My middle school daughters have been using computers and electronic devices more and more for school. As part of that education, they have been getting lessons on “netiquette,” or the right way and wrong way to use the Internet. One of the things they learned was that there is no such thing as deleting something online. Once something is posted or uploaded, there’s a good chance that it will be there — in some form — forever, and you’ll have to accept the consequences from there. It’s good advice for teenagers, who don’t always have the best judgment. Unfortunately, many adults use the freedom of the Net to post things without using their best judgment either. All too often, it’s business owners who have to pay for it.
Don’t get me wrong, the Internet has opened up a world of information and marketing opportunities to businesses. My job would be exponentially more difficult without having all the information I need at my fingertips. Unfortunately, it has also brought about a few curses. One such curse is the thin-skinned consumer. That is someone who, several years ago, may have been displeased at your product or the service they received at your meat market and just would have taken their business elsewhere. At most, they would have called you with their complaint. Now, they have the ability to write long and extremely negative reviews based on their experience, which may or may not match what actually happened. Restaurants have been dealing with this for years, thanks to Yelp and similar apps that allow every consumer to become a restaurant critic. The negative reviews are the ones most likely to go viral, so a bad meal isn’t just a bad meal; it gets turned into “the worst dining experience of my life!” Your meat market or your company headquarters could be targeted. While the temptation to defend yourself, your employees or your business is natural, keep in mind that writing a retaliatory attack on the customer has about a 50-50 chance of blowing up in your face.
In today’s toxic political environment, mixing politics with your business can bring about bad results as well. A social media post expressing a political opinion can bring you the wrath of the other side. Of course, you have a Constitutional right to express your political beliefs. But others who disagree with you have that same right. Businesses have been boycotted because of viewpoints that were perceived as too conservative or liberal. Those boycotts often translate into negative reviews, from people who have never stepped foot into the establishment or tried the product.
Even something like a bumper sticker on your delivery truck may gain you unwanted attention. Think that’s extreme? I was recently unfriended by someone on Facebook for suggesting that someone should teach President Trump how to properly eat a steak — following reports that he prefers his steak cooked well done, with ketchup. A pretty harmless jest, I thought, but enough for a casual acquaintance to blow up at me. Sadly, that’s how things go. Even the mildest of comments can provoke an extreme reaction.
No matter how good your company is, bad reviews and unsatisfied customers will happen. Unwarranted hostility is unfortunately becoming a fact of Internet life as well. Some of it you can control by limiting what you say online, and some may be out of your hands. Since you can’t take your business off the grid, the next best thing is to plan your online tactics now to avoid being ambushed later.