Archives for category: Marketing

Reviews are here to stay, and that’s a good thing. But how do businesses defend themselves from those who would abuse the review system for their own ends? In this three-part series, I offer practical advice on how to handle Yelp bombing campaigns and how to mitigate their effects. In part two, we look at how to hopefully prevent, and then handle a weaponized review campaign going viral. You can find part one, on prevention and initial responses, here.

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(image courtesy of http://pexels.com )

Whack-A Mole

After you have responded to the initial review, you now have several reviews all referencing the same issue / incident. The good news is that most review platforms care about their review eco-space and you can report these reviews as violations of their Terms of Service. Brevity is the key. Don’t explain why the reviewer is wrong just explain that the review is essentially a duplicate and part of a campaign or a review by someone who is not a customer.

Make sure to start checking your other platforms for reviews, respond to the first one with your measured response, and then report any duplicates. Don’t forget about other opportunities to post on your social media pages and channels. Yelp Tips, which can only be viewed on mobile devices, are often forgotten. Posts to your Facebook page, or check-ins on Facebook and other location based services, are also areas that need to be monitored. Other than the initial measured response, do not engage on that platform any further. If a customer has a genuine question then of course you should answer, but it ideally should just be a version of your measured response.

Going Viral

Making something go viral, for any reason, is hard. You should take solace in this. As a marketing professional, I have only had one thing go truly viral, and that is not so unusual. An amateur trying to make something go viral will have to be very lucky indeed. However, we do live in an age of ordinary people with extraordinary social reach. If review / story has legs and starts to go viral, you need to be prepared.

Banning people from your Facebook page, and other social media channels, can be counterproductive. In the minds of those posting, it just proves that you have something to hide. Take the moral high ground and post your measured response on your social media channels and your website. This can be a little risky as you are letting your clients and followers know about something you have been trying make go away. It can also be a hard sell to those you report to. It does, however, have the advantage of letting you shape the story rather than letting others shape it and just leaving you to respond.

A great example of this working is how FedEx responded to one of their drivers caught on camera throwing a computer monitor over a fence. By responding publicly, with an apology, and what and how they were going to change, the story went from a FedEx driver throwing a package over a fence as an example of how packages are delivered, to how FedEx’s quick response was indicative of their customer service and culture. I believe one of the genius elements of FedEx’s response was to make a video statement so that their own video could be played alongside the video of their employee throwing the package. This looked a lot better than an uncomfortable interview, or a written statement.

By taking the moral high ground and being open, you may not convince your initial detractors that you are sorry / wanting the resolve the issue, but you may well persuade some that are on the fence about the issue. You will also give ammunition to those in your network, that support you, to help defend you. Your existing loyal customers will often be your biggest defenders and cheerleaders, but they need guidance. For this reason, I am not a big fan of disabling reviews on Facebook pages and the ability of users to post – but that is decision that needs to be based on the individual situation.

The Press

News organizations, and particularly local TV news, get pitched multiple times every day by people angry by how they feel they have been treated by a business. The good news for businesses is that it takes a lot for a story to be picked up, and anyone who is waging a campaign against you is unlikely to get past their screening process. The bad news is that news organizations need human interest stories, and if the customer is credible, and has a story with legs, then the media may get involved.

It is important that whomever answers the phones in your company, and your entire frontline staff for that matter, understand how to deal with the press when they come calling. “I know that the management will want to talk with you and address the situation. I am not the right person for you to talk with, but let me get you someone who is.” is an example of how to correctly respond to an enquiry. “No comment” is about the worst thing that anyone can say to press. The lack of a comment becomes the story. It makes it look like whomever has said it has something to hide because they don’t want to speak.

When talking to the press be very brief. The longer the answer you give, the more chance there is for something to be taken out of context. If you do not speak to the press; however, you will not make the story go away. Reporters have deadlines, so be cognizant and respectful of that. For the most part reporters are not looking to burn anyone, but they do want a story – try to make it yours, and not defined by someone else.

