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Update 7/31 2008: This morning I had a comment posted that had good intentions with strong opposing feelings about my post. My opinion of the situation described hasn't changed much and such a passionate comment being posted weeks after the situation has ended further underscores my message. It is extremly important that we learn the importance of transparencly in dealing with online reputation issuese right.
However, this member also called me out for illustrating my point with names of those involved intact. Generally I am fairly sensitive to that, but I missed it here. I would have to agree that my message and the poinant nature of example would still have come through if I would have edited out the names, and thus I apoligize to both parties for any extra unwanted attention due to my using their situation as an example. As my own advice in the column suggests one should do, I've done what I feel is best in correcting my error. I have removed the names from the post.
I passionatly believe in the spirit of DrivingSales... If we all collaberate and learn from one another successes and mistakes we will shorten the learning curve and increase the success of all. It is in that spirit my message stands, but the names of those involved have been removed.
Update 7/18 2008: Since this posting I have had many valuable conversations, on both sides of the fence, about the situation. My objective is to provide valuable information to dealers, not be a gossip column. In that light, and after some continued research, I have some additional insights to share.
1. Dealers, this is an example of how important your online reputation is. Dont dismiss online rating sites and user generated content as only a thorn in your side. When you have negative comments, get involved as early as possible, be transparent and things will get fixed. People have always talked about your business and you have always had a reputation to manage, this is not new. The only difference now is that the conversations last much longer, are on the web so they have greater effect and MOST IMPORTANTLY this gives you a chance to be involved... SO GO GET INVOLVED! Both parties agree with that advice and are great industry examples of it!
2. We have some big fish to fry in this industry, almost every franchise is down in sales. Dealers are struggling all over the country and we are in a volatile political/economic climate. The industry can recover faster and stronger thanks to social technologies and collaborative utilities if we leverage them properly to aggregate best practices and shorten the learning curve for all. The consultant mentioned is 100% behind this and willing to help lead the charge, I now know this even more, first hand. Even if you can't talk with him, read any of his writings, it is impossible to not feel his passion. He is busy traveling and helping dealers, so until the airlines allow blackberries or provide web access on planes (hopefully coming soon) we should all exercise some patience in awaiting responses from him. He is not intentionally avoiding any discussion (that certainly isn't his personality!), in fact, you will begin to see more of both of these experts, each in their own ways.
In this volatile market discipline and focus really sets the winners apart. As dealers, utilize the network of resources around you, build on your strengths and maximize your success. YOU GOTTA LOVE THE CAR BUSINESS!
An Automotive industry blogger and champion for dealers, (we will call him "the blogger") called out a known Trainer/Consultant for breaking some basic rules of e-marketing. It's ironic, because this consultants camp committed some faux pas while e-marketing to dealers while advertising his services about web marketing training. (Yes, I know the irony makes you chuckle.) However, rather than try and fix it the right way, Jim's response was to throw some old school weight around and try to "squash" the voice of the little guy. That worked much better 20 years ago; it doesn't work so well today - especially not on the World Wide Web.
Here's what happened: The Consultants employee got into another social networking site and ripped all the email addresses of potential clients (this network publicly displays the email address of its members, whether they've consented to it or not - something that is against the tenets of DrivingSales) - and blasted them with an email campaign. There were two faux pas:
1) You join networking sites to collaborate with others because you value the relationships. This violated the trust of all the network members by scraping these addresses. Just because this particular network posts them for everyone to see, doesn't mean they are a free for all.
2) This part is ironic, and somewhat comical: The email was to market his upcoming seminar to teach dealers "how to e-market" and other online skills like social networking. In doing so, the consultant not only violated one of the most basic tenets of networking, which is to trust and respect your peers, but the mass email sent was not even CAN-SPAM compliant! One of the most important components to the CAN-SPAM Act is that marketers supply an easy - preferably one-click - opt out method as well as a physical address at the bottom of the page - both which were missing in this email! (You've got to admit, the irony is amusing.)
The untiring blogger, Web 2.0 evangelist, and social networker, saw the irony in the email and wanted to write a post about it. Before posting to his blog, he left messages and sent emails to both the consultants who were training at the seminar.
1) Consultant 1 called the blogger right back, told him he apologized for the violation of trust on the network, assured the blogger he had no knowledge this was going on and would work to ensure it didn't happen again. The blogger called me as soon as they hung up the phone and said, "That Consultant is a great guy, he is a really genuine. It was a mishap, and he said he won't let it happen again." Yes, the blogger actually respects this consultant more, not less through the incident!
2)Consultant 2, on the other hand, has not responded to the blogger, nor returned messages or emails... nothing. Rather, he took the old school route. His secretary advised the blogger on the phone to watch his step with his comments, eluding to the consultants relationship with the bloggers dealer principal. If that message wasn't enough, Consultant 2 emailed the boss ... yeah... he actually did it... and the blogger was called into the "principal's office" to be reprimanded! I'm assuming this consultant hasn't heard of The Streisand effect, or he wouldn't be trying to censor the message through such old school techniques. I don't know the content of this consultants email to the dealer, nor the meeting between the blogger and his boss, but the intent is clear. (As I write this, the blogger is still employed and standing by his posting)
Thanks to technology, the world is too small for these old school bully tactics. Actually, the world was too small before; people just got away with it. True "Masters of eCommerce" have been preaching transparency for some time now; it's nothing new - and it's hard to hide on the Internet. How are you going to handle it when a customer gives your dealership a bad review because there was a legitimate hiccup at the store? Are you going to lash out at them, threaten them, publicly or in private? If you're smart and progressive - I don't think so. That would generate more negative publicity for you and your store than you could ever imagine. The correct answer is simply to respond and say, "Sorry, I goofed and I'll fix it. I want to make it right." Is that too hard? Nobody's perfect, we all screw up. It's how you handle the screw ups that makes you a winner or a loser. And with the rapid pace of change in our high tech world, everyone is learning lessons a lot faster these days - hopefully, especially, e-Marketing Masters.
The consultant in the situation has done some great things for dealers in the "old school" environment, and is transforming his business to help dealers in the online arena. He will continue to have a positive effect. Despite his relentless attacks on anything he doesn't like (including the Internet), his motivation, even if misguided, was always to stand up for those on the front lines. I'm disappointed, however, that this time when he was wrong he didn't stand up for the guy on the front line - it appears he went at him. With web marketing, we can all make some mistakes, but when you do - stand tall, be transparent, and pull out all the stops to make it right for your audience.