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.

Mom Was a Genius

There’s sure a lot of noise in the world these days. Unfortunately, much of the noise is angry. Social media eruptions occur continuously. People attack each other as human beings – maybe more so than they argue ideas with which they disagree. Twitter, Facebook, e-mails and text messages can be toxic and dripping with vitriol. And once a meme goes viral the crowd frenzy snowballs with everyone piling on. It’s no wonder that stress levels are high, and unhappiness has reached similar proportions. This is a dangerous environment for entrepreneurs (and everyone else for that matter).

I find it interesting that when those who yell the loudest find themselves in a room, one-on-one with someone who is their target, their demeanor changes. Suddenly there is a living and breathing individual – much like themselves – sitting across the table in a face-to-face setting. For some reason the bellicosity and histrionics melt away. One-on-one, civility emerges, and a rational conversation may occur. I call this the “talking tough behind the locked screen door” syndrome. Many people seem to be less inhibited when they aren’t having to personally interact with the individual with whom they disagree. They are easily triggered and react instantly and in an amplified manner. The one-dimensional aspect of communicating in a written format seems to be emboldening. Add the mob mentality to the equation and it quickly becomes a powder keg that could explode (and often does) without any notice.

As a youngster growing up my mother had a simple technique for dealing with anger. I’ll bet your mother used the same technique. When I got spun up about something and was ready to lash out, she would say, “Lee, count slowly to ten.” Most of the time it worked. By the time I reached ten, my frustration had defused somewhat, and I was becoming calmer and more rational. My mom was a genius back in the day! Either mothers today aren’t teaching the 10-Count Rule, or it’s been forgotten.

As an entrepreneur here’s something I’ve learned. I don’t enter into any discussion on social media that could become contentious. There’s nothing whatsoever to be gained and I’m not going to change anyone’s mind utilizing this format. I also have learned not to engage via e-mail in subject matter that could result in conflict. Think about it. We receive an e-mail – perhaps from an external source – that we may perceive as accusatory. Our immediate impulse may be to fire off a response that is defensive and lobs a few grenades in the other direction as well. We are indignant that someone attacked us in an e-mail, and we are going to fight back and “win” the argument with our prose. But does this really work? Are we changing minds or are we simply contributing to the entrenchment of each other’s positions?

The minute I smell conflict in a written communication, I typically short-circuit it with a face-to-face conversation (most preferable); a video call (next most preferable) or a phone call (least preferable). I like to be physically present for the ensuing conversation so that I can “read” the other person and show authentic empathy. I’m not interested in fighting but seek resolution. I’m not interested in escalation but seek common ground. We still may disagree, but we can do so respectfully and avoid hard feelings.

Even in face-to-face situations there may still be times when tempers flare and personal accusations boil over. This is a perfect time for Mom’s 10-Count Rule. I prefer to let the other person finish their rant and then become still and quiet for a moment (counting to at least 10 in my head). I may say something like, “I hear your frustration and think I understand where we disagree.” But I’m not about to engage in emotional dialogue and will likely ignore the personal attacks. I will speak in a quiet and deliberate voice and review the facts of the situation. Ultimately, we may agree to disagree, but at least I have avoided belittling the other person and making them feel even worse. Some may think that this is manipulation. I think it’s simply the concept of “it takes two to tango,” and I’m not going to be one of the two.

The 10-Count Rule isn’t about knocking the other person out of the argument. Instead it’s about maintaining our composure and self-control to dial back confrontation in order to reach an acceptable resolution for all parties.

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

Disaster to Brilliance

In the old days if a product was lousy it was hard to get the word out to the general public. Short of taking out a full-page ad in the newspaper or standing in front of a store handing out flyers, there really wasn’t an effective way to inform unsuspecting customers about a flawed product or terrible service. Social media has changed all of that in a good way for the most part.

Do you ever read online product reviews? Smart companies give customers the chance to rate a product or service and write a short statement about their experience. And smart companies constantly monitor the ratings and reviews and take immediate action to resolve issues as they arise. I don’t know about you, but I have been paying more attention to ratings and reviews when I make purchases on Amazon and in other internet stores. Social media provides entrepreneurs with a terrific opportunity to “up their game” so to speak. Failure to deliver top quality or resolve customer problems can have severe consequences. In an instant the whole world can learn about a bad experience. And when too many bad experiences are chronicled online, an entrepreneur can lose business in a big way.