Unfortunately, once the media gets involved with viral story, it can self-perpetuate a Yelp bombing campaign with others who have read about / or seen the story leaving reviews. Again, Yelp itself is pretty good about dealing with this. If you send a link to the story in the media story when flagging the review Yelp can suspend all reviews to your account until interest burns out.

If you have stories, or additional tips on how to solve Yelp Bombing / review campaigns, please let me know in the comments. If you have an ongoing issue, please feel free to reach out to me.

Reviews are here to stay, and that’s a good thing. But how do businesses defend themselves from those who would abuse the review system for their own ends? In this three-part series, I offer practical advice on how to handle Yelp bombing campaigns and how to mitigate their effects. In part one, we look at how to prevent, and initially respond, to weaponized reviews.

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(image courtesy of http://pexels.com )

Nobody in business likes getting bad reviews. Anyone who pours their heart and soul into an enterprise can feel dispirited, and treated unfairly, when receiving criticism; particularly when you have not been given the chance to try and resolve the issue.

Like it or not, reviews are here to stay. They are a fact of doing business today. To deal with everyday review issues, I highly recommend Jay Baer’s excellent “Hug Your Haters,” which I reviewed here.

Unfortunately, however, there are people who try to turn reviews into a weapon. This is usually achieved by posting multiple reviews, sometimes across multiple platforms, using multiple different accounts, giving the impression of a serious issue or to destroy the businesses review platform rating. This can be to extort money and / or services, or as an act of revenge. This kind of review warfare is also sometimes known by the term “Yelp bombing.” This series, hopefully, will give you some grounding, and tools, to help protect yourself, and your business, from weaponized reviews.

It is important to recognize the difference between a Yelp bombing campaign and a review going viral. If something is going viral, it is because strangers like, or are outraged by, what they see or read. When it comes to a concerted attack, there may be a hope that the attack will become viral, but it is originally perpetrated one person, or a small group, trying to exert influence. This could be a customer, a former employee, a competitor, or just a bully trying to change something about you or your business.

Prevention

It is a cliché, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Have a complaints procedure for your clients. Empower your staff to solve small issues before they turn into big issues. Listen, learn, and respond to your reviews. Try to divorce yourself from the idea that you are right and they are wrong. It does not matter if you win the argument in your place of business. If you turn your customer into an enemy, and they then bash you online, you have lost.

Usually, apologies cost nothing. Make them sincere and swallow your pride. If the dispute cannot be resolved with an apology ask a simple question: “how much am I willing to pay to not have this appear on Yelp or other review sites?” Whatever the answer is, there is your budget for resolving this complaint.

Obviously, you have to have claimed your business on all the major review platforms. Going through this in detail is really outside the realm of this article; however, you should receive an email, or alert, anytime someone posts a review on Yelp, Google, or Facebook. I would also strongly suggest that you have a Google Alert running for mentions of your business name, names of key personal, or anything else that someone may use to identify or describe your business. You can setup alerts here: https://www.google.com/alerts

Stay away from controversial subjects with your online presence. Businesses should standup and be counted for causes and ideas they support, but go into it with your eyes open. With any controversial subject, there is the potential for someone to become upset and try to change your stance by methods other than debate or no longer giving you their custom.

Assessment

Despite your best efforts; however, you find yourself a target of a Yelp bombing campaign. It is important to note, that while the term “Yelp bombing” has become a generic term for an online review attack, Yelp is actually the platform you want this kind of attack to take place on. Yelp tends to have the best tools and resources for a business to protect itself. I am not a big fan of Yelp, you can read my feelings about Yelp and why I dislike their business model here, but when it comes to Yelp bombing they really do have their act together.

The first signs of a campaign against your business will usually be you being alerted to, or reading, a 1-star review. Speed is of the essence. If the review is seemingly out of nowhere, then reach out to the reviewer apologizing for their experience and asking if you can help to resolve the situation. If the platform allows it, message the reviewer privately. Don’t be afraid to ask them for their name so you can look into the matter.
If, despite your speedy response, more reviews are posted, then you have genuine situation on your hands.

First, breathe.

