The Entrepreneur and Internet Flamers

Social media has many advantages for the entrepreneur. It’s a cost-effective way to reach large numbers of potential customers and can be a key element in building a brand. Online stores can be a huge advantage to sellers who wish to bypass the traditional bricks and mortar channels. However, there is a dark side to the Internet and entrepreneurs must be ever mindful of how it can rear up and bite us at any given moment.

We experienced the “dark side” on a small rural apartment community. Our maintenance technician had a serious health issue that took him out of action. After several weeks he informed us that he would not be able to return to work. During his absence, we were covering the property with a maintenance technician from a property in another town, 42 miles away. The on-site property manager was also located in another town and traveled between three properties within this 42-mile radius. Unfortunately, there were some maintenance items that were slow to be resolved as well as a lack of adequate communications with the residents. There’s no question, we dropped the ball with these issues.

One day while visiting my LinkedIn page, I noticed that a woman had “flamed” me and our company. Apparently, she was the daughter of one of the residents of the apartment property previously mentioned. She made several allegations in her post that were incorrect. Threats were made to contact the state housing agency. But here’s the kicker. Never once did she attempt to reach out directly to me and make me aware of the issues. Instead she simply offered her inflammatory post for all to see. Several individuals (they must have been her LinkedIn connections) jumped on the bandwagon. One person wrote, “horrible.” Another wrote, “What a disgrace!” Still another posted, “Just awful! I hope this post results in his immediate actions and corrections.”

I posted a brief explanation of the situation along with a full apology for what had transpired. I tip my hat to one individual who wrote, “Before you plastered this on this Internet, have you contacted Lee Harris directly? The man has had this business for 44 years . . . hard to believe there isn’t a back story to these issues.” I am most appreciative that this gentleman offered this comment. While the mob mentality was in full mode, at least there was a single voice of reason.

The danger of social media is quite evident in this experience. The daughter of our resident decided for reasons unknown, that she would rather attempt to shame (and flame) us on LinkedIn than to contact me directly. She published inaccurate (and untrue) information on a public forum. She found my LinkedIn page and could easily have called or e-mailed me – but didn’t take that approach. She posted a follow-up response to a comment from one of her connections, “We are now able to articulate the issues and have a direct line with the company – and will be working to create true delivery on brand promises.” Does that seem a little bit smug to you? She could have articulated the issues and had the same direct line with the company had she picked up the phone and called me.

As entrepreneurs, we understand that there are people who literally live their lives on social media. They share everything – large and small – that they encounter. Our businesses are now fishbowls more than ever before. We’ve had people write lousy Google reviews that were well-deserved and correct. And we’ve had disgruntled residents who have been evicted, and team members who were terminated, write ugly reviews posing as upstanding victims. Whether it’s Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or any of the other social media platforms, there is always a mob ready to pounce and shriek about the purported injustices that are being posted. I wish this wasn’t the way of the world, but it’s a condition we must live with.

Here’s what I have learned. There’s no point in trying to rebut a flamer. A calm response that offers a sincere apology is the most appropriate course of action. Hopefully someone will speak up as a counter to the mob. Most importantly, we must make certain that we are always delivering the highest quality products and services as possible.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Quicksand

It’s time for a touchy subject. I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time and have been very reluctant to take the plunge. But as time has passed I feel obliged to weigh-in. The subject is politics. Don’t worry – I’m not taking sides here. Instead I’d like to pass along some observations that I hope will be thought-provoking.

For starters I think we can agree that society has become polarized to an extent never seen before in our lifetimes. It used to be that certain political figures were despised. Now this hatred extends to those who support the politicians. The media and especially social media are ablaze with inflammatory rhetoric and shrill commentary – all of which spans the political spectrum. Echo chambers have emerged with like-minded people egging each other on. Here are my basic questions. Exactly what is this accomplishing? What problem is actually being solved? Is the conversation (if we can call it that) lessening the polarization that we are witnessing?

For entrepreneurs (and others too) this is quicksand territory. When we spew forth on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or some other platform we run the risk of alienating others – that’s obvious. I’ve heard a lot of talk about “being unafraid to speak up for our values and principles.” OK, fine. But to what end? Do our customers want to do more business with us because of our public proclamations? How does this affect our team members? And what about our friends? I made the decision long ago not to participate in political dialogue on public forums. Those who know me well are certainly aware of my political leanings. But the last thing I want is for my persona to be wrapped in political packaging.

