By Aaron Waldron
One of the best aspects of social media, especially as it pertains to the RC industry, is communication. Never before have companies been able to connect with customers as seamlessly as is possible with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even message forums. Brands that pay attention to their audience are equipped to produce the goods and services their customers demand, and social media puts a magnifying glass on customer service, providing never-before-seen accountability.
One of the worst aspects of social media, especially as it pertains to the RC industry, is communication. What makes tackling social media so difficult for brands in any industry is not just the number of different platforms where messages to/about the brand may be posted, but the splash radius of those messages. There are very few hurdles preventing even the most irrationally frustrated customer from broadcasting his libelous filth to thousands. We live in an age where anyone with an Internet-enabled device can post things like this:
Yes, the World Wide Web can be a dumpster fire. The two YouTube users who made up that conversation have a voice on the Internet.
Last week, my Where’s Waldo column gave my opinions on how racers can help administer change in their local racing environments by taking the initiative of leading by example. Notice how none of the points I made included “using social media to passive-aggressively insult manufacturers, track owners and race promoters?” Sure, if tons of people flood a company’s Facebook page about a faulty item, you’ll probably see a running change. Even the most constructive messages, though, can be lost in the shuffle when you’ve got the same handful of crybabies who constantly find things to be upset about.
Brand loyalty is one of the most exciting parts of RC for many racers, but it has an ugly side. When an incoming racer can’t get help for his BRAND X car without you telling him why he should buy BRAND Y, even if you’re the only assisting him with his broken suspension arm, you run the risk of turning off a potential long-term racer if he thinks the $300 he just spent was a waste and he needs to have the perfect equipment to even bother racing. It can get worse, of course - I recently saw a Facebook comment wishing that a brand’s cargo plane would crash. Yikes!
On the outside, at least, you’d be hard-pressed to find a type of small business that seems easier to run than a local racetrack. You build it, and they’ll show up - right? Never mind the long hours and often back-tweaking work required to build, maintain, and change layouts, constant cleanup after a twice-weekly invasion of several dozen slobs, and trying to make ends meet with a business model that is entirely reliant on fluctuating attendance. Yet it seems like local racers everywhere have better ideas than their track owners. Constant criticism about items that don’t have any effect on the experience of the casual racer, like “this dirt is constantly changing,” and “these pit tables need to be repainted,” only serve to create a tense and uninviting atmosphere - no matter if those concerns are expressed in the pit area or on the track’s Facebook page.
The new trend at big races lately seems to be the racers uniting in a single complaint that overwhelmingly dominates the atmosphere at the event. Whether it’s race organization, track conditions, accusations of cheating, or whatever else the racers deem to be reprehensible, it becomes all anyone ends up talking about. The racers leave frustrated, the race directors go home feeling defensive, and the post-race afterglow is left tainted with that awful “waiter, I think there’s still dish soap in my water glass” taste.
Yes, I’m telling racers to quit complaining. And before you start mashing keys writing up a “this is a free country and as a paying customer I have the right to say what I want!” Facebook comment, just stop. I’d suggest putting your phone down (or getting up from the computer), walking to the end of the street to cool off, and then coming home and re-enroll in the U.S. Government class you failed in high school when you slept through the part about the Bill of Rights. The part of the U.S. Constitution that legally protects your opportunity to petition for change does not grant you the soapbox from which to call someone an *&^%$#@ because they don’t agree with you.
I get it - you’re unhappy. While the concept of “leading by example” is nice, you just might not be in a position where you can help rebuild the track, or take over announcing duties, or re-engineer a suspension arm. You want to promote change? Put your money where your mouth is. There’s simply too much competition available in every aspect of this industry to keep financially rewarding something you don’t believe in at least enough to stop talking trash. And if you just can’t stop - either by refraining from firing up Facebook or taking a break from racing - perhaps you’re experiencing struggles deeper than just the rutted face of a double jump.
If a certain manufacturer makes a product that you don’t prefer, buy something else. If you don’t like the layout at your local track, don’t go - try another track instead. If you’re concerned that this will be the fifth year in a row where (insert big race here) is sloppily managed and poorly scheduled, don’t attend. If you’ve been voicing the same concerns for three months and it doesn’t seem like the company/track/promoter is listening, try talking in the only universal language that everyone truly understands: $$$$$$. If you keep showing up and spending money, your constant whining is not providing enough incentive to change.
But there is an ugly side to relentless complaining from a customer who still refuses to leave. Word travels quickly through any industry, especially one as small as RC racing. Small businesses can spend so much effort trying to quell a vocal minority that they risk missing out on the larger, less picky population that rarely says anything. If trying to curb the often anger-fueled enthusiasm of the local hothead means that a half-dozen fathers stop bringing their kids to the track, who really wins?
The practice of taking your business elsewhere does everyone involved a favor. You won’t (well, shouldn’t) continue to take any of your complaints so personally if you’re not actively spending money with an entity you feel is doing wrong. The business will actually notice your criticism in the form of lost revenue, whether or not they decide to address it. And perhaps most importantly, you won’t be assisting in creating an environment that endangers the flow of new blood necessary to preserve our hobby. And while it might be difficult for a manufacturer to shush keyboard cowboys, that’s not the case for all businesses. It’s every race promoter’s and track owner’s responsibility to address any racer who whines endlessly about the track or getting taken out or the turn marshals…
…and ask him to leave.
Seriously, stop ruining the fun for other people just because you’re pissed off about something. You might thinking you're being helpful, but you could be hurting more than just that business in ways you'll never see. Either that person/place/company will change when they see you've finally had enough, or they won’t. And if your unaddressed concerns don’t cause them to go out of business, because the rest of their customers don’t seem to care as much, then, well, maybe you’re the *&^%$#@.