It is easy to feel panicked and that events are completely out of your control. You need to be the one with the cool head. People undertaking a Yelp bombing campaign are not doing so from a particularly rational place. This usually shows up in the writing and the nature of the complaint.

Read the review(s). Does the client have a point from reading the review? Is it a good story? If you were not connected to the business would you want to learn more? Remember right and wrong does not enter into your assessment of the campaign. What you need to assess is whether the story has “legs.” Is what has been written true? If someone reads this who knows nothing about your business will they believe it? Get other people’s opinions – this will help bring some perspective. If you make the assessment that the reviewer has a point and that the story has legs then there is the potential for it go viral, which is what you are trying to stop.

First Responses

Do not, I repeat, do not be in too much of a hurry to tell your side of the story. However, while it is important to not to lash out immediately with why your customer is “wrong, crazy, or clueless,” it is also important that your response is prompt and the correct response.

If the reviewer is not communicating, then start to craft a public response that addresses your position in very general terms and that you are happy to engage further via a different channel. I am a big proponent for email as this new channel. Email keeps the communication out of the public eye, unless someone posts it, it takes the heat out of conversations, and it gives you a written record. I know others feel that responding by a phone call, or even meeting in person, are better solutions. I would suggest that you choose whatever you are the most comfortable with.

Your response should be read by multiple other people and you should all agree that it is reasonable, conciliatory, and addresses the reviewer’s primary complaint. If the campaign against you has legs, and starts to go viral, your response will also be featured so it is important that the response is the right one.

It should also go without saying, that you should never retaliate. You need to be the adult, and it needs to be clearly seen by any 3rd party that you are conciliatory, level headed, and just trying to resolve the issue.

If you have stories, or additional tips on how to solve Yelp bombing / review campaigns, please let me know in the comments. If you have an ongoing issue, please feel free to reach out to me.

Content or social media curation is a fancy term for sharing things with your followers / audience.

This is something that almost all users of social media do almost every day.
If you create content; write a blog, create memes, take photographs, make videos, sing songs, etc., the chances are that you do not have enough content to keep your audience engaged with you. So you do what I, and most everyone else does; you share the interesting things that you come across that are in roughly the same space as your content is with perhaps your own thoughts on that content to give some perspective as to why you are sharing it.

What you do not do is the following:

Steal

I really can’t believe that I have spell this out but given some events recently by people who really should know better I guess I do.
If you download a photo, or image, and then re-upload it, without attributing it to the person who posted it first, its theft. Plain and simple.
Yes, all content creators should brand things they create, or otherwise assert their rights as the owner of the material, but failing to do so is not a license to steal.

What makes matters worse is when you go to great lengths to brand your own content and assert your own copyright, but still do not see the hypocrisy of stealing other people’s work.
And of course, just rebuilding a meme using your own image and then trying to assert copyright over that phrase or image is just theft of a different type. Just ask Scott Stratten about the fun he had with “You are not the Jack Ass Whisperer.”

For those confused about copyright and trademarks, I wrote about them here.
If you do want to share something that does not have a watermark or any kind of attribution and you are on a social network that makes directly sharing difficult, Instagram comes immediately to mind, then just ask. It’s the nice and friendly thing to do.

Click Bait

Recycling content, and then spreading it across multiple pages to increase page views and therefore sell more advertising is click bait. It is a real problem on Facebook. If you are creating content with this in mind please stop. If you are clicking on these articles please stop. And for the love of god, if you are liking these sites please stop. It is the equivalent of a magazine in the checkout aisle.

Linkjacking

Linkjacking covers a multitude of sins, but is generally cross posting from one social network to another via a 3rd party website to create traffic for the 3rd party site. Ignoring the generally agreed upon “bad form” of sharing from one social network to another to one side, linkjacking is again just stealing traffic off of the back of someone else’s work.

Newsjacking

Also known as: “how to ruin Twitter.” Newsjacking is the habit of companies to insert themselves, usually via #hashtags, into news stories to promote their brand. The most awful examples of this are companies that just randomly pick whatever is trending on Twitter or their chosen social network and insert those hashtags into their post in order to generate more views without even checking to see if those hashtags have any relevance to their brand whatsoever.

