One of the hallmarks of the first era of PR blogging was that everyone was a problem fixer. Any time a company made the slightest misstep and experienced any kind of blowback from its behavior there were a dozen experts right there to identify what went wrong and share their solutions to the reading public, solutions that coincidentally often matched the writer’s overall philosophy or the consulting services he was happy to offer.
That editorial approach has seeped into the media at large. Anytime there’s a rallying of public opinion around a perceived issue, there are sure to be editorials on well-regarded sites with suggestions on how the problem can be fixed and advice on how to avoid such obvious issues in the future.
It’s an approach I’ve tried my darndest to avoid over the years. I may take issue with something, but I try to steer clear of making it a central theme of my blog archives because it’s self-indulgent, egotistical and just annoying. It’s also startlingly transparent since these editorials are now likely to come from execs at companies and agencies whose goal is still to drum up business.
Many of the “problems” identified in such pieces are also only “problems” if you ignore the fact that that they’re often features of wildly successful products or companies. They may be slightly annoying or sub-optimal from a user-experience perspective, but they’re not massive issues requiring immediate fixes.
Take the recent attention paid to Netflix and how previews on the site’s home, category and search results pages auto-play when you hover over them with your mouse. There have been countless articles like this that have identified it as an issue that must be addressed lest Netflix suffer irreparable damage to its product and brand.
The reality is that it’s going to be fine. That UX might be slightly annoying, but it’s not the kind of thing that is likely to truly and strongly discourage anyone from using it, not when measured against the advantages of the service and site as a whole and what it offers. It’s a small speedbump, not a barrier to usage.
Still, the “X company has a problem that can be fixed in five easy steps” genre is an example in and of itself that marketing is often not about selling aspirational (if unattainable) goals but simply offering a solution to a problem. McDonald’s is selling customers 1) the idea that its food will help the whole family be happy, something every parent wants, and 2) a solution to the problem of not having enough time to make dinner for everyone given conflicting schedules, picky eating habits and other obstacles. Netflix wants subscribers to 1) feel well-informed on the shows and movies that are at the center of the cultural buzz, and 2) use it as a one-stop shop for all their viewing needs instead of subscribing to dozens of cable channels they never watch.
While there’s more than a little BS in the editorial genre of offering solutions to non-existent problems, it does reflect how quickly issues can escalate from the imagined to the very real, providing an opening in the corporate armor just big enough for a competitor to slide a knife.
There are real problems and there are trumped-up problems that “the internet is freaking out about” but which amount to nothing. People calling out the latter often overlook that these features are well-tested and considered and have some positive purpose. They haven’t been slapped up without forethought or planning, no matter how they’re made to sound by those looking to stir up a hornet’s nest.