Jumping the sofa, or how to be good at what you do

tom-cruise-on-oprah

Once upon a time there was a Hollywood star called Tom Cruise who had the world at his feet.

He was famous, rich and in love with a beautiful young woman called Katie. Being rich and successful, woman loved him and men envied him.

Then one day late in 2005 whilst talking with talk-show host Oprah, Tom celebrated his success and the joy of life by dancing a jig on her sofa; by jumping the sofa.

Tom’s fans were appalled and ashamed for him. This irrational exuberance was not the Tom they loved and respected, it was a freaky guy who seemed to be more than a little self-absorbed. Gradually Tom’s fans turned away from him and stopped seeing his movies.

Jumping the sofa, much like jumping the shark for TV shows, was the beginning of the end of Tom’s glittering career. It represents the moment when his star had reached its ascendant and began to fall.

Tom had misjudged his audience and sent out the wrong message. He had the wrong idea about what people expected of him.

Jumping the sofa is pretty easy to do online.

All you need to do is veer off course into the ridiculous – unintentionally.

Change your argument halfway through a blog post.

Go off on an tangent about how there was this guy I went to school with who is now working in Amsterdam and reckons it is one of the greatest cities in the world, not for the drugs but the people.

Oops.

Get your developers to build something without talking to your customers.

Send an email campaign to the wrong customer.

Display the digital camera landing page to someone who clicked on the Ipod advertisement.

Launch a new product without talking to your customers or your market.

In fact it is easier to jump the sofa online than it is in real life (metaphorically of course, you could be jumping on your sofa right now and no one would care).

The easier it is to publish, the easier it is to be ridiculous, comical and absurd – and to turn people off.

There are quite a few examples of jumping the sofa online. Here is a very short list.

Facebook privacy policy change

In January this year, Facebook modified their privacy policy and automatically opted people out of the extra privacy setting that removed a user’s content from being displayed in search engines.

This shocked and dismayed Facebook users as it was a significant breach of trust for fairly transparent commercial reasons.

People need to be able to trust that the online spaces they populate with personal information. Facebook jumped the sofa and betrayed this trust.

Microsoft Vista

Microsoft Windows Vista was launched with a bang in 2006 and very quickly fizzled as users complained about bloated and slow software, random crashes, and pointless steps that made it harder to do things.

Under pressure to release a new operating system after significant market share gains by Apple, Microsoft focused on the flashy unimportant stuff like phat icons and forgot about the things that make an operating system a pleasure to use.

Microsoft jumped the sofa by focusing on pretty graphics and slick marketing at the expense of features that enhanced how people experienced the product.

Aol. logo

The merger between AOL and Time Warner is a great read about hubris overcoming commercial reality. Ten or so years later AOL Time Warner has demerged and AOL has relaunched as Aol., a content and media network polluting the Internet one crappy article at a time.

The story of Aol. is one of jumping the couch so high that a business that had 30 million ISP customers in 2001 is now a media company. Aol. is a great lesson in evolving with the market and listening to customers even if there might be some short term costs.

Google Buzz/Google Wave

Everyone loves Google. Sing it with me. Everyone loves Google.

The Google brand is so strong that they threaten to launch a new product and the Internet goes into meltdown chasing “exclusive” invitations so they can be among the first to get tell their friends about how great Google is and how Google are the next Google.

Sadly, most of these releases are overblown hyperbole. Google Buzz was an exception. Linked to GMail, Buzz had real potential to allow multiple conversations all easily indexable, searchable and findable.

Unfortunately Google forgot to listen to user concerns about privacy and automatically added email and chat recipients as followers in Buzz. This was fine except the follower lists were public.

The fallout was massive, providing “evidence” to many people that Google didn’t care about privacy.

To their credit Google fixed the problem very quickly and proved why they are one of the strongest global brands – they listen to their customers and admit when they haven’t.

These are just a few examples of how some brands have jumped the sofa online by getting caught up in their own hubris and not listening to their customers.

The Internet makes it easy to listen and even converse with your customers. Get online and research your next decision before jumping the sofa. Talk to your customers. Take a moment to think about what you’re trying to achieve.

Have a really good think before you climb up on the sofa and make like Tom Cruise. And if you still want to, then go right ahead.

What do you think?