Oh Paul Christoforo, what would we have done last week without you?
Twas the week between Christmas and New Year’s. There wasn’t much to read, not much going on other than the whole annoying “real life” thing.
Just when we were nearly reduced to checking out our weird cousin Lenny’s 120-part Facebook timeline of meringue sculpture, we were blessed with a stunning social media fail.
An irresistible account of arrogance, cluelessness, and incompetence described in a post on Penny Arcade — appropriately titled Just Wow.
If you didn’t see it, the post outlines an email exchange between an increasingly frustrated customer and a rude, belligerent company representative who isn’t much of a master of written English.
Now, you’re much too smart to actually act like Christoforo. But even for those who know how to spell both marketing and strategy, there are some lessons to be learned.
Here are my thoughts on five (with a bonus for you):
Lesson 1: There are a lot of stupid, incompetent people calling themselves social media marketing experts
Christoforo billed himself as a social media, SEO, and marketing expert. (His website also says he can handle reputation management for you. I would suggest you not use him for this.)
He sold those skills to the company N-Control, which makes the video game controller that was the subject of that ill-fated customer email exchange.
It’s tempting to think you can completely outsource your customer communication, from support to content to social media relationships … that you can “let someone else think about that.”
And it’s almost always an awful idea.
Which leads quite directly to lesson #2:
Lesson 2: You have to understand the basics
Yes, you can get help with social media. Yes, you might benefit from someone teaching your organization how to improve your real-time communication with customers.
Yes, there actually are some very smart, helpful social media consultants out there.
But you have to know how it works for yourself, so you can tell good advice from terrible advice.
You don’t have to learn how to update your timeline on Facebook or what the heck to use Pinterest for. You don’t necessarily have to know every specific tactic.
You do have to understand the overall strategy.
Hiding behind “I don’t have time to learn about social media” is like hiding behind “I don’t have time to learn how to use the telephone.” Social media is how your customers talk with one another (and with you) about your company.
You need to know enough to set effective policies, to know what to look for in an employee or consultant, and to integrate social media (as well as all the other ways you talk to customers) into your company’s way of doing business.
By the way? All of this goes for SEO as well. There are probably even more incompetent, unethical SEOs out there than there are bad social media consultants. They can destroy your reputation much more quickly than you can rebuild it.
Lesson 3: Oh yes, there is such a thing as bad publicity
Bad stories spread. Horrible stories spread really quickly.
And social media makes it so much easier to spread a juicy horrible story.
People used to say “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Only very foolish people say that now.
Sure, Christoforo now has a Wikipedia page. You can read the full (dusty, dry version) account of the story there. Or you can get juicier versions on any of a dozen other high-ranking blogs.
In none of these does Christoforo sound like a person anyone should hire. For anything.
Dan Kennedy said a long time ago that if your business sucks, great marketing will get the word out really quickly about how wretched you are.
Some people think Dan doesn’t understand the internet, but I think he’s got it in a nutshell there.
Lesson 4: Bad service gets attention
Take a look at your own Facebook account or Twitter stream. On any given day, count how many people complain about a bad business experience.
Pay special attention to what gets people angry enough to start throwing social media mud:
- Uncaring customer service
- Customer service people who don’t know the product
- Customer service people who don’t have the authority to fix problems
- Rude service people
- Condescending service people
- Service people who lie
Notice something missing?
Most of the complaints you’ll find have nothing to do with products. If a product isn’t very good, customers will return it, but they don’t usually complain too bitterly about it.
They start shouting in social media over lousy service much more often than they shout about lousy products.
(Obviously I’m not saying you should have lousy products. But they won’t kill your business as quickly as bad service will.)
The gaming community has grumbled in the past about N-Control not hitting product deadlines, and that’s a challenge their company will need to address. But it wasn’t until a really good rude email “service” experience that the story went viral.
Lesson 5: 9 problems out of 10 can be solved by good manners
Because it was a slow week and because we’re talking about the computer gaming community, which is tightly networked and good at finding things on Google, all sorts of personal details emerged very quickly about Christoforo and his company.
As it so often does on the internet, things got out of hand, with personal information being published not only about Christoforo but also about his family.
No, that is not a cool thing to do, but you can’t count on everyone on the internet being cool. Any time you feel tempted to doubt this fact, go read some comments on YouTube.
If Christoforo had answered his customer’s request with normal good manners, the story would have died quietly. An annoyance, worthy of some twitter griping but basically within the boundaries of things we put up with every day.
Particularly with a small business, customers understand that problems come up. They understand that no one is perfect. And they’re surprisingly willing to forgive.
Treat people kindly and with respect. Good manners will buy you more than a million-dollar ad budget. And they’re free.
Bonus Lesson: If you’re going to be an ass, try not to be too entertaining about it
Social media attention spans are short, and most information addicts have already moved on to whether or not their football team embarrassed themselves this weekend.
But a lot of digital ink got spilled over Christoforo last week. It’s a bummer when hundreds of sites are publishing stories that combine your name with the phrase “train wreck.”
I think about 2/3 of these would have passed on the story as just another troll doing troll-like things if Christoforo hadn’t been using the userid @OceanMarketting. (He then abandoned that identity and grabbed @OceanStratagy instead.)
A social media expert who can’t spell his company’s name correctly in his twitter account. How often do you get to see that?
All of which points to the probable final word about Paul Christoforo.
He’s just too perfect, too magnificent a combination of elements. The bad spelling and insane grammar, the belligerence, the dating profile, the scraped business website content, the remarkable consistency of persona no matter what events unfold.
The words “I couldn’t make this up” come up again and again when people talk about Christoforo.
I’m stealing my friend Maureen’s explanation for that.
We couldn’t make him up — that would take the work of a masterful team of professionals working at the top of their game. Yes, I think Paul Christoforo is a character invented by The Onion.
About the Author: Sonia Simone is co-founder and CMO of Copyblogger Media. Share your favorite social media train wreck stories with her on twitter.