I've read a lot of posts lately tearing down the public relations industry for what a poor job they do when pitching bloggers. I've also read (and written) quite a few posts about what a terrible job companies do relating to bloggers and having conversations with them. While there's no doubt companies and PR firms have a long way to go, a blast from my past reminded me that bloggers need to share some responsibility in all this.
Last month I had the pleasure of attending the first ever Blogger Social event in NYC. It wasn't a conference, it was just a chance for a lot of marketing bloggers to get together and visit with each other. I went because I wanted the chance to make personal contact with a lot of people I've met via blogs and Twitter over the last few years. At dinner one night, I found myself sitting with Connie Reece of Every Dot Connects. During the course of conversation, a mutual friend Aruni Gunasegaram of Babblesoft came up.
I unleashed my inner snark...
Last year Aruni was launching her new parenting software. I happened to pick up the press release right as it went across the wires and had some pretty harsh words for the idea on my Lactivist blog.
Apparently, the company feels that there's an untapped market in parents with extreme breastfeeding OCD issues, so they've made available some snazzy (I use the word loosely) new software that will allow these Ezzo-wannabes the absolute, total scheduling control that they long for.
It got worse though. In fact, rereading that post I made more than a year ago I found myself chuckling and wincing at the same time. Chuckling because some lines in my post were really funny, but wincing as I realized just how biting and scathing my critique was. I'm generally a pretty easy going and nice person. I don't tend to like to rely on snark, and yet there I was, throwing out snark like I was Perez Hilton.
As you can imagine, Aruni was crushed by the review. At the time, my blog was one of the leading blogs among her target audience. The Lactivist would have been a site she'd hope to score a positive review from and yet, before she even had a chance to pitch me, I'd found her product and ripped it to shreds.
And this is where Aruni did things EXACTLY right.
She didn't get defensive, she didn't get angry, she didn't even respond.
Instead, she called Connie Reece and asked for help. Connie helped Aruni understand how to do some research on me (which quickly revealed I'm also a marketer) and how to read through my comments and posts to get a take for the best way to approach me. Connie outlines her response in an online reputation management case study she just released.
So What Did Aruni Do Right?
When Aruni did respond, she was able to calmly and rationally explain her point of view and her reasons for developing the software. In fact, I was so surprised and pleased to see her respond the way she did, I ended up eating a bit of crow for going overboard.
That's the great thing about this blog. If I go on a rant without thinking something through from all angles, my readers aren't afraid to call me on it.
Ultimately, many of my readers ended up checking out the software and seeing the value in it for certain situations and while I still think the software's a little on the anal side for the average mom, I fully recognize how helpful it could be for moms who DO need to track things.
Even more important to the story is the relationship that developed because of the way Aruni responded. Aruni became a regular reader of my blog and I became a reader of hers. We follow each other on Twitter and we've exchanged quite a few emails over the past year. Not long after the incident, I ended up sending her an email to share how refreshed I was at the way she handled things.
I want to compliment you on the way you handled your response to my blog post. I was pretty hard on you guys and you came in with class and style and really did a great job of turning the situation around to make yourself look good. I work in online reputation management and it's rare to see a company respond so well. Just thought you should know that you gained my respect with that.
So what's the lesson here for bloggers?
Sometimes it's easy for bloggers to get caught up in keeping their audiences entertained. I look back and read my post and I can see I got completely carried away. It's one thing to be funny, it's one thing to critique, but it's a whole other thing to attack something you know little about. Had I bothered to contact Aruni before writing my post, she could have given me some excellent examples of parents that might benefit from using the software.
Instead, I chose to entertain my readers at the expense of someone else...an action that could have resulted in irreparable damage to a company that wasn't savvy enough or patient enough to respond the way Aruni did. While it's fine for bloggers to entertain, to share opinions and even to get a little snarky...I think we sometimes forget just how powerful our words can be.
I don't write all of this to excuse bad pitches or companies that bury their heads in the sand while shouting "we won't engage with bloggers." I write it to ask if we, as bloggers, might share some responsibility in creating an atmosphere that makes companies want to avoid engaging us.
Companies can learn a lot about how to respond to criticism by taking a cue from Aruni Gunasegaram and Connie Reece. Bloggers could learn a lot from them as well. I certainly did.
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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