musical taste as me, and to a lesser extent provide help where I can on trying to make the festival more environmentally friendly.
So I've been paying particular attention to the feedback form, and one thread in particular entitled Environment Tent Purchase Option. I think it's actually supposed to be Environmentally friendly tent purchase option because that was what was offered by a very nice new company, who saw a niche in the market - tents which could be recycled in their entirety, all in one go, without someone having to wade through the 1000's of tents left behind at festivals each year and seperate them all out into their constituent bits. Believe me when I say, there are literally 1000's of tents left behind at Download. Download is not alone, Leeds, Reading, V, all have the same problem because essentially we live in a throwaway culture and those attending these festivals are predominantly from the generation which have grown up in a throwaway culture.
So, full points to the company for trying. But where does social media come in to all this?
Read this thread - if you're short of time, jump straight to post no 100 in that thread. It says, and I quote: "Why can't they come onto the forums and do this themselves" where this is collect feedback and suggestions on how their service can be improved before the masses at Leeds and Reading tear them limb from limb in a way the Download lot are way too polite to ever do (don't judge rock fans by anything other than the fact that 99% of them are ineffably polite and whilst they will have complained at the festival, they will have been more interested in getting drunk).
I find this fascinating. No longer is there any leeway made for a generation who are not comfortable with computers, never mind creating forum accounts and getting their head around the complexity of social interaction on the web. The next generation expect responses, immediately and on their own terms in their own arenas. They are not forgiving of those who are not comfortable with those arenas. Companies reputations can be damaged irreparably by their inability to operate in those arenas. I suspect the response in that thread would have been very different if the company involved had made the effort to create an account and come and explain themselves, or indeed paid someone else to do it on their behalf.
So it comes down to this. The rules of the business game are changing. Either learn to play by the new rules or pay someone who already understands them, because if you don't you will be left behind in favour of those companies who are comfortable dealing with customers and delivering customer service instantly through web interfaces.
It might be early days, but already the missiles are being fired and are landing.