For big companies going online in the '90s, the Internet was a shocker, laying bare all the silos within their organizations, as those units communicated directly to customers, with no homogenizing layer of customer service in between. So, if each of your business units had a different system for processing returns, it was no longer the poor telephone rep who had to deal with the crazy systems, now it was your customers. Over the years, those problems have been worked through, but it is an example of how the Internet reveals the true colors of your business. Small businesses need to worry about that, too.

Image representing Yelp as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

I speak to small business owners every day who are petrified of what will be said about them on Yelp and other online review sites. To an extent, this is a reasonable fear, because anyone can be wrongly attacked online, especially in anonymous social media venues. But it is also a very passive way to look at things, just sitting around worried about being attacked. In large measure, the Internet does reveal the true colors of your business. If someone complains about lousy service, usually they have a beef. What are you doing to prevent that from happening?

What your employees do is a direct reflection on the owner of the business. If they don't smile at customers, it's because you don't demand that they do. If they don't treat customers with respect, it's because you aren't expecting it from them. I know that sounds harsh, but hear me out.

When you hired your employees, did they smile at you? Did you even notice? Did they treat you with respect? Did you search and search for the right person or did you just hire the first person who would work at a low enough salary? Every person you hire is a reflection on you and your business, so if you don't know how they will represent you, that's on you.

Do you train your employees on how to handle difficult situations, or do you just deal with them when they come to your attention? Do you send friends and colleagues into the store when you are not there to check up on what happens when you are not around? How do you check up on the quality of service at your store? Employees will pay attention to what you pay attention to.

And do you model what you want your employees to do? Or can you once in a while catch yourself being a bit sour when you are having a bad day? Your employees see what you do and they imitate it.

All this was brought to mind recently as I have watched the travails of Facebook. In the past few weeks, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder, has been quoted as making denigrating remarks about his members when he first started the service, and there have been a raft of privacy concerns every since. If the founder of the service thought that people were dumb to trust him, and you now see incident after incident where privacy gets eroded and people begin to mistrust and even quit Facebook, you don't have to wonder where the employees of Facebook pick up that attitude.

And when you see Facebook go out of its way to ban apps that help people leave Facebook by claiming privacy problems, but they allow advertisers like Disney to do even creepier things so long as they benefit, what are we to conclude?

My granny used to say that the fish rots from the head. Far be it from me to know what Mark Zuckerberg thinks or what his employees are taught. But I can't help but wonder if Mark needs an attitude adjustment before Facebook can really fulfill its potential. Now, I don't really expect people to leave Facebook in droves, but the question is whether Facebook sees that as an opportunity to cynically exploit or as a trust that they must ensure they do not break again. I hope I am wrong about what is happening at Facebook, because I am rooting for them to win. I want them to rise up from these issues with a better attitude about their members and show the world that you can monetize a business without selling out.

But my point today is that the Internet is showing the true colors of Facebook, at least as of this moment. They can decide what to show going forward. A more respectful attitude toward members might make all the difference in how they act and what colors they show the world.

So, let's turn the question back to you. What attitude adjustments should you make in your business to influence your employees? The next time you get a customer complaint, online or not, is your reaction, "Oh geez, here we go again?" Or do you think to yourself, "A customer problem! This is my job to fix." The difference in your attitude will translate into a difference in that of your employees, and might turn around how your business is perceived, online and off.

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June 2, 2010

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


Facebook is not alone in this, Google also had privacy issues with Buzz. The problem is not Google or Facebook, it will be the investors they have to answer to.

Opening up data access will definitely help them boost their use counts and subscribers, and in turn, their profits. This is why these companies shoot first, ask questions later.

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Moran > Does the Internet show the true colors of your business?