It’s every marketer’s dream come true – your products so inspire people that they voluntarily organize around your brand. They meet, converse, share ideas, inspire one another and, most importantly, buy more of your product. All without you having to lift a finger. They connect online and in person from all parts of the globe, and all because of you. Your products become part of their lives – indeed, they help define an entirely new lifestyle.
This dream scenario can quickly turn into a nightmare for some marketers, unfortunately. Even worse, it does so because of their own actions.
Some companies, it turns out, don’t take too kindly to strangers appropriating their identity without asking first – or paying for it. They see their name being appropriated unofficially by this group – no matter their positive intentions – and demand, usually through lawyers, that they cease and desist such unsanctioned and unbridled fandom immediately. As a result, they draw additional, much more negative attention to themselves, looking like a big bully picking on the small guy who only wants to be his friend.
It’s called the Streisand Effect – calling more attention to something by trying to eliminate it. IKEA found itself falling victim to this particular phenomenon recently when it sent a takedown notice to an unofficial website, ikeahacks.com, which served as a vibrant community of enthusiasts, sharing ideas about how to “hack” a wide variety of products you could find at the Swedish purveyor of furniture, accessories and meatballs.
The story quickly spread online, and IKEA became the big, bad bully in the eyes of the public. Things got especially bad when the site’s purveyor announced she’d have to shut it down completely rather than pay expensive lawyers. The outcry grew from there until finally IKEA relented and worked with the site on a compromise that would allow it to live another day.
This most recent example from IKEA is representative of what can often happen when brands encounter this unfamiliar new territory of a group of devoted fans – they feel the need to do something to acknowledge that passion and loyalty. Problem is, that something tends to backfire – or worse.
As can often be the case, the best solution is the easiest (and, at the same time, most counterintuitive): sit back and watch your growing, passionate fan base connect and engage organically. Look for opportunities to support and strengthen, of course, and then get back out of the way. Otherwise, you may be next to fall victim to the Streisand Effect.