What Mike Grehan of SES Incisive Media Should have said

Yesterday I thought I would start 2011 hitting the ground running and start blogging again.

Little did I know that I would incur the wrath of the Vice President of one of the biggest publishers and conference providers of the SEO industry.

When I wrote a few lines of my experience of SES London a couple of years ago within my post about Which SEO Conference should I go to. I didn’t think for one minute I would get such a histrionic response from such a high up executive from one of the largest B2B publishers that is Incisive Media

Indeed, as Mike pointed out in his comment quite clearly, he is the Vice President of Global Content which seems to cover leading industry websites such as SES Conference Expo, Search Engine Watch and ClickZ. Making Mike one of the most powerful movers and shakers in the SEO world.

In contrast, I’m very tiny, smaller than a “tiny grain of salt”, which Mike said is how my post should be taken. Although I run a small but highly effective link building agency and am very good at what I do, I do not have the power and connections which the Vice President of Global Content at Incisive media has.

So it was to my surprise that such a high ranking company executive would come to my humble blog to rant and rave about how insignificant I was. Fortunately I have an Elephantine thick skin and such school yard nonsense rolls like a water off a ducks back. In fact, I found his bombastic comment to be highly amusing.

But something niggled.

What if I wasn’t so dismissive of such boorish behaviour? What if I didn’t have a thick skin? And then I realised that Mike was actually displaying classic bullying tactics. Not that I felt in the slightest way bullied at the time, it really was and is a storm in a teacup. But, when you wield so much power in the industry you need to behave a little different than if you were in a World of Warcraft chat room.

Another blogger may have been quite intimidated at such comment, which resulted from mild criticism of an SEO conference which happened two years ago.

And that is what niggled.

I don’t like bullies.

I don’t like people who throw their weight around and get on their high horse to gob on the little people. Because other more sensitive bloggers are going to read this and think twice when giving a negative, but honest opinion of an SES conferences. You hardly want Mike and his gang turning up in your comments with verbal baseball bats if you are a meek and mild waif from Chipping Sodbury.

Apparently Mike does have previous form for this kind of behaviour, when I tweeted about this yesterday a few people DM’d me with juicy stories.

Which I’m saving for a future post.

And that is the point.

Social media has created a new playing field.

Gone are the times when powerful executives can instantly silence critics with a few aggressive words.

It’s changed the dynamic of reputation management.

What’s important about this is not how I feel, who gives a toss, right. But how quickly a brand can be tarnished with the erratic behaviour of one of its representatives. Not that I feel that Incisives’ brand has been tarnished. It’s far too big and powerful a corporation for that.

But, what gets posted on the Internet, stays on the Internet.

Such negative outbursts can have a drip drip effect on your brand. Although I doubt anyone took my comments that seriously. They were after all one persons view of London SES and ironically I think SES London does a fine job of putting on a conference and has some great speakers. I simply wished that more of the speakers of the conference I went to were British and less of them American, which for some people seemed to be an heretical opinion.

After that first post on my views of the conference I was half expecting to get the, “after we saved your asses in World War 2 you should be grateful.”

And of course this comes after the Gulf disaster when millions of gallons of British Oil became polluted with American shrimp.

For those who didn’t get it, the above two sentences were ironic and not meant to be taken seriously.

But the problem remains, how do you respond to negative criticism of your product, service or brand online.

This leads me to the headline of this post.

What Mike Should have said.

He should have said something like,

“Whilst I respect your right as a attendee of SES London to express your full and frank opinion I absolutely and utterly disagree with your characterisation of what you experienced. Whilst it may be true you saw what you saw, the majority of the conference attendees found the overall experience of London SES to be useful, interesting, and well worth the admittance price. We value every attendee who visits our conferences and attempt to deliver the best possible conference experience we can muster.

Please accept our apologies for any deficiency in our desire to deliver the best SEO conference experience London can get and give us another chance to show you how good we are. To this end I am sending you two free passes to a show of your choice.”