If there is something in the news that is relevant for your brand and you have content that may help provide context to a story then, of course, use the hashtag – that is what they are there for. But to leverage the news, and potentially the misery of others to sell things, is just wrong. And should be wrong in anyone’s book.

Content Farming

Generating articles purely with search engine optimization (SEO) in mind just so that your site can rank higher in Google should obviously be seen as a self-limiting strategy. Who is going to trust you if your articles are terrible to read? Generate good content and it will be shared. Sure, pay attention to good SEO practices, but if that becomes the reason you are writing something, you are writing for the wrong reasons and anyone who reads what you have written, or published to your site, will know it.

Being ethical about how you use social media is not hard. Social Media is about being social. It’s easy to steal content. It’s easy to film a speaker at a conference and then turn that into a blog post and not to credit them – it is still theft. For most people who create great content, and I like to think I’m one of them, we want it shared and to be seen by as many people as possible.

Just ask, and give credit where credit is due. It’s not hard.

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help my movie and book buying habit.)

 

Please don’t buy this book.

I’ve seen Jay speak a couple of times and the most recent time I was intrigued by the study he conducted with Edison Research that forms the back bone of “Hug your Haters.” The study asked two basic, yet fundament, questions in this new age of online reviews and online customer service:

1: How has the proliferation of social media, review sites, and other online forms changed the customer expectations of what good customer service really means.

2: When interactions between brands and humans are played out on the public stage, how must brands perform to in order to satisfy not only the customer, but the customer’s audience.

Hug your haters is a guidebook, informed by real data, on how to best handle complaints in this age of onstage public complaining. When I read a new business book it will sometimes take me down a particular intellectual path, other times it will provide nuggets of useful information that I can use, and sometimes I will disagree with it to such an extent, that I cannot wait to be done.

Hug your haters is different.

Hug Your Haters, for me, is validation of what I have come to believe over the last few years. Negative reviews are a chance to shine. Upset clients can be loyal clients if you can turn them around. Onstage interactions with upset clients is chance to show all those watching that you care enough to listen, empathize, apologize, and try to fix individual complaints.

It is amazing to read a book and have the author focus on a point of technique, where Jay talks about shock and awe was my favorite moment for this to happen, and realize “hey I love to do that – nice to know I’m not the only one!” Although the book primarily focuses on online strategies for customer resolution, is does deal with offline issues and really provides a blueprint, with real world examples, of how to provide customer service in almost any sized business. The basic philosophy is simple – answer every negative complaint, every time, in every channel. By doing this the author, and I agree, believes that customer service can become marketing.  This is because, more often than not, these interactions are conducted in public with an audience.  

If I have to have a complaint about the book it is that Jay lets Yelp off the hook far too easily. My own personal feelings about Yelp have evolved over the years; from outright despising them for their failure to engage with their clients and critics which you can read here, to acceptance with a few reservations which you can read here. However, the issue that Yelp arbitrarily filters out reviews from real paying clients, but does not seem to have the same scruples when it comes to negative reviews from people you do not recognize, and refuses to engage about what has happened, still stands.

However, this really is a minor quibble about what is without doubt the bible of how handle customer service in the modern age. It is not for the faint of heart. Following Jay’s playbook, you will encounter managers, owners, and employees, who feel that you are opening the company to being taken advantage or creating a culture where customers are rewarded for complaining. And there are some merits to these fears; however, these are far out-weighed by the rewards.

For me this book is validation – thank you Jay.

For others, it is heresy.

For most it will be revelatory.

But I like my competitive advantage, so please, don’t buy this book.

 

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help my movie and book buying habit.)

 

Statistics, standardized testing, crime prediction, Google, Facebook, “Moneyballing,” insurance risk analysis, and mathematical models all have one thing in common; they can all fall into the catch all term of “big data.”

