1st2c CGM Case Study
Ebay’s seller boycott of February 2008 calls attention to the scenario of users turning your own platform against you.
Late January 2008 eBay, the iconic online auction powerhouse, announced changes in fees and policy with primarily effect on selling.
This policy change probably made good business sense for eBay that probably anticipated some seller disgruntlement.
But the Internet-empowered marketplace offers more options than just sharing of protests or mobilizing peers in purely Social Media platforms. Very quickly eBay found T-shirts with slogans like “Boycott FeeBay” or “Don’t buy eBay” put out for sale on eBay’s own platform…
Regardless of the eventual culmination of the eBay incident, it calls attention to the not-improbable scenario of users “overtaking” open networking or commerce platforms and turning them against their own operator interests. We label this situation: “Social Media-Hijacking“.
This case study looks at the dynamics of this incident of Social Media-Hijacking and addresses the key strategies for managing such situations.
Anatomy of a failed user mutiny
Late January 2008 eBay announced it would charge sellers 25%-50% less to list their items on the site but take a larger slice of fees on actual sell of items. At the same time eBay terminated the ability for sellers to submit negative feedback on their customers and impose 21-day holds on transactions in certain circumstances.
These policy changes drove a semi-organized group of “power sellers” who felt shortchanged over the recent changes to mobilize a popular boycott on eBay.
The “backlash” of sellers (mostly Power Sellers) looked like potential crisis in unprecedented dimensions:
- Extensive media coverage for a call for a week of boycott (February 18-25)
- Thousands of discussions in blogs, forums and other Social Media platforms
- More than 60(!) different videos on YouTube with 100,000s of viewings
- And the “hijacking” of eBay’s own trading platform to offer eBay boycott T-shirts and even a Kleenex box…
Examples of Boycott eBay items put on sale on eBay
But something seems to have gone wrong for the mutineers.
The results of the protest were unclear and much disputed. Online auction trackers such as PowerSellersUnite and Medved reported that eBay’s total auction listings may have dropped as much as 13 per cent over the week. But in effect listings returned to normal levels (eBay ran a one-day discount listing promotion the week before).
A deep dive into Social Media surfaces additional insights that shed light on the dynamics of the eBay boycott.
Two key observations that draw attention in Table 1:
- Bloggers (typically playing a critical role in agenda setting) take only minor weight in driving of public involvement
- Public attention nose-dives only two days after official boycott start date
In retrospective, Social Media seemed to have provided an efficient “early reading” of public engagement and of the reasons for the failure of this potential crisis to gain momentum.
Analysis of online consumer dialog provides further understanding of the non-materializing of the eBay crisis:
- Boycotters announced the move ample time before it actually took place, thereby overshooting the peak of public interest and killing the element of spontaneity
- Many sellers saw the boycott as a window of opportunity to improve their listings and sales when key competitors “left their watch”
- Many sellers talked about “absorbing the costs” rather than transferring them to buyers, thereby denying the latter the motivation join the protest
Attention: Social Media-Hijacking scenario
The eBay boycott failed to snowball to a crisis situation for eBay.
However, surfacing of the reasons for that failure does improve our understanding of the determinants of grassroots mobilization in the digital marketplace.
After all, the understanding what doesn’t work provide clues to the understanding of what does work.
But the eBay boycott also draws attention to the diversity of interfaces available to users and consumers in open commerce properties like eBay, Amazon, Overstock, etc.
This incident demonstrates the fact that activist users and consumers are well aware and ready to take advantage of interaction and content generation platforms OTHER than those designated for peer-to-peer networking.
Ebay does have a very busy discussion board platform, but “enterprising” protestors attempted to “hijack” its commerce platform – a critical interface with buyer audiences.
Regardless of how successful this particular attempt was it may warrant extra attention from all social platform operators, reputation management and crisis management experts.
What will be the most effective strategy alternative to manage such situations?
1. Mine-sweeping strategy?
(Immediate removal of adverse content and blocking/banning of offenders)
2. iscrediting strategy?
(Denouncement of the unfairness and abusiveness of Social Media-Hijacking)
3. Rationalizing strategy?
(Publicizing information and possibly initiating Social Media outreach work about the reasons and benefits of the move that triggered Social “Media Hijacking”)
4. ontainment strategy?
(Tolerating such initiatives by allowing them for a limited time period)
5. Ignoring strategy?
(Unlimited tolerating such initiatives)
The answer may well be a combination of strategies or even a changing combination of strategies depending on the particular situation and the dynamic of market response.
In view of the increasingly informed, involved, active and socially empowered nature of consumers in the networked marketplace, decision makers and specialists may benefit from readiness to Social Media-Hijacking situations by mapping of scenarios and evaluating potential actions.
1st2c in a nutshell
1st2c (www.1st2c.com) is the home of Online Strategizing Research© – the most comprehensive data-to-strategy approach in the networked market.
Online Strategizing Research© creates a vivid picture of the marketplace and its dynamics and identifies actionable insights and opportunities.
1st2c works with marketers and agencies to empower competitiveness and facilitate growth by monitoring and engaging the networked market and adding new dimensions to overall marketing strategy.
Chief Research & Client Officer, 1st2c