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Publicity stunt or snafu?

Posted by Michael Bloch in ecommerce (Saturday February 28, 2009 )

If you’ve ever been attacked by a rabid customer through a posting or other public announcement, or had a potentially nasty glitch exposed in a public forum, no doubt your fingers have been itching to type a savage return fire. Most of us take a deep breath before proceeding, others don’t hold back and speak/type whatever is on their mind.

There’s an interesting public relations scenario happening over at Jason Roe. In a nutshell, the blogger found a glitch on an airline company’s site, posted about it, then a company staffer berated the blogger in a rather rude and aggressive way.

Usually in these cases, the company’s upper management will then deny knowledge of the employee’s actions or humbly apologize, vowing to ensure that in never happens again. But in this case, this is what Ryanair’s official statement regarding the situation was reported to have said:

“Ryanair can confirm that a Ryanair staff member did engage in a blog discussion. It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy in corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won’t be happening again.”

“Lunatic bloggers can have the blog sphere all to themselves as our people are far too busy driving down the cost of air travel.”

As you can imagine, this situation has attracted quite a bit of attention in the blog(o)sphere. That statement was made just a few days ago and according to Google, it appears over 500 times around the web already. Whether this is all just some sort of stunt by the company under the premise of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” remains to be seen as they are well known for not mincing words.

Advice to small online business owners – don’t try this at home.. no matter how rabid, out of touch, out of line, psychotic a disgruntled blogger, customer or critic gets; it’s important to maintain *a degree* of professionalism. There are very few small businesses, even large ones, that won’t be negatively impacted by this sort of public exchange as it takes on a David vs. Goliath aspect.

Some companies do thrive on and profit from this sort of exposure, the “shock jocks” of online business; but they are very much a minority. Don’t take the risk. I have seen this sort of thing backfire on merchants who grossly overestimated how solid their company’s reputation, product or service was.

However, I also don’t mean going down the “customer is always right” path either or pandering to critics, that’s lunacy in itself. If merchants don’t stand up for themselves when they are wronged by a customer through a false accusation or similar, it only reinforces the behavior. There are other ways to eviscerate a critic in a polite way… and it doesn’t always have to be warfare; sometimes a few sentences carefully chosen can defuse a situation before it turns really nasty.

Learn more about dealing with aggressive customers and online reputation management.


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