Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Moral of the Story: Don't Mess With Bloggers

So remember my friend Katherine, whom I mentioned yesterday? Shortly after my post about her, she found herself at the center of some drama that, in only a few hours, exploded nationally online. Ah, the power of the Interweb...

Basically, the story goes like this: Katherine's hubby lost his job a while back, and they were approached by this headhunter firm, JL Kirk Associates, offering help. It was a bad experience, one that screamed "scam" in Katherine's opinion, so she did what any normal blogger would do: She came home and wrote about it. Her post got up on the front page of the Google rankings and the purpose was served: provide a first-person account to others who might be considering using this company.

Fast forward a few months and everyone pretty much forgets about it, until a Kirk employee posts a long comment in protest on Kat's blog, complete with some inflammatory/untrue statements about Kat and her husband. So Kat brings the comment to its own new post and responds point for point. Everyone who reads it concludes that this lady was out of line...and promptly forgets about it.

Fast forward a couple of days and then...a certified cease and desist letter, sent to Katherine from JL Kirk's legal eagles. She has three days to take down her blog posts about them or they'll sue.

Cue blogosphere explosion. Cue widespread astonishment at the irony: After a customer complains that a company used bullying tactics, the company responds by...bullying her. Cue complete destruction of JL Kirk Associates' reputation as a company, in less than 24 hours, as bloggers nationwide pick up the story.

Brilliant move, guys. Kat's initial post was probably read by hundreds--at most. But you chose the wrong blogger to pick on: she's very popular, and she's part of the Nashville blog community, one that can be incredibly cohesive, especially in a situation like this. The subsequent fallout has probably already been read by hundreds of thousands--at least. Instapundit picked it up, so it's no longer just a local issue. And do you not understand how the Internet works? Even if Katherine takes the posts down, thanks to Google Cache, they'll never die. Not only that, but your bullying has caused a minor, mostly insignificant story to mushroom all over the Internet, so that people who never would have heard of your company are now reading all this bad press about it--first, her negative experience, and then, how you respond to customer dissatisfaction. Brilliant PR.

What's my point? Ivy's roundup at Home Ec 101 explains what it's all about: "Freedom of speech. The ability to post a bad review of a company without getting bullied by a company and their attorneys." As Katherine herself elaborates in the comments, bringing it home to the Home Ec 101 audience:
I’m a housewife. I’m not a lawyer or a celebrity or anything special. I’m just a housewife. I found a product I didn’t care for and I wrote to tell other people about MY EXPERIENCE of the product. Let’s say it’s a bottle of Wid-Gett Window Cleaner. Would anyone think it was bad of me to post a blog saying “Wid-Gett Window Cleaner didn’t clean my windows well and smells bad to boot”? No. There are blog entries like that all the time. If my blog entry hurt someone’s feelings and they decide to sue me for it, no blog entry containing a negative review of a product is safe.
Blogging is about being able to say what you think. And bloggers don't like bullies. Today I am amazed at the power of the Internet and the way people rally around each other when they sense that something's "just not right." Kinda cool.

Brittney at NIT provides a play-by-play of yesterday's drama
Bill Hobbs with an articulate breakdown of the legal situation and implications
Bob Krumm artfully demonstrates the power of a Google bomb and leaves me laughing out loud
Another of the "big dogs" in the blogosphere explains further why JL Kirk and lawyers have shot themselves in the foot
The QandO blog explains "how to ruin your own business in one easy step"
Newscoma has a comprehensive roundup of all the posts on this to date

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