Web 2.0 Woes: A Perfect Example!

On Monday, I pointed out that Web 2.0 presents some challenges for sales teams. On Tuesday, I posted what must have seemed a bit of a non sequitur — a rant about the bonehead PR policies at Wiley books. In fact, that second post had a hidden agenda — to smoke out an example of how Web 2.0 can burn you if you don’t know what you’re about.

The PR manager who responded probably thought that he (or she) was fighting fire with fire, using the immediacy of Web 2.0 to respond to criticism in the same forum in which the criticism appeared. In fact, however, respondent was lulled by the convenience of Web 2.0 into dashing off a reply that’s virtually guaranteed to create more bad publicity (like the current post) — and thereby make it even more difficult for Wiley’s sales reps to get pull-through demand.

So that everybody can learn from the experience, let’s look at exactly what the respondent did wrong — and use it to create a set of rules for corporate response to negative blog entries. Here goes:

QUOTE: Dear Reviewer, Just wanted you to know that I read your article and agree, we need to make changes to our webpage. In fact, you should know that we are in the process of creating a brand new, user-friendly website for journalists like yourself and I know you’ll approve.

Rule #1: Address the blogger by name. Calling me “Dear Reviewer” makes the comment look like a form letter. One of the first rules of public relations (even before Web 2.0) is to know the identity and beat of any media contact with whom you communicate. Since my name is at the top of the blog post, this is simple sloppiness on Wiley’s part. Furthermore, I’m not a book reviewer, but a writer who sometimes uses expert sources. That’s clear if you click on my name and read the bio.

Rule #2: Don’t shoot from the hip. The entire comment shows signs of being entered in a state of pique. It lacks any sense of forethought of how it might be perceived by the blogger and by the readers of the blog. The most likely effect of such a slapdash comment is to spur the blogger, in this case me, to continue to focus on Wiley’s PR shortcomings. And that’s exactly the effect that it’s had.

Rule #3: Don’t make foolish assumptions. The respondent “knows” that I’ll approve of their new website design. If I were a bettin’ man, I’d bet that I’ll think the new website is either as bad as the current one or considerably worse. But then I’ve had a few years of hanging around myself, so I know how my mind works. The respondent, on the other hand, knows nothing about me — not even my name — but apparently believes that it’s possible to predict my opinion in advance. And that’s vaguely insulting.

QUOTE: Just wanted to point out some things missing from your story. We get more than 100 book requests a day and publish thousands of books, journals and e-product a year in three divisions with offices around the world. We have a full and global publicity staff who regularly meet and speak to reporters, send them books and set up countless author interviews in all types of media.

Rule #4: Avoid making obviously ignorant remarks. Consider for a second… If Wiley has the money to pay for a “full and global publicity staff” why can’t the company hire a receptionist to handle interview requests? A hundred calls a day is only one call every five minutes in an 8 hour work day. Look, you gotta think these things through before you slap them onto the web for everyone to see. Not everyone draws a blank when you throw numbers out; some people can do the math. As for the term “countless” — that just makes it sound like the publicity group either doesn’t keep records or can’t count.

Rule #5: Don’t create an opening for further criticism. Since the book publishing business is guilty of all sorts of horrible business practices, the last thing that the respondent should do is give me an excuse to rag some more about them. For example, the respondent’s comment give me a perfect opening to ask: Since Wiley has a “full” PR staff, why do Wiley’s editors expect business authors to provide a detailed marketing plan, showing how the author will promote the book? And why do they expect business authors to hire their own publicists? More importantly, why should a savvy business reader depend upon Wiley for content on Sales or Marketing, considering that the company is clearly clueless about PR fundamentals? These are all questions that might have remained unasked, had the respondent thought about the response before slapping it into a comment field.

QUOTE: Back to the website. When we researched the requests that came in over the web last year, we found that more than 75% were folks looking for free books to review on their own websites or to sell on Ebay. Review copies are not handouts and we need to make sure our “not for resale” galleys do not continue to be sold online. We are not the only publisher cracking down on the procedures for comp copies. It’s become a necessary evil as more folks continue to misrepresent themselves online.

Rule #6: Address the real issue. Going off on a tangent just makes you look foolish. What do free copies have to do with my trying to interview an author? I didn’t want a copy of a book. Cripes, I get so many free business books — sent without my asking — that I use them to prop up the cat litter in the bathroom. If there’s a problem with people misrepresenting themselves, the best approach would be to hire a reasonably competent receptionist, who’d be able — with quick Google check — to filter out 99 percent of the BS.

BTW, in order to post this I had to register, wait for an email confirmation and agree to have my name and contact info available to everyone on the web, so I guess business journalists won’t have any trouble finding me now!

Rule #7: Don’t complain about the process. For crying out loud, nobody forced you to respond, so complaining about the process of getting into the community is just plain silly. In any case, the situations aren’t parallel. Asking people who want to join a community to identify themselves only makes sense; building roadblocks that keep reporters from interviewing authors is just plain stupid.

But enough of this. A more important question — from the perspective of using Web 2.0 to help sales — is: How should Wiley have handled the post?

One approach would be to do what Gartner did when I blasted them in a similar manner. They got a former employee to be a sock puppet and respond to my criticisms in a careful manner. That allowed Gartner to retain their dignity and still try to get their message across.

But a much better approach would have been:

Rule #8: Be personable and personal. The absolute best approach would have been to forget the Web 2.0 stuff and call me personally, be so polite that it would make me feel guilty for being such a pill online, and then help me with the problem that spawned the blog entry in the first place. In that case, I probably would have blogged that I misjudged Wiley… and been more likely to use Wiley authors in the future — which would be making things easier for Wiley’s sales reps.

However, handling the problem in that way would have required some PR skills — which are obviously lacking at Wiley. So here’s yet another example of yet another company (Wiley) starting with a seriously broken marketing function — which isn’t serving the needs of the sales team — and then using Web 2.0 (like ill-considered blog comments) to make things even MORE difficult for the long-suffering reps.

That’s sad, but at least it provides a valuable object lesson for the rest of us.



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