Who"s davidlian?

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davidlian is an ultra-geeky chinese dude that works for a technology PR agency. He loves fiddling with techno-toys, plays Warhammer 40K, and shoots pictures wherever he goes. Here, he rants about PR, Technology and anything else. Don't expect balance and un-biased, he ain't no journalist. Anything said on this blog are solely davidlian's personal views. Don't confuse them with company mantra, client's views or views of any organisation he may be part of.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Creative: Fixed drivers, broken PR

A post on Wired yesterday brought to public attention a story on Creative Labs (Creative) that had been simmering for about a month on PC Audio enthusiasts forums. Interestingly, it also highlighted for a PR person like me the dynamics of technology PR in the connected age.

First, a summary of the issue:

  • The launch of Windows Vista saw many Creative soundcards (and some high-end recent models) having capabilities "reduced" due to driver issues. Creative didn't fix all the issues leaving its customers with essentially worse sound quality from its products than if they had just stuck to on-board audio.
  • Enter Daniel Kawakami (known as Daniel_K on modder forums), who in his own free time, takes the Creative drivers and modifies them to enable most of the features (like Dolby Surround) for Windows Vista. Many people download his drivers. Daniel_K starts asking for donations.
  • Creative decides to crack down on this via a post on its own public forum and deleting Daniel_K's post. The main points for the "cease-and-desist" post are that Daniel_K shouldn't be soliciting donations to "profit" from Creative's IP and that he shouldn't be re-packaging the software for use with products it was not originally intended to. The original post was subsequently deleted thanks to public outcry, but can still be found here. Granted, the language seemed carefully thought-out and I think the reaction was a bit harsh on what was essentially a measured response.
  • This led to Daniel_K's response. He also raises some valid points about the Creative approach which he calls "threatening me on a public forum", "removed everything I posted on the forum" etc. etc.
  • Creative apologises and removes Phil O' Shaughnessy's post, with a much friendlier tone from moderator Dale (whom board members have come to love and respect.)
Okay, you can probably add up a lot more detail to my summary, but what I'm really interested in pointing out is the way the PR game has changed especially with digitally-connected audiences.

When I first read O' Shaughnessy's response, I found it really acceptable (and forgive me for examining the dude's grammar), I thought it was measured and concise. However, putting it up on a public forum is akin to the old media tactic of faxing statements like this out to every news media there is. And it smacked of arrogance to Daniel_K, and not just Daniel_K, but the rest of the loyal Creative modding community.

Observation#1: Don't talk to customers the same way you'd talk to the media.

I wonder if Creative could have used friendly moderator Dale as the official mouthpiece for this right from the start - perhaps having Dale private message Daniel_K about Creative's concerns. Why Dale? Simple. Dale's built traction, trust and credibility with forum-goers throughout his tenure over at the Creative boards. If you compare his message to Phil's you can see how the difference in tone of voice (from corporate swinger to friendly neighbourhood mod) makes all the difference in how the community talks to you.

Customers like to be addressed personally, by a friend if possible. A mass statement makes you sound like a distant corporation out to make money. A personal contact point through personal communication means gets you closer to the customer's real issues.

Observation #2: Customers talk back - in a BIG way!

Uh, yeah, obviously. Customers have always been talking back to companies - whether it's the silent protest of boycotting products or giving earfuls to customer service reps. But they have perhaps never been as easily mobilised or united as the customers on the internet today.

What this means is companies need to be prepared to have a conversation. And there is no "I win, you lose" outcome. If that's the goal, then the company has already lost. There has to be genuine consideration for the points and issues raised by the customers and not blissful ignorance that they exist.

As a Creative customer (yes I am! Dave's laughing.), I would have loved to get all the nice extras I plonked RM 400 for with my soundcard. Otherwise, I would have saved that RM 400 and stuck to my on-board sound. If that's my issue, how can Creative solve that? Maybe...uh... just leave Daniel_K's mods alone? Wouldn't people actually buy more Creative soundcards now that it would actually work better in Vista?

Observation#3: What's posted on the internet, stays on the internet.

I was having a discussion with Dave on this and we both agreed its practically useless trying to control information on the internet when you've published it (posted on a forum, blog etc.). Why? At the very least, search engines would have indexed your page and kept a cached copy of it. And that's if no one else has copied your content and posted it on his site lock stock and barrel (like how I retrieved Mr. O' Shaughnessy's statement).

Yes, there might be a small window of opportunity to delete offending posts before they get indexed, but we're talking about the 2 - 3 hour window before the feedback starts pouring in.

Lesson? Think very,very carefully before you put what you want to say online. You can't take it back.

That's it, just three short points. Personally, I'm hoping Creative gets back on its feet and that this will spark a series of initiatives to win back the modding community. Full functionality of old products on Vista is surely a good thing for the customers, and in the long run, the company.


JY said...

Personally, I thought O'Shaughnessy jumped the gun there and his original response was unnecessarily hostile. It was well-written, but from what you can see on the Creative forum, O'Shaugnessy may have used ALL CAPS and lousy grammar, and the customers would have been just as outraged.

davidlian said...

Hi JY,

Thanks for your comments. Indeed you are right, I'm just pointing out the fact that the "standard PR answers", as polished as they sound, don't go down well with the general public. Sooner or later, this industry's got to realise that.