By the weekend, LinkedIn relented and restored the feature, sharing in a blog post on Saturday that it was turning the link back on. "Since that change, we've heard you loud and clear — that is too long to have to wait for a download of connection information," wrote Michael Korcuska, the company's vice president of product management. "We are sorry for the inconvenience this caused and resolve to do better in the future."
It was yet another corporate about-face: More and more companies have made changes to their products or services only to then confront an outcry from consumers on social media, and backtrack in response.
After a slew of consumers ditched Netflix following its attempt to divide its DVD and online streaming service, the company reversed course. Back in 2011, Bank of America shelved plans to introduce new fees after an online protest. And earlier this year, the makers of TurboTax software apologized and changed their strategy after angering customers by requiring them to buy a more expensive version of tax preparation software.
Crisis communications experts say those are just a few of the growing number of companies that, when faced with a public uproar from consumers, are capitulating to their demands.
Corporate leaders "are much more sensitive than they have been in the past with any outcry," said Peter LaMotte, the chief of digital engagement for Levick, a Washington-based communications firm. "They think even the simple things, like [LinkedIn's feature for downloading contacts], are better to put to bed faster. In the past, there was more of a tendency to let them complain for a few days. Nowadays people don’t want to put themselves in that situation."
A LinkedIn spokeswoman declined to further comment about the kind of research that went into the initial decision, how the company communicated the initial change to customers and whether it anticipated the reaction that occurred. But in Korcuska's blog post, he wrote that the intention of the move was to make it more difficult for third parties to inappropriately gather LinkedIn user data.
He went on to write that LinkedIn intends to stick by its strategy of eventually replacing the current download link—but only once users can download their contact data "within minutes." According to Korcuska: "We will then turn this tool off again, as part of our ongoing anti-scraping efforts."
Including that information now, communications experts say, was a good way for LinkedIn to admit it was wrong and create a fix, while still reinforcing that the problem was in the execution rather than in the original decision.
"Any appeasement strategy needs to ensure that you’re adequately addressing customers’ needs while also making sure you’re not conceding too much," said Gabrielle Adams, a professor at London Business School who studies corporate apologies and how companies get "punished" for acts that consumers think are unfair. "That’s a really challenging balance to strike."
If a company carves out a stance and then gives in too easily, customers could—like defiant toddlers—think they'll always get their way if they complain loudly enough, said Paul Argenti, a professor at Tuck's Dartmouth School of Business who studies corporate communication. "You're kind of training your constituencies [when you] say, 'I'm going to change my mind,' " Aregenti said. "Your credibility is now in question the next time."
The better approach, according to Argenti, is to eschew avoidable mistakes by putting in the right research, testing and planning in the first place. "I think all too often these companies are moving so fast that they forget to prepare for the worst," he said.
But of course, mistakes do happen; and when they do, companies need to act quickly. That's a lot easier to do in situations like LinkedIn's, said Carreen Winters, an executive vice president at the communications firm MWW, when the change in question doesn't represent a fundamental strategy or operational move.
"That's the fundamental question that every company wrestles with," Winters said. "They have to ask: Is the rising tide of dissatisfied customer complaints worth the benefit of whatever change we're making? If not, and you're going to make the change, you usually get credit if you do it quickly."