Is The Internet A Help or a Hindrance to Businesses and Artists?

This is a discussion I’d love to have. Yesterday, Michael Hyatt posted a message about Building a Brand Online. In it, he discussed how a bad business experience can within minutes make it’s way onto the Internet and be read and commented on by thousands. I follow his blog and Twitter feed, so I read through in near real-time his experiences at a Hyatt hotel in Dallas. If not real-time, within a few hours or whatever interval in which I checked my Twitter feeds I knew about it.

Michael Hyatt also discussed how he uses services like Google Alerts to keep tabs on what’s happening with Thomas Nelson or his own name. He can tell when a blogger posts something good or negative about him or his company, and act on it, especially if it’s negative. If it’s bad enough, he can respond personally. If only other company executives would take such an active role in public relations perhaps negative experiences wouldn’t have to wound so deep.

For example, my wife and I will NEVER, EVER, under ANY POSSIBLE CIRCUMSTANCES, buy furniture from Raymore and Flannigan again. Ever, and all because of one bad experience. Of course, that one bad experience had to last for about 6 months. When we got married in 2001, we used some of our wedding money to buy a bedwall from Raymore and Flannigan. I had been wanting a bedwall for several years. When the bedwall was delivered, the deliverymen told us there was a problem with the switch. The bedwall has four lights, and those lights go through a switch. You can turn two or all four lights on. Only two worked. The deliverymen said that they would schedule a service call. We were contacted by a representative and a service call was scheduled for a Saturday, with a window of between 8 AM and 5 PM. The job I worked in had occasional overtime on the weekends, and I was up that weekend. I had to pass up the overtime, so as I looked at it, I was losing money waiting for this service call, which never showed up. We called the service center to complain. The representative didn’t seem very concerned about making us waste an entire Saturday and me losing about $150 in overtime money. She scheduled another service call for another Saturday, same window. Once again, nobody showed up. I called around 2 PM to see if we could still expect a tech, and I was told that he quit. I asked why nobody called to let us know, and was met with apathy. “Who cares? I’m working today” seemed to be the attitude. Once again, I had to pass up overtime and lost money in addition to wasting an entire day.

We tried to schedule another service call, but this time we got a voice mail. We kept calling this voice mail week after week after week. At one point, I called every single day six days in a row and left a message, getting madder and madder each time. For all I know, that voice mail went to an employee who quit. I was ready to drive down to Raymore and Flannigan’s Bellwmar service center to raise hell, but my wife talked me out of it. We eventually gave up, figuring that Raymore and Flannigan had our money and couldn’t care less about any service guarantees they may have made when we bought the darn thing.

My company put me on the swing shift for a large part of that summer, and one night while I was working my wife got the idea to contact R&F’s corporate office. She got on an online chat with a vice president (at least, he said he was) and explained our situation. That week, we were contacted, a service call was arranged, and this time they actually showed up.

I commented on Michael Hyatt’s blog post that when a company does extend some form of compensation, it should be tailored to the customer. Raymore and Flannigan sent us in the mail an invitation to some in-store shopping offer that occurred at 10 PM. This was utterly useless to us, as I was working the swing shift at the time and we had already sworn never to buy from Raymore and Flannigan again. So far, our oath has outlasted any customer service they offer.

I tell that story not to complain (at least, not much) but to try to get a discussion started. In 2001, I had a Nokia cell phone and had never heard of a blog. If I’d had a better online presence, this experience could have been all over the place. Michael Hyatt details a story about a person who had a bad experience with U-Haul, then a good one with Penske. Because of his connectedness online, U-Haul lost a lot of money. Maddox once wrote about a bad experience with Orbitz, and to this day I will not use Orbitz because of the page on his website. Have they lost any money from me? Possibly. (NOTE: Maddox is NSFW: Not Safe For Work. He’s really Not Safe For Children, but I love to read his site.)

I would like to think that if I worked in retail or at a company with an online presence, I would monitor the Internet and try to contain any fires that break out. Sure, there are some people who are professional complainers, who are good at blackmailing companies into giving them free stuff, but there are people who have legitimately been treated badly by a company and it’s representatives, who’s experiences probably should be addressed.

On Michael Hyatt’s blog post, my comment also included one of my frequent references to Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s “Commandment for Making Money”: “become obsessed with meeting people’s needs.” I commented that even if a company did want to build an online presence, if it didn’t follow a philosophy of meeting needs, it would do little good. Many companies seem to operate under the opposite philosophy: that you exist to meet their needs. It is your privilege to be able to conduct business with them. Airlines and banks come to mind with that thought.

Michael Hyatt understands technology, is excited by it, and seems to enjoy it. He was once a Tablet PC user and is now a Mac user, including an iPhone that he uses for business purposes. He’s comfortable posting some details about his life on Twitter, and having people like me as friends on Facebook. Some executives don’t have the level of comfort, and that possibly won’t translate to a good online presence. Some companies do maintain blogs, but because they don’t understand the concept, it seems to be little more than a place to park new marketing brochures.

That’s it for business. Now let’s talk about artists, that is, writers, musicians, and other people who make a living by producing content. My wife has been spending a lot of time reading Stephanie Meyer books. I’ve been asking her to read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover so we can get on the same page and start working together on our finances, but she’s enraptured by those Twilight novels. Let’s see, get out of debt, or read teenage vampire romance novels… Anyway, that came to mind when I saw this post on Lifehacker, which let me to a post on Torrentfreak. Stephanie Meyer had some chapters leak onto the Internet, and canceled the book. Torrentfreak reports that she’s angrier with her fans than with the person who leaked the content, whom she can readily identify.

I’m not sure what I would do if people actually cared about my content. I write for free mostly because that’s the only way for me to write. Actually, since I switched to TypePad, now I’m paying to write online. That’s OK, I do sort of enjoy it and one of my goals for blogging is to improve my written communication ability and to improve my ability to defend my ideas (or be graciously corrected) through the few comments that I get. If my livelihood depended on getting paid for producing content, I have no idea what my opinion would be on people taking and distributing my content, especially without my permission. The Torrentfreak page mentioned that some authors will purposely leak content just to drum up publicity for their work.

I’m willing to be corrected, but I don’t at present see how an author can have things both ways. You can’t have an online presence and expect your work to somehow not break through that presence. I’ve never understood how celebrities can dump on fans anyway. Without the fans, wouldn’t the person be something other than a celebrity? It must be nice to be as rich and famous as Prince, to be able to serve a DCMA takedown notice on a woman who posts a video on YouTube of a toddler dancing to one of his songs. I wish I could make a song
that toddlers would dance to. While we’re on the subject, let’s add music labels to banks and airlines as companies with a "you exist to serve us" business philosophy.

I’ve gone on for about 1500 words. What do you think? Would an online presence be useful to businesses, or should the business work on it’s philosophy of customer service first? Do artists have a right to get THAT upset over content leaking onto the Internet? Should an artist with an online presence expect to have to share content with fans, or should they be encouraged to hold tightly onto everything to squeeze every last dollar possible out of the public? Am I asking the wrong questions?

Let me know what you think.

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