There are very few parts of modern life that are not impacted by big data; for better or for worse. The mathematical models that harness vast amounts of data are used for everything:  to determine who should receive a bank loan, which teachers should be fired, whether to hire a particular worker, where police should patrol, which colleges are the best to apply to, which students should offered a place in a college, how sports are played, and even the sentences that convicted criminals should receive.

Some of these mathematical models are transparent.  The model featured in the book and movie “Moneyball” (you can read my review of the movie here) would be an example of a transparent model. The data and the rules that lead to the model’s conclusions are open and available for everyone to see. However, more and more, the models are opaque and it is these models that Ms. O’Neil goes after with devastating logic and passion.

The fundamental issue with these opaque models, other than a lack of openness and therefore the impossibility to challenge their assumptions, is that they can suffer from a lack of feedback or create self-reinforcing feedback loops. Because the models are opaque, many people may not even realize that are in a mathematical model, or that the model is partially or wholly responsible for their circumstance.

As Ms. O’Neil states in her introduction: “Without feedback; however, a statistical engine can continue spinning out faulty and damaging analysis while never learning from its mistakes. Many of the W.M.D’s (Weapons of Math Destruction) I’ll be discussing in this book … behave like that. They define their own reality and use it to justify their results. This type of model is self-perpetuating, highly destructive, and very common.”

Ms. O’Neil does go to some great lengths to stress that a lot of these models have been built with the intention of being fairer. The idea being that removing flawed human beings from decisions that could be made by mathematical models would remove their biases and faulty logic from the progress. However, it is these same flawed humans that are creating the models and without proper feedback, monitoring, and proper understanding of statistics, the models themselves can cause far worse problems than the ones they are supposed to solve.

Written for the layperson, about a subject that would cause most peoples eyes to glaze over unless written by Ms. O’Neil, this is a great and important book and one that I feel will become only more important as mathematical models become even more entwined in our lives. This is also an important book for those is position to make use of mathematical models in their business as there can be significant pressure to accept the word of a program when we should be asking some pretty hard and detailed questions; not only to ensure that what we are getting is correct, but also to ensure that we are not contributing to the Weapons of Math Destruction problem.

Garbage in – Garbage out, has never been more apt.  

By Mike Falconer

The most popular post to date on my site is: “Why I hate Yelp (and you should too!).”

I still do by the way; and everything is that post still stands today three years later; however, I have grown to accept it as part of the daily life of being in business and feel that, a few road bumps aside, I’ve made my peace with online reviews and even with Yelp.

That mighty sound a little contradictory, but the bottom line is that reviews are here to stay so we all have to deal with it.

“Scott, we have a Yelp problem. We keep getting these horrible reviews what can we do about it?”

” – Build a better product.”

Scott Stratten @unmarketing

There is no strategy or tip that I, or anyone else, can give you that will fix your business and your online reviews overnight (those that promise to do so are scamming you). If you are a horrible business the chances are you will have horrible reviews online.

Now you can write your own reviews, and risk the wrath of companies like Yelp or Google which are filled with people smarter than you or I (sorry it’s true) who spend a lot of time and energy trying to foil the attempts of those gaming their systems. If you are really unlucky you could also find yourself the subject of a FTC investigation and slapped with a serious fine. It has happened a few times already to those trying to buy or reward those for reviews (many thanks to he great Mike Blumenthal @mblumenthal for this awesome nugget of info and indeed for solidifying my thoughts on Yelp, and online reviews, in general) and expect it to happen a lot more when the government figures out how prevalent it is and how much money can be made. But why bother? It is simpler, easier, and better for your business to just fix the problems in the first place.

Think Yelp or Google (or whatever review site you feel tortures you on a regular basis) does not accurately reflect what your clients think of your business? Prove it! Survey your clients. Make it easy for them to complain and give you feedback. Have a policy to deal with complaints. And, of course, read, learn, and above all, reply to your reviews. If your survey results really are different from what you are seeing from the review sites then publish the data and be honest about what people were complaining about and what you are doing to fix it.

When I started reviewing my business’s clients what I found from the was that they wanted to respond. The feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive, and it allowed me to fix issues, even minor ones, quickly before they blew up online. It also provided real data about what problems we did have and where we were excelling.

