— by Alina Imam
I was living in Washington, D.C when Uber first hit the market with the promise of a stylish ride, hassle-free payment, and on-demand service. In a city where an entire evening’ plans could revolve around how easy it was to hail a cab, this was a game-changer. DC residents and those of many other cities instantly began to gravitate to Uber’s “cool” factor the app and black cars brought to the table.
In the years following, Uber expanded it’s offering beyond the black cars to become more accessible and more affordable – we all know the story and have likely enjoyed the development of this business. We equated that silver box and large black “U” with a new transportation freedom and ease. But somewhere along the way, it became cool to hate Uber.
First came the pushback from the taxi companies. The arguments revolved around the background checks and safety of drivers, the pricing system, (that, as UberX became increasingly available, began to steadily challenge traditional taxi costs), and the overall availability of Uber that taxis were struggling to match.
Next came the lawsuits. The Uber drivers who committed assault against their riders, the Uber riders who were abusive to their drivers…the list goes on.
Then the negative press. Reports of sabotaging the competition, of Uber executives making threatening or sexist comments, of drivers who felt underpaid and cheated out of their fares, of consumers who were facing exorbitant ride bills from the newly introduced “surge pricing”.
And with every problem stacking up, it slowly became the new normal to talk about how terrible Uber was. Taxi drivers at airports would try to tempt me into their business by throwing out threatening blanket statements…
“Well, don’t take Uber…you’ve heard about how people get assaulted, right?”
And now, just a few weeks ago, Uber made a big PR push over the development of their new logo. A lofty story by Wired paints the picture of a team working overtime on every little detail for two years and a CEO unable to sleep before the launch. Of how Uber is the merging of bits and atoms and this app logo re-launch was the beginning of a new era for Uber. Too much hype for a new app square and load screen…or so I thought.
Turned out, consumers hated it. Hated. They quickly flew to social media to tweet a mix of angry and clever comments on how terrible, un-distinct, boring or (insert any negative descriptor, really) the logo was. Even though it was just a logo. It seemed as if Uber was on its way out.
But did people stop using Uber? No.
The Social Media Effect
At the end of the day, there was no connection between angry social media posts and a resulting business backlash. Why? Because social media gives consumers a platform to vent about what they hate, without having to actually stop using a product or service to prove their point. Frustrated at the gate waiting to board a plane? Whip out your phone and tweet about it before the attendant has even finished the announcement. Don’t like a new movie? Post an article with your opinion on Facebook for all to see.
Because of this, social media has become a place where consumers are most likely to talk when they have distinct feelings about a topic, for better or for worse. So when a logo change doesn’t match expectations, consumers are happy to run and vent on social media even if, at the end of the day, it’s nothing that will actually affect them in the long run or necessarily change their buying habits.
Its reactions like this that make social media a fantastic way to understand what consumers want and don’t want; however, it can also make it tricky to understand the true implications of consumer reactions.
Just because hundreds of people tweeted negatively about Uber doesn’t mean they stopped using the app. While they may like to complain, they like the service even more. But it does indicate a loss of brand connection. It has removed itself from being a brand consumers trust and find convenient to something they use because they’re just no other option.
Through the negative press, Uber became a brand known for being constantly under fire Through the new logo development, Uber put itself on a pedestal for mockery that results from a brand trying to fix something that wasn’t broken.
When it first came on the scene, it meant luxury travel for less. As Uber has evolved, it has shifted to “efficient and reliable transportation”, as described in Fortune But with a mix of negative press added to a brand that is no longer distinguishable from the pack, all Uber has done is show competitors that there may be an opening for someone else to do what Uber does while still connecting with its’ consumers.
So no, the negative social media attention won’t stop riders…but it does show that something is broken and another company just might fix it.