This is the story of how NOT to manage your reputation online, following Suze Orman’s mess last week.
If you don’t know who Suze Orman is, she is (was?) one of the most respected personal finance gurus around.
And if you missed the “mess”, it started out innocently enough. Suze Orman released an “Approved” pre-paid debit card. It was a big publicity moment for her, and should have resulted in accolades and sunshine.
But something went terribly wrong.
Without going too deep into financial details, a pre-paid debit card can be a very useful tool for certain situations, and this card compares favourably to similar card, according to many analysts. But many personal finance bloggers were “shocked” and “surprised” that Suze Orman would be recommending a card like this at all, pointing out numerous less-costly alternatives. (If you wish to read more on the details from a financial perspective, there is a good round-up of related posts at Credit Cards Canada’s overview of the issue, but here are three of my favourites:
And so the PR war begins.
And here the lesson begins.
Because Suze Orman struck back. Hard. And used some harsh language. She took on her challengers and called them names. The personal finance blogosphere is well-connected. They all read each others’ blogs and comment on them and follow each other on Twitter. If you check out any of the links I posted above, you will see what I mean.
And so, Twitter got real messy. These images are among those shared by Briana at 20 And Engaged.
You know she blew it. I am not saying that she no longer has any respect, but she sure lost a lot of it last week among a very important audience. What lessons can we learn from this?
DON’T GET PERSONAL.
What really set things off was when she called one well-respected blogger an “Idiot”. The rest of the personal finance bloggers circled wagons, especially