A splash page with links to review sites helped make it easy for those who already reviewing us privately to review us in public. As a rule I and not a big fan of asking for reviews – particularly when companies just try to flood one channel. (400 reviews on Google and 10 on Yelp just makes you look shady.) However, a simple splash page with three or four links is tasteful and is the least spam-like way I have found and does not seem to offend anyone.

Unhappy clients will, of course, still happen. How you respond to them is all important, not just for the client, but your future clients who will read your response and see how you deal with complaints.

Apologize – it costs you nothing.

Try to resolve the issue – D’uh!

If you can’t resolve the issue – apologize again!

Do not get into a protracted fight online – would you rather be right or have an unhappy client, a bad review, and maybe worse? Genuinely apologize and try to make things right.

And never, never ever, send, say, or do anything that that you are not completely happy with being splashed all over the Internet. “If you take your review down we will give you your money back” means you care more about the bad review than the unhappy client. If the client deserves their money back – give them their money back!

I am a big fan of responding to even positive reviews – a simple thank you goes a long way. The interesting thing about responding to every review and trying to keep clients happy is that it is not just new clients that notice. Potential new employees use the tools available to them when researching their potential new employer. Those tools are Yelp and Google.

While I still hate Yelp – it really is a flawed product. It exists because customers used to basically be powerless. The balance may have shifted but I know at my business we try to solve issues, I know that we sometimes succeed and sometimes we fail. We are not perfect, but we have not stopped trying and I think even those that view us on Yelp can see it.

And I can live with that.

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

“We have always had some influence over the justice system but for the first time in 180 years, since the stocks and the pillory were outlawed we have the power to determine the severity of some punishments and so we have to think about what level of mercilessness we feel comfortable with.”

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson shines a, sometimes unwelcome, light on the unforgiving nature of Internet shaming. Ronson convincingly argues that almost 200 years ago we abandoned shaming as a form of punishment, not due a lack of effectiveness with rise of the larger towns and cities, but because it was seen as overly cruel.

Ronson has extraordinary access to those who lives have been ruined because of a bad out of context joke, calling out someone for perceived sexist comments, for making perceived sexist comments, and for being too irreverent in a selfie at a national memorial. The author also cleverly focuses on those less worthy of pity; the successful author who gets found out for making up quotes, and exposes our own attitudes to shaming. And then there are those who seem to have beaten the shame cycle; the UK publicist who went to war with the tabloid press, and the small town where almost a hundred of its citizenry where reveled to be visiting a local prostitute.

As well as telling the story of the various victims of the modern age of public shaming, Ronson also tells us of his own journey and grappling with his own role in the shaming of others and of being of control of his internet persona. This does not hang together quite as well as the rest of the book. I have a hard time, for instance, that such a talented researcher cannot look back through their own Twitter history to see who they have previously shamed. However, this is minor quibble and a brave personal exploration and opening up about personal shame.

The book does end on a relatively positive note due to the miracles of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), however the real point of the book is for the reader to examine how they feel about this return of public shaming. Even for those whom it is hard to defend; the hunters seeking big game trophies, the Vet taking pleasure in shooting a cat with a bow and arrow, and the plagiarizing author, to name but a few – do they really deserve this level of life altering destruction?

For those who answer yes, this book is for you. “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” is, if nothing else, a testament to how much of a double edged sword internet shame can be, how cruel and destructive it is, and how uncomfortable we should all be with it. The Internet shows us at our best and worst as a culture – it is we who have to change.

Note: I have refrained from using the names of any of the subjects, or related people, in this post so as not to add to add to the problem.

By Mike Falconer

In the very short history of live streaming with mobile devices through apps such as Periscope, and perhaps more importantly Facebook due to its ubiquity, there have been number of notable firsts. Some have been amazing, some have been funny, and lots have been horrific.

The shooting death during a traffic stop of Philando Castile by a Police Officer, quite apart from being an awful tragedy which is still under investigation, had its immediate aftermath streamed live over Facebook as you have undoubtably heard if not indeed actually seen.