I purchased a battery-operated handheld drink mixer for use in mixing a supplement I take daily. The device worked quite well for a few weeks. And then it became temperamental and would only work intermittently. Eventually it stopped working altogether. I had tossed the packaging, so I wasn’t sure how to contact the manufacturer. The easiest thing was to simply post a review on the website from which I had purchased the item. I stated that the product was flawed and presented the facts about my experience.

Within 20 minutes of the posting I received an e-mail from the owner of the manufacturer. He expressed genuine concern that I wasn’t satisfied and said he would send me a full refund, send a replacement product or provide tips on how I could get the unit to work properly. Apparently my issue was fairly common and the fix was relatively simple. I liked the mixer and told him I’d take him up on his tips which he quickly sent to me. He also reminded me that his product had a lifetime warranty. I was able to use his tips to get the mixer working properly and have been able to keep it running ever since. I quickly wrote an updated review congratulating this gentleman on his customer focus and endorsed his product.

This entrepreneur did it right. He smartly monitored his reviews. When he saw a negative one he quickly reached out to his customer with the singular objective of doing whatever it took to make the customer (me) happy. There was never any hint of defensiveness in his responses. His lifetime guarantee is impressive. What he did was turn a potential disaster (bad review) into a stroke of brilliance by getting a positive re-write of my review – by the way, he never suggested that I do this. Better yet, the way I re-wrote the review recounted my initial dissatisfaction and all that the owner did to resolve my issue. Potential customers reading my review should take comfort in knowing that this entrepreneur stands behind his product and only wants his customers to be totally satisfied.

No matter how hard we try, things can go wrong. Stuff breaks. Customers can be cranky. Social media has created an environment where we are very vulnerable as entrepreneurs. Committing to move with lightning speed and doing whatever it takes to ensure total customer satisfaction will help keep us out of the ditch. The Pony Express days of customer service are over. This is as it should be.

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 33 – Swivel Head.

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.

drink-mixer

Hello, Hello?

Question: I’m having trouble getting someone to answer my business e-mails. I’ve thought about sending a text message but wonder if it’s appropriate. Should I do this?

Answer: I would do something else first. Pick up the phone and call the person. I’ve written about this subject before but I believe the message is worth repeating. For some reason we aren’t calling each other as much anymore. This trend is especially prevalent with the millennial generation.

So what is happening to some of the basic forms of communications these days? I still receive a letter occasionally – usually in the form of a PDF document sent to me electronically. Ninety-nine percent of the snail mail I receive is junk that gets tossed. We send massive numbers of e-mails. Text messages are as commonplace as waking up in the morning. We Tweet and we re-Tweet. We send private messages via Facebook and can e-mail through LinkedIn. In other words, it’s easier for us to be in touch 24/7 than ever before. But are we truly in “touch?”

My phone hardly rings anymore. In the mid-80s my company had two full-time receptionists who processed thousands of calls each day. They wrote message slips that we used for returning our calls. Voicemail was not yet fully developed. Today some companies don’t even have a live person answer the phone. An automated attendant handles the function in a very sterile and antiseptic manner. We tried that for a while and realized how much we didn’t like it. Now a live person answers our phone.

I’ve become a champion of Alexander Graham Bell’s invention. It’s not that I have a problem with e-mail or text messages, but I miss the human-to-human personal interaction. All of the modern electronic methods of communications are one-dimensional and lack the ability to convey true feelings. Oh, and what we say (or don’t say) in an e-mail or a text can easily be misconstrued.

Not only have I become a champion of the phone, I’m also a big fan of videoconferencing. When you and I talk, or better yet, when we see each other and talk, the dynamic changes considerably. We can hear voice inflection and read facial expressions and body language. I constantly hear people complain about their e-mails being ignored. We’re at the point where ignoring e-mails may even be excusable when the guilty party throws up his/her hands and says, “I’m sorry. I get 200 e-mails a day and can’t possibly keep up!” Maybe we can all relate. There’s something different about the phone however. Perhaps the etiquette standards are higher. Of course there are people who blow off phone calls too, but I find the percentage to be lower than those ignoring e-mails.

We can improve our chances of building lasting relationships and communicating more effectively when we make that simple phone call. Give me a call sometime. I’d love to chat.

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.

phone talk

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.

social media