A number of high profile CEOs and entrepreneurs have chosen recently to make political statements. In one instance a business leader purportedly said that team members who supported a certain political candidate weren’t welcome in his company. In other cases customers have supposedly been told that their patronage is not desired if they subscribe to a specific ideology. Without judging the merits of this discourse, I simply wonder what is to be gained by such messaging.

I’m the last person to subscribe to political correctness as a reason for raising this issue. And it goes beyond angering customers and team members. What’s really at stake is the health and well-being of our society. The polarization path we are on is not in our mutual best interest. The notion that anti-anything or anyone is productive is puzzling. We need positive energy to advance our entrepreneurial endeavors. And we certainly need positive energy as human beings to live vibrant and fulfilling lives. I submit that handwringing and negative social media posts do nothing to achieve that which we desire.

Part of the polarization problem we are experiencing may stem from the tribalistic nature of our society. There’s a lot of talk about open-mindedness but the fact that many of us function within monolithic “tribes” prevents a diversity of ideas and a true desire to gain understanding of other perspectives. This is not a condemnation but merely an observation.

What has been happening in this politically charged environment is a wake-up call for me. Rather than join the fray and “one-up” the argument, I am choosing to measure my words and actions against a standard of positivity and productivity. I’ll stand up for my principles in the voting booth and with my checkbook. My public conversations are about how I can serve and help others meet their needs and find success. I am striving for my customer and team members to see me as a positive force in their lives. I want to be for something rather than against. My brand of entrepreneurship is politics-free.

We need to work together to end the polarization in our society. We can start by taking a positive stance on social media and in our other public dealings.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 38 – Reality Superstar.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

quicksand

Social Club

Question: Do you have any thoughts on how social media should be used by entrepreneurs?

Answer: Social media offers great opportunities and great pitfalls. As entrepreneurs we need to be sure that we are using it wisely. There’s a certain etiquette to be considered by everyone, but especially by entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, social media tends to create a “behind the locked screen door” perception. Some of us may remember being chased home from school by a bully. We’d run into the house and lock the screen door behind us. Feeling secure, some of us might taunt the bully forgetting what would happen to us the next day. Facebook, Twitter and some of the other forms of social media cause some of us to let go of our inhibitions and say things that we might not otherwise say in a room full of people.

I enjoy reading about my friends on Facebook – particularly those with whom I grew up. It’s a wonderful way to stay in touch with people we might otherwise never see or hear from. I really haven’t figured out the point of Twitter. That’s not a condemnation but a statement of true bafflement. I see it used a lot to give quick updates on what people are doing or a thought they might wish to share. LinkedIn is a terrific tool for connecting with business people. I use it extensively every day to research people with whom I’m going to meet or do business. I’ve never used Google Plus+. The top five social media sites are Facebook with 800 million users; Twitter with 250 million; LinkedIn with 200 million; Google Plus+ with 150 million, and Pinterest with 140.5 million (as of January 2014).

Here are some thoughts about how we entrepreneurs might remember when we’re using social media.

  1. Post only those photos, thoughts and updates that you would be willing to share in person with every one – especially your mother and your minister!
  2. When using a business site like LinkedIn, include extensive information about yourself in your profile. A half-hearted profile doesn’t do you much good. Remember that the purpose of LinkedIn is to help you do more business. Showcase yourself, your accomplishments and your skills.
  3. Keep your public comments and posts positive. We all know people who we come to expect that their posts will generally have a negative tone.
  4. It’s worth keeping in mind the fact that social media sites are very public and there are millions of eyes that are watching. Many companies look at social media sites when hiring new employees. Others will conduct searches when preparing to do business with an entrepreneur or an employee of a company. I’m aware of numerous instances where Twitter and Facebook posts have prevented people from being hired or being able to do business with a particular company.

Social media is fun and informative. As entrepreneurs we should use it in a most positive manner. In so doing, we’ll reap all of the benefits and suffer none of the downsides.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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