Build your Company’s online Brand, before someone else does

By now, you may have heard about Adam Savage’s skirmish with AT&T over a very familiar story: Man gets overcharged for internet access, takes case to internet, and wins.

His Tweet (a message on Twitter) simply read: “AT&T is attempting to charge me 11k for a few hours of web surfing in Canada.”

His message spread amazingly quickly on Twitter. Within three hours, AT&T was the second most discussed topic on Twitter, second only to Michael Jackson.

By the end of the day, the carrier was “very gracious about taking care of it all,” Savage said, deciding to free him of those costs.

So holds the power of the internet.  This sort of thing has happened before and it will happen again. It’s even happened to me.

The funny thing is, the age old adage “There’s no such thing as bad press” isn’t true anymore, and companies like AT&T and Verizon know just how easy it is to lose customers. Why do you think they require service contracts?

I’ve been known to jump from one service provider to the other if they start treating me badly, and with this newest text messaging problem, I probably won’t jump back to AT&T any time soon. I’ll just wait for the iPhone to become a non-exclusive item.

The complainers, the people the people that bad mouth your service, now have a voice. A very loud, very obnoxious, and very addictive voice. You used to be able to dismiss them out of hand; but now one bad service call with one customer can provide years of online enjoyment.

So, what do you do?

You can’t make everyone happy; that’s obvious. But you can take those singular “We messed up” moments, and turn them into something good. In Soccer, we call those pivotal moments in games the Moment of Truth. It is the occasion when the referee has to make a decision that will forever shape players’ perception of him throughout the match (and possibly his career). It happens in almost every match, and getting that singular moment right can do a lot to repair or extend credibility where you might otherwise have little.

In software, that means openess. Not the Government 2.0 kind that really isn’t, but the kind where you address complaints and complainers head on. You can no longer pretend that they don’t exist. Steve Krug wrote in Don’t Make Me Think  about how company FAQ pages never really tell you anything you really want to know, and he’s right: they ought to.  Businesses now must hire  ‘Social Media’ experts or ‘Community Managers’ to address customer service issues in this new age of the internet. As Jeff Atwood writes:

To have a personal brand, you must do something remarkable:


  • lead a user group
  • create a popular open-source project
  • write a blog
  • publish a book
  • publish articles
  • speak at conferences

Do whatever you like. Pick one, pick them all, or pick something that’s not on this list.* As long as it’s public, and it advances your skills, you’re creating a personal brand. And that will help your career far more than technical chops ever will.

His advice is as salient for businesses as it is for individuals (and software companies doubly so!). What can businesses do to build their online brand?

  • participate in social media (not just press releases, please)
  • encourage your employees to participate in social media
  • only censor the business proprietary stuff
  • let the warts shine through
  • become personable

Having a ‘blessed’ social media account is not the same thing as 5,000 employees having blogs and twitter accounts. 1 voice is meaningless, but a sea of employees generally talking about their day/life/work makes me interested about those things. I never gave Dell a second thought until I saw that they have a lot of employees with Twitter accounts. Now their brand is more personal to me.  Microsoft was an early adopter of this with encouraging blogs being written by their employees. The question is, why isn’t your company building its online brand through employee crowd-sourcing?

If you don’t build your company’s online brand and keep it polished, someone will tarnish it, and you’ll only have yourself to blame.

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