Published on 9th Jul, 2010 in Marketing

Think Before You Post – an Open Letter to All Consumers

Dear Consumer,

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt. This is one of my favorite quotes – perhaps because I consider myself a constant creator and editor at heart. I was speaking with a reporter from MSNBC today, and we started talking about business ethics. As we explored what it means for businesses to be ethical, it made me think about the flip side of the coin – consumer ethics.

We as Consumers Have NEVER Had This Much Power

It is 1972 – you are watching a Television ad for a product you know sucks. What do you do? It ranges from nothing to telling your next door neighbor to perhaps yelling at the TV. Good luck. Today, you can call a toll-free number, post on Facebook or Twitter, write a blog post, leave a review on Amazon, and a million other things. We as consumers have never had it SO GOOD. We insist on businesses being ethical, as they should, but now that we have power, we must use it responsibly as well.

Please – Think Before You Act Online

Almost every week, I address a “reputation management” issue – businesses struggling to undo the harm some individual has caused. 80% of the time, the back lash is unjustified. Businesses sometimes spend millions of dollars undoing this damage. Why? Because one individual didn’t really think through the repercussions of their actions. It can seem like you are fighting a “corporation” – but every corporation is made up of human beings. And you are no longer a powerless individual fighting the “big man.” The playing field has been leveled. I recently heard about one small business that filed bankruptcy due to one individual (an ex-employee’s boyfriend) consistently blasting them online. I consistently hear from authors who have their book sales destroyed due to a few negative reviewers. We have all heard stories about teenagers who have committed suicide due to online harassment. From teens to business owners – it affects us all.

It Doesn’t Mean you have to Settle

This doesn’t mean that if you have a legitimate concern, you can’t use the tools at your disposal. In fact, you should use them, but use them with care. I urge you to please think before you act online.

Go the Private Route First

The best way to handle a grievance is to talk to the person or company involved privately using the channels they provide. Before you blast someone on your blog, please give them a chance to resolve the issue amicably. For example, I just took a cruise with my husband to the Caribbean. We had a few problems with the cruise line so we talked to the guest relations department. They quickly smoothed things over. We were happy, and they were happy. Now, if I do share my experience with people – it will be the whole picture.

If You Do Decide to Post Online – Provide Value

If you do decide to post comments or critique someone online, wait until you are able to objectively view the situation. If you write in anger, you may come to regret it later. And, think about who you are writing this for. If you are writing as a way to vent, a personal diary may be much more suitable. If you are writing with the genuine intent of helping others (example – to warn them about the noise level of the rooms near the elevator), be sure to provide value. Luke-warm but specific feedback is much more helpful than a vague rant. If you are publishing something as pure revenge, think twice. Aside from legal ramifications, you may be harming your reputation more than you think.

Grace and Kindness Go a Long Way

Let’s face it. We all have our moments. Someone treats us badly or we feel sincerely ripped off. We want to lash out. It is human. But, when our actions are public and permanent (as all things on the net), the consequences can be harsh. If you must act online, do it with dignity and grace. It is so easy to be “anonymous” online – but behind every screen name is a real, living, breathing human being.

What Do you Think?

I feel very passionately about ethics – business and consumer. What do you think? Do you think that people are using the power of the internet with the care it warrants?
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jleveque/3193118489/