The Attack on Conversation: a big mea culpa?

We’ve all been guilty of it…putting our foot in our mouth and saying something either over the air or online that we regret and can’t take back. I know I have, but when it comes to negativity or praise for our brand or company, why are people attacking how it’s handled? Over the past few weeks there have been some scuffles and news about pretty big brands suffering online and trying to find a way to promote their product in a successful way. The problem is that they aren’t doing it authentically. Here are a few examples of recent events…

Speaking ill about your clients.

James Andrew from PR agency Ketchum was flying to Memphis to meet with a major client which happened to be FedEx. The purpose of meeting with his client? To teach them the value of (what else?) social media. Unfortunately for him, he commited what I considered to be a major mea culpa during one of his tweets when we said something ill about Memphis, TN where the headquarters of FedEx is located. You can read the entire occurrence here as I won’t repeat it when it’s been published enough, but suffice it to say that Mr. Andrews was contacted by the client and sent a personal correspondence lashing out against his tweet.

This story proves that everyone can have an event that they claim to be a mea culpa but in this instance Mr. Andrew was the PR account executive for one of the largest brands in the country, let alone the world so that puts him a precarious position to watch what he says online and everywhere else. However, what if he weren’t the client? What if he was bad-mouthing FedEx as a customer or regular citizen? Obviously that would have changed the response from FedEx towards Mr. Andrew. But how would they have handled it?

It’s only going to inflate your ego.

In January 2009, another controversy arose as it was revealed that someone in the electronics accessory giant Belkin company had been using Amazon’s crowdsourcing service, Mechanical Turk, to generate positive reviews for its products. In other words, they were fraudulently and artificially hyping their product. Why? There are many people out there that would just seem to understand that if there are too many positive reviews compared to negative reviews, that something is wrong. There is no such thing as the perfect product…something has to have some flaws and the fact that this employee was using social media to do his dirty work was just proof that authenticity within the Belkin world was low on their list of customer service priorities.

Why didn’t this employee choose to do it the honest way? There wasn’t any need to go through such deception because the more evil you try to do, the greater the impact it will create on your PR and reputation once you’ve been found out. No matter how you try and decieve the company, there will always be someone who finds out and before you can stop the massive cloud of contempt coming to your company, simply firing said employee probably won’t help that much. You’re going to need to do things the honest way. Social media has become a means of creating a first impression…in fact, EVERY time you interact with customers online, you might want to consider that your first impression. Even if you’ve established a rapport with a group of people, maintain your rapport and do not dare try and deceive because as soon as they smell your lack of authenticity, you’ll be blindsided by their fury and angerness towards your lies.

I read an interesting article about word of mouth marketing/promotion which led me to find out about the Belkin issue and it’s true how things are not as artificial as they were before.

Of course, word of mouth cannot be generated in an artificial manner and major blogs picked up on this story. Before you knew it, a single Belkin employee had focused the tech blogosphere’s attention on his company. In the worst way possible of course.

So the lesson here is not to be a fool and try and force your way into the social sphere. Rather, it’s going to take some time to build trust and rapport. If you think your product isn’t going to do as well as you hoped, then perhaps you might want to simply just talk to your consumers rather than impersonate them and make your ego feel better. Flattery, in this case, is not the greatest compliment you can give your users.

These negative reviews just won’t come off!

What ever happened to just talking to people? If something went wrong with your product and you wanted to know why people aren’t buying, why don’t you talk to people? Isn’t this a much simpler resolution than trying to make it seem that your product is the most perfect invention out there since sliced bread?

Uh…I think not.

The main culprit in this issue is Yelp who was recently called out on East Bay Express for soliciting companies who had bad reviews to cough up $299 per month just to remove those negative comments. Okay, I get what Yelp is trying to do, but that’s like saying Robert Scoble telling the world that FriendFeed is a piece of crap or Martin Luther King, Jr. turning around after his historic “I have a Dream” speech and saying that he thinks segregation is alright. The point I’m trying to make is that Yelp just became hypocritical of what the purpose of the site is all about.

Have you been on Yelp? I’ve been on there a few times and found it most helpful as I try to find places to eat or reviews on other things. Being in San Francisco it’s filled with a bunch of information and when I walk around through various neighborhoods, I see stores with the recognized Yelp stickers that  inform me that I can comment on their service online. But in the article, it made it seem that the sticker should be revised. Instead of letting people know that they can review that particular establishment on Yelp, it should say that you can post whatever you want about my store, but remember that I basically have final word and can prevent your speech from being ever heard.

Wait a second, is this because Yelp got sued a few times over a user posting negative reviews about a business? No, that can’t be right. Yelp wouldn’t bow down to pressure. Even after successfully defending themselves?

But I don’t want to put this all on Yelp. In fact, I’d like to address the people who are angry over their negative reviews. Rather than paying the $299 per month to remove these comments, why don’t you interact with them? There’s nothing wrong with simply leaving another comment to see how you can better serve your customers, right? It’s all about conversation! Why is everyone so afraid of it? These negative reviews aren’t the end of the world. Rather, just react to them in kind by posting your response and what people will see is that someone had a bad review and you decided to be proactive and address the situation head on. Problem fixed and customer service reputation has been restored and perhaps enhanced. The world is for the better.

I’ve presented three recent events on the attack on conversation. Why is it that we’re so hard-headed that we can’t simply confront and discuss what’s been going on in the Internet with respect to what people are saying about our brands? Isn’t that one of the business goals people keep saying about social media? If you have someone in your company who believes in social media but tells you to do the opposite of having a dialogue and conversation, then you should slap them and find someone else. Engage and your customers will thank you for showing you care. So start talking!

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."