The debate, the police response, and I am sure the entire investigation, surrounding this shooting has been framed by one of the witnessing participants and their actions. Not that fact that a video exists but that a video exists and a significant portion of the population of the country, if not the world, will have seen and even taken part in the immediate aftermath.

There may actually be a lot of good that comes from the instant live streaming of events, even when bad things happen; however, we live in a pretty unforgiving world. And so it was the Philando Castile shooting that started me thinking about the wider implications not just for race relations and policing, but for how people will deal with difficult, or even impossible situations, and how that will impact those on the other end of those situations.

Social media, and its close cousin the online review, has created a culture that embraces the shaming of mistakes and, for the most part, rejects the idea of context. All to often these tools are used as instruments of revenge rather than as a tool to achieve resolution or inform other consumers. We don’t put people in stocks in the town square any more, but we do ruin their lives for a bad joke in ill taste or a photograph that seems to mock our most cherished beliefs. As Jon Ronson writes in his excellent – So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – “We have always had some influence over the justice system but for the first time in 180 years, since the stocks and the pillory were outlawed we have the power to determine the severity of some punishments and so we have to think about what level of mercilessness we feel comfortable with.”

In business, we may yet yearn for the days when an unhappy client meant a vitriolic Yelp post at 2AM. All businesses prefer, or at least they should, clients to complain when they are unhappy for whatever reason. A complaint from a client is an opportunity to salvage a situation and gain a more loyal client at the end of it. However, when the complaint itself becomes an instrument of revenge and shaming how should, or indeed how can, businesses respond?

The nightmare scenario could take many forms, however in the veterinary world it could take the form of difficult conversation about quality of life, cost of treatment, and accusations of medical error live streaming across the Internet, with the client’s social circle providing encouragement and additional fuel to the fire. Add to that nightmare scenario that most people are nervous when on camera and that as a business you have little chance to respond due to social circles being closed and content being shared far and wide. Imagine your worst experience in an exam room and then add 10s, 100s, maybe even 1,000s of additional participants not as a moment on what happened, but actively participating.

In this situation, it will not be about customer service and it will not be about a complaint. It will be about damage control. This will be about the power of one person to control their environment, and those around them, by leveraging their social circle and social reach. This will no longer be a conversation with a client, it will become responding to a leader of an angry mob.

With power comes great responsibility, but also the potential for great irresponsibility.

As people who deal with the public at stressful times we all need to be comfortable with the fact that live streaming is here and what it could mean for all interactions. The time to be thinking about this is not as the person across from you says “by the way I’m streaming this on Facebook.”

I do not have great insights into how to deal with these situations other than the same insights as to how to deal with online reviews. Deal with them the same way as if the camera was not there. Easier said than done I know. Try and address your clients concerns, be accommodating, and try and deliver excellent customer service. Be the reasonable one – be the professional. It may mean that we all need to be comfortable on camera – how we sound, how we talk, and what to say and not to say.

Live streaming has huge potential and has already affected the world and how we view events. However, it’s greatest impact may be at the personal level and end, or a new appreciation for, personal privacy. Banning technology rarely works. Adapting and being prepared, however, is far better option that sticking ones head in the sand. Facebook will still see the rest of you if you do anyway.

Notes on Startups, or how to build the future – with Blake Masters.


(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

Some will know Peter Thiel (pronounced teal) as one of the founders of PayPal, or maybe even as an Silicon Valley investor. However, it is much more likely that you recognize his name from his brief portrayal in the movie: “The Social Network.” Wherever you know is name from, even if it is from my blog, he is a man worth listening to. Blake Masters certainly thought so when he attended a series of lectures that Theil gave at Stanford and took more copious notes than anyone else. These notes started to circulate to a much wider audience than the student body and so a book project was born.

Zero to One is a reference to the ability of a technology company to go from nothing to something and thereby change the world. Interestingly, Theil defines a technology company as any company with new ideas – doing more with less. This generally means software startups in the mold of Google, Apple, and Facebook, but he is at pains to stress it does not have to be.

