A BlackBerry social network run by device manufacturer Research in Motion sounds like a great idea. Bringing together users could yield a community akin to one hosted by Intuit in which customers answer each other's questions and provide valuable product feedback. It's no coincidence that company announcements of the site, launched last month, tout its multiple user forums.
RIM should have a ready-made user base, assuming that folks who visit the many third-party BlackBerry user sites already found on the Web will be attracted to the "official" network. (I mentioned one of the most popular, Crackberry.com, in a post from 2007.) As Crackberry.com noted, RIM itself has a number of confusingly disconnected properties. Centralizing them makes sense.
The site, called MyBlackBerry, launched in mid-July.Whoops.
RIM appears to have botched MyBlackBerry in fairly spectacular fashion. As Forbes reports, most of the millions of BlackBerry users in North America cannot access the site. When new visitors try to register, they are prompted for a unique invitation code. Problem: The site offers no clues on how to get one. Frustrated BlackBerry owners are buzzing about it on Crackberry.com and elsewhere. Oddly, RIM hasn't done much baout it, beyond adding a notification feature to MyBlackberry so that folks will know when they can (finally) access the site.
According to Forbes, some BlackBerry fans are tolerant, appearing to give RIM the benefit of the doubt, while others are angry. I have to think the angry numbers will grow if RIM doesn't rectify the situation soon. RIM isn't coming across as open, transparent or responsive to its customers, all keys to the community experience.
Promoting a product or service before it's ready is a huge marketing mistake. A few years ago my Disney-crazy sister signed us up for a special cruise that was part of a larger program being heavily promoted by Disney World. After a technical problem grounded the boat, we were prevented from leaving the holding area for over an hour as tight-lipped employees deflected questions about refunds. We got later brushoffs when we got on the phone and tried to find out what, if anything, Disney intended to do about it. We ultimately got a refund, but it definitely left us displeased. It was even more striking because it contrasted so sharply with Disney's image as a company willing to do anything to make its customers happy. As I recalll, the tagline for the program involved "making dreams come true."
(Google somehow gets a free pass with its many betas. However, most of their gllitches are pretty minor, and they generally have a posse of engineers ready and waiting to solve them.)
In an effort to play the annoying know-it-all and offer RIM some advice, I went back and reread my conversation with Vida Killian, the woman who manages Dell's IdeaStorm , which is often cited as an example of a successful customer community. Unfortunately, much of Killian's advice revolved around engaging customers. That won't be a worry for RIM until it actually admits users to the site.
However, maybe RIM should have paid attention to Dell's decision to launch the site with few technical bells-and-whistles and then let customers help create a roadmap. It's not clear whether technical issues are the primary problem behind the missing invitation codes, but I have to assume there are at least some technical aspects. If only RIM would tell us!