I was a little perplexed today when after typing an address into my browser – I landed on a page entitled “BT Web Address Help” with some rather generic Yahoo advert links. My immediate thought was that my browser had been hijacked and that I was on some kind of dodgy listings site.Not the sort of feeling you want to give any of your customers I would argue.

However, after a little investigation, it turns out that BT has been making some unilateral changes for its broadband customers and has done a rather poor job of communicating with them. BT are redirecting your browser whenever you go to a web page that doesn’t exist, so in my case, I’d mistyped the URL I wanted and ended up on a BT page instead of my normal browser / google error page. I tried going to a dummy url to demonstrate what you get to see.

BT DNS hijackAlthough in itself, this is a fairly innocuous thing for BT to do (compared to say the Phorm debacle) it causes problems on a number of levels.

1) Customers don’t like sudden unexpected change – as my reaction shows. A quick search for “BT Web Address Help” shows that many people have concerns about unexpected changes!

2) BT have failed to communicate with their users – customers are paying for a service and expect to receive it on theirĀ  terms. Calling something a help feature doesn’t actually make it so. The only help the page offers is increasing Yahoo ad’s click through rates!

3) BT have made the service automatically opt-in and made the opt-out not that easy to find (bottom left of the page under preferences if you are looking for it). This flies in the face of good practice and smacks of ‘we’re a big company and we’ll do as we see fit’.

4) There are already lots of people complaining about this change across the web. There might be a lot more to follow. I can’t see any evidence of BT using social media to engage on this topic so they are jut generating bad press.

5) BT already made most of these mistakes by running the Phorm experiment and getting tons of bad coverage. Were any lessons learned?

So what does this have to do with general online marketing? Well, I think there are a few key points that we can draw out that apply to any business operating online:

1) Communicate changes clearly and well in advance to your customer base.

2) Try to avoid implementing changes that are blatantly just for the company’s benefit especially if they have the potential to generate negative coverage (as there is nothing in it for your customers).

3) Think very carefully before assuming ‘opt in’ as a default setting.

4) Monitor your brand and products online – be prepared to engage. Silence generally doesn’t do the trick!