Don't Put the Stagecoach Before the Horse

Erin Anderson

I’m certainly not the first—nor will I be the last—to gripe about companies leaping onto the social media bandwagon before they’re good and ready. Before they understand whether blogs, networking applications, or online games actually play nice with their brand and with their audience.

Wells Fargo, I’m talking to you.

I just visited Stagecoach Island, your virtual community. I took my eager avatar snowboarding, then on a quest into outer space. She started saving “shells” to buy her dream home. She even picked up a few real-life financial tips along the way.

I’m all for bringing fiscal responsibility to life for young audiences. These are dubious economic times, and it’s never too early to set a good example. I also get that you’ve probably been told to show a little personality, already.

But.

Stagecoach Island feels to me like the desperate cry of a parent trying to prove he’s still “with it” so his teenager will take him seriously.

News flash: Kids don’t actually want their parents to be cool. They want them to be real. Also, I’m guessing the audience you’re trying to reach isn’t going to be impressed by a video game run by a bank. But what do I know?

I share this example for a reason. In my mind, Stagecoach Island is a major step in the wrong direction.

On the other hand, you hit a home run for me back in November. I was reluctantly logging in to my dwindling savings account one day, when up popped an oversized shot of your distinguished CEO. His photo accompanied a sobering, yet cautiously optimistic, letter. Times are tight, it said, but we’re all in this together. Stick with us—we won’t let you down.

It was the right message at the right time from a company courageous enough to break the fourth wall and let me know they understood my needs and my fears.

Transparency (or illusions thereof) in the corporate world are all the rage these days. But this was something more. It was authenticity. Accountability. I didn’t need a snowboarding avatar—I needed a real person to look me in the eye (as it were) and tell it like it is.

As a champion of candid, no-nonsense content, I have a humble plea: It’s that companies like yours think twice about wooing users with adventures in virtual worlds and focus instead on helping them succeed in this one. Not just with letters from the CEO, but with well-crafted, carefully planned content that educates customers, inspires action, and respects the intelligence of their users.