Social media give customers new ways to bite back

Kansas City StarJanuary 9, 2012 

When Albert Hirschman published his landmark treatise “Exit, Voice and Loyalty” more than 40 years ago, he unwittingly helped to predict what Twitter might do to capitalism.

In Hirschman’s framework, consumers had essentially two ways to deal with dissatisfaction. They could take their business elsewhere — exit — and if enough others fled, a business might shape up. Or they could gripe — Hirschman used “voice” as a verb — to management.

The problem with exiting has always been that there’s probably a reason you went to Acme Co. in the first place. As for voicing your complaints, well, one unhappy customer isn’t the strongest argument for change.

 Consumers could launch letter-writing campaigns, muster boycotts or man picket lines. But how much effort are most of us willing to expend over a restaurant’s wilted salad or a phone company’s seemingly unreasonable service fee?

As it turns out, enough to peck out 140 characters on a phone.

Suddenly with outlets like Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr and YouTube, Hirschman’s single “voice” becomes a thunderous electronic shout, echoed across the Internet by thousands, perhaps millions of other similarly fuming souls. Maybe overnight.

“The Internet magnifies the voice that consumers can have,” said Mark Cooper, the research director for the Consumer Federation of America. “The impact of voice is becoming more and more important.”

In an anemic economy, we’re less likely to take fee hikes and perceived rip-offs quietly. We’re mad as hell, and with social media at our disposal, maybe we don’t have to take it anymore.

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