Mattel's Playground: a benchmark in respecting communities

November 26, 2008

A little out of date perhaps, but a post about Barack Obama that I was reading earlier contained a reference to Mattel’s Playground community which I thought was interesting. The Playground, which was set up in 2007 but has since been shut, aimed to attract mothers of young children who could provide input on existing toys or recommend ideas that would help Mattel develop new products. That in itself is interesting. Dell did something similar with Ideastorm a few years back: by asking customers to recommend ideas, provide feedback and share information, they revitalised a dying brand which has since outdone HP et al to become the number one manufacturer of personal computers in the world.

Mattel’s Playground is interesting in another way too. Mattel had to recall a number of products in 2007, which ordinarily should have had disastrous effects. However, their profits actually grew, so they were not adversely affected by the recalls at all. Why? Because they respected the main rules of social media: listen, be humble, be patient, build relationships, and act in a way your community would approve of. As products were being recalled, Mattel communicated with the Playground community on a daily basis, asking for advice on how they should act and for feedback on every action they took. Result? Their reactions to the recalls reflected that which customers expected, and by listening to their community, they showed that they were genuinely sorry for their mistakes and wanted to make amends. A good lesson for all companies.

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