Zero to One is interesting because the ideas it contains about business are quite contrarian to what we believe as outsiders about startups and Silicon Valley (and I’m sure to a number insiders as well). We have all been brought up to believe that competition is a good thing; however, Theil makes a convincing case for competition as a destructive force. “Monopoly is the condition of every successful business” and “Every business is successful to exactly to the extent that it does something that others cannot.”

He is on less firm ground when he tries to apply his startup thinking to the wider geo-political world. Although he is undoubtedly on to something with defining groups of people as “indefinite optimists” “indefinite pessimists” “definite optimists” and “definite pessimists” – particularly as it relates to politicians, and finance – it is hard to buy this as it relates to entire continents.

It is interesting to note that a lot of the ideas contained in Zero to One are self evident but are so against standard business thinking (it is a brave man who says Malcolm Gladwell needs to rethink his ideas) that they have the favor of heresy. Why should you expect any business to succeed without a plan? A business that cannot provide a ten fold improvement in technology over its competitors is doomed to competition death. Don’t disrupt – avoid competition. The history of progress is one of monopolistic innovation.

What helps sell these heresies is how Theil relates these to the high tech modern fables that we have all grown to know, but not understand: Google vs. Microsoft. Microsoft vs. the United States Government. The rise of Facebook. And the reemergence of Apple.

One thing that explains a lot of the success of the Silicon Valley startup is the focus and vision of founders. However, as Theil points out this comes with its own drawbacks and potential pitfalls – particularly as you try to apply his thinking to general business environments.

“…(the) strange way that new technology companies often resemble feudal monarchies rather than organizations that are supposedly more modern. A unique founder can make authoritative decisions. Inspire strong personal loyalty. And plan ahead for decades. Paradoxically, impersonal bureaucracies staffed by trained professionals can last longer than any lifetime but usually act on short time horizons.”

The cult of personality can come at a cost for both the founder and the companies they have created. Founders are important not because they are the only ones who’s work and add value but because they can bring out the best work in other people. Adulation of a founder has to be tempered by the fact that it can turn into demonization and notoriety at any point. Theil indeed makes a striking comparison between founders and the worshiping of scapegoats and sacrifices of ancient peoples.

Zero to One is that most rare of things, a business book that actually contains new and interesting ideas about companies and markets that you felt you already knew about. It also has some stark lessons for those who seek to emulate the success of the startup model, without understanding what makes it successful in the first place. Hint: it is not the perks!

This is less a manual for the modern startup, and more a cautionary tale about borrowing ideas without understanding context. Whatever you take from it, it is certainly a book worth reading and Theil is a thinker we should hear more from outside of Silicon Valley.

Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Talk about feeling conflicted…

For my American non-car fetish readers, Jeremy Clarkson is larger than life public figure and journalist from the UK who is known world-wide for the BBC motoring television show Top Gear.

When I say larger than life, a serious aspect of Jeremy Clarkson’s public persona is his often outrageous and politically incorrect statements in private and on Television. Some might say that everything has come to a head with the presenter multiple times in the past; however, for most the head was reached today when Clarkson was fired for punching a producer during an argument over food following a days filming.

The personal conflict comes from my love of Top Gear and Clarkson as a broadcaster. As a person, I am sure he is not someone I would like to spend much time with (I’m not a fan of his writing or politics.) However, the deeper conflict is how the media in the UK has essentially manufactured and over blown any number of remarks into career damaging scandals. The culture of bullying by majority over remarks or misunderstood events, by the major media and the social media hordes has to stop. We risk complete disengagement by future generations due to the risks of getting involved – it is just not worth it.

Finally, the human resource and management side of me applauds the BBC for having the courage to fire a key employee for completely unacceptable behavior in any workplace. Sorry Jeremy – but to needed to be fired for that.

The scandal is not the punch, the scandal is not incidents over number plates, or ill chosen remarks. The scandal is that television personalities and programing will be a little more bland and a little less interesting because we can’t just dismiss a personality as an idiot and not watch them if we disapprove.

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