Our founding father George Washington listed 110 social necessities in his Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation. The first president listed as the primary rule: “Every action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.” Should the American Cincinnatus have lived to interact with social media, he might be ripping out the broadband cabling at Mount Vernon with his bare hands.
Ahmadinejad in Charge of NORAD
The latest well-publicized online flareup involved a marketing guy named Paul Christoforo who was contracted by a Playstation 3 controller manufacturer to conduct public relations: a corporate decision somewhat akin to placing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in charge of NORAD. Christoforo’s email exchange with a justifiably disgruntled customer has become the stuff of online marketing legend. He didn’t just step over the line, he annihilated it. Reading through the widely available transcripts where Christoforo repeatedly insults the customer with a vehemence bordering on the psychopathic should constitute the ultimate Bible of what brands should not do online.
Christoforo has since been fired by the manufacturer and with any luck he’ll find a job more suited to his talents, such as a bouncer at a Dive Bar in Hamtramck. To keep your business from being lumped in with the “online bad guys” you may want to adopt these top five rules of online courtesy:
1. Don’t engage in unfair competition – Your social media presence can certainly incorporate fair and insightful criticism of your competitors’ business affairs, but don’t cross the line into impersonating unsatisfied customers or trashing their social network pages.
2. Don’t become a social stalker – There’s another line between engaging your customers and stalking them. They expect to interact with you on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter, but when you set up an account on a strictly niche social network such as puppieswithgout.com only because they did… that’s just plain creepy.
3. Don’t SEO your comments – Did you really think that no one could figure out that you’re leveraging your SEO when you dropped into your latest comment 6 keywords referring to the hydraulic elevator shoe you currently have on sale? This form of SEO = hype, and hype = loss of social media cred.
4. Don’t be selfish – You’ve got things to do, places to go, inventory to move, so you can’t really be blamed for getting sick and tired of the aimless chatter and pushing your customers to buy or get off the pot. That violates the spirit of social media, which demands brands provide authoritative information without referring to any direct purchase connection. Yes, P.T. Barnum is turning in his grave.
5. (Most importantly) Don’t insult anyone – The prime lesson to be learned from the Christoforo debacle is that no matter how badly your business is thrashed, you should never reply in kind. Turn the other cheek, cool off by taking a walk around the block, do whatever is necessary to not engage in exchanging schoolyard taunts.
What Paul Christoforo ultimately failed to recognize is that the customer has the unalienable right to be treated with courtesy and professionalism. It’s really that simple. If your company firmly adopts the policy that the customer is always right even when the customer is wrong, the benefits you will derive will far outweigh the fleeting satisfaction you’ll get for unloading on some bozo who deserves it. Etiquette and manners will build endless bridges to your customers, and just one misbegotten insult can burn them all!