Can you see the difference between that and, “I recommend that any reader of your post take it with the tiny grain of salt it’s hardly even worth.” Which is part of the comment which was left.

When dealing with a critic never get personal, it’s silly and will make your organisation look shabby and purile.

It’s simply a case of being:

  • Courteous
  • Firm
  • Clear
  • Professional
  • Open to all criticism
  • Expressing a desire to deliver amazing customer service
  • Valuing all opinion (even when it’s from a numpty like me)

If you have mission statement of striving for customer excellence, then make sure it’s known.

Absolutely confront your critics and even post on their blog, but the aim is to negate further negative comments and ultimately turn the critic into a raving fan.

By using social media you can quickly and effectively nip in the bud any tarnishing of your brand, but it has to be handled in a specific way and not like your some drunken gob-shite in a bar room brawl.

A few people may respect you if you come over like a rabid fan at a cage fighting expo, and indeed the tone of my blog can be that of a scabrous old hag who nips away at its targets with the one snaggled tooth left in her head. But, that’s this blog. I don’t represent a huge publishing corporation.

If anyone thinks, “who the hell are you to be gobbing off with your manky old blog?” You are probably right, I am but a humble blogger who has a very small, but highly effective link building agency. This blog is absolutely a skanky example of someone who does not have the time nor inclination to update the design or properly implement SEO on it.

But I feel I don’t really need to.

I have no problem with being honest about my own and my blogs failings. What’s important to me and I think to a lot of people is credibility and authenticity.

The immediacy and hard light of social media enables us to sniff out the bullshitters. You can actually get quite far in life by bullshitting and crawling up the odd arseole, but I don’t have the skill set for that.

So I simply have to rely on telling it how it is and hoping people take it on face value. Of course I am not naive to believe that you can’t get somewhere in life by not greasing the tracks, one has to only cast a quick gaze and the sycophancy and cliques that inhabit the SEO world to see that it helps. As it does in any other sector, it’s human nature to gravitate to people who share similar opinions and who only say nice things about you.

But, nepotistic behaviour exists to negate excellence.

And people do notice.

Now, some may say I am simply going to “lose friends and alienate people”, as Mike mentioned in his comment. I am not sure if he is saying,” be friendly towards me and don’t alienate me and I will give you goodies”, which appears to be the subtext of what he is saying.

And indeed, I do seem to be getting out the can of petrol and burning bridges, which will probably get banned from SES or at least never invited to speak at SES London.
But, is that really who it works? I would have thought people were chosen on their ability to deliver a highly rewarding and interesting presentation than on their ability to kiss ass and make friends. Isn’t that how a great conference experience is created.

If I’m told, “well you really are a crappy presenter and know nothing of what you speak about”. Which is a point that some may agree with, although I have spoken at a number of SEO conferences such as SMX London,twice, plus I gave a one and a half hour training sessions on social media at SMX, also presented at A4u and SASCON and been invited to hold numerous social media and link building training workshops.

So, I’m not really worried in that side of my ability. But I guess I am not going to win the kiss ass of the year award.

I have written quite a few words on this subject, mainly because reputation management is crucial in this “instant publish” world of social media we live in and I hope I have highlighted and interesting case study on how not to behave when you feel you are under attack.

Mikes’ comment did raise a number of issues that are quite interesting and need to be explored. So in the next few days I will be regularly posting regarding this subject and as London SES is coming up, highly topical.

To be clear, please don’t let this post affect your decision to go to London SES or any other conference. My reaction is simply about the way my view was handled. It’s a great SEO conference and a lot of respected people speak there and share good stuff. It can be a highly valuable experience and a great networking experience and as I said in my post, the good stuff gets talked about in the bar afterwards as the presentations tend to give away knowledge you can pick up on blogs, which I hardly think is a revelation.

But, who has time to read SEO blogs?

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