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    8 Replies Latest reply on Jun 30, 2008 10:42 AM by Iwrite

    When "Word of Mouth" bites you.

    Iwrite Pioneer
      I have a freelance client who had the unfortunate task of laying off
      some of their staff a few months ago. Nothing special there, a sad
      reality of business, but these are advertising folks, internet
      advertising folks. And it has come back to bite my client bad.

      The former employees have responded to a newspaper blog about the
      lay-offs by keeping the blog alive and growing for over 6 months with
      details of all aspects of the company, working conditions, financial
      well being, management short comings and anything else they feel makes
      this agency a bad place to work.

      This might have died down two or three months in but management made the decision (against my advice) to unleash their PR machine on the blog. The results were horrible - the blog grew in intensity and size. Their actions only fueled the conversation and provided further proof of some of the issues that were being highlighted in the blog. Now, most of the blog was inaccurate or outdated but by responding, they gave the claims some validity.

      Now, clients are becoming aware of the blog. It is tarnishing their reputation not only because of the things on the blog but because of the way they handled themselves. I am having friends in the advertising community call me about it. Potential clients are taking notice.

      Management has finally realized that they should have let this run its course without trying to control or influence the conversation. Things are calming down, but it has been a very costly and painful lesson for them.

      I thought I would share this with the forum as an example of how unpredictable "word of mouth" can be. I believe in it and endorse it as part of a marketing mix but I also want us to understand that there is a negative side to "word of mouth" that can seriously hurt a business.

      "A happy customer will tell a few. An unhappy customer will tell everyone, and tell them repeatedly."

        • Re: When "Word of Mouth" bites you.
          Lighthouse24 Ranger

          If I can add a supplemental lesson (to the valuable one you've shared) for any senior manager in a business that is laying people off . . .

          Own up to fact that you clearly made management mistakes in the past (after all, your business plan didn't project steady growth followed by a layoff, did it?). Explain that a reduction in force is very painful for you, but it's the way you have to pay for those mistakes -- because the only other options are: (a) to make your customers pay for them (by raising prices to cover jobs you don't really have enough work for) or (b) make your most talented and hardest working employees pay for them (by freezing or cutting their wages to cover workers you can do without anyway).

          If management accepts some responsibility, and is honest and caring, the remaining employees, customers, and general public will accept the action (they won't like it or applaud it, but they will allow the business to move forward and recover). If management is arrogant and insensitive, however -- well, as your example noted, things can get worse -- sometimes, a lot worse.
          1 of 1 people found this helpful
            • Re: When "Word of Mouth" bites you.
              Iwrite Pioneer

              There is no defense against the truth.

              For smaller sized businesses, this can be the kiss of death. If an ex-employee has a relationship with current clients or customers the ripple effect can really impact your business. You may not need this employee anymore but you also don't need his/her bad recommendation.

              I am really surprised and impressed by the amount of energy and effort these people are putting forth to address what they feel is a wrong. The power of "word of mouth" is nothing to play with.

              Business owners and managers, you only get one reputation - guard it well.
                • Re: When "Word of Mouth" bites you.
                  ciordia9 Wayfarer
                  I'm reminded of the glass houses metaphor. With the aid of our lovely internet we can finally shed light deep into the darkness of bad companies.

                  If the company in question wanted to do right they would take what they are hearing and amend. Publicly. Vocally. With much humility and love for the future they would show they can change. That change would then be built upon.

                  One thing to know is that bad mouthing a company can flow both ways. If anyone wants to potentially hire these ex-employees they now know (and who doesn't google their new hires now?) they will stop at nothing to trash those they work for. To me they are reducing their own hire-ability because most of the worlds companies have some deep issues in them.

                  In this day and age when someone fires something at you, you must work judo into the picture and use that energy as a catalyst for something positive. If a company can not move that agilely then they will recognize that their bad behaviors and lack of motivations will reap a sorry return and that the stock holders should take seriously.

                  Food for thought,

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              • Re: When "Word of Mouth" bites you.
                gaetang Newbie
                Excellent post IWRITE. I am in the process of writing a marketing text, and I'd like to quote you. How do I contact you to discuss?


                1 of 1 people found this helpful
                • Re: When "Word of Mouth" bites you.
                  Green1 Adventurer
                  This is amazing. My past positions I have always signed a 'confidentiality contract', which included while employed and afterwards. Now I know precisley why.
                  • Re: When "Word of Mouth" bites you.
                    simon07 Wayfarer
                    This is a great thought provoking post. Makes you think about the power of the internet and blogs, online reviews, forums, etc. Word of mouth travels so fast these days through the internet. With the economy at its current state we will probably see more posts like this emerging from workers that have been layed off, or wronged. For the most part when readers see a complaint online I think most people realize that it is just one viewpoint and may take it with a grain of salt. There will always be disgruntled people, complaining...before it used to be via letter or phone for a few folks to know about..and now it's published to the masses instantly online! Power of the internet is amazing.
                      • Re: When "Word of Mouth" bites you.
                        Iwrite Pioneer
                        Two things:

                        1. Confidential agreements don't mean much if you can be unanimous - combining the internet and the press means a company may never discover who is leaking the information. They may have an idea but they cannot force a newspaper to provide the needed information to discover the person identity.
                        2. One person is a disgruntled employee, more than 5 is a problem - this blog I am talking about is up to 265+ comments from various people. The problem for this company is that even those trying to defend them admit that some of the issues are real. It was better to remain silent than to lend any credibility to any portion of their claims. Acknowledging any part of the complaint as true changes everything.
                        Once again, I posted this as a warning - as business owners, our actions have consequences. And the internet gives people the power whether they are employees or former employees or customers or vendors to do some serious damage to your business' reputation. Be care careful and think about how your actions can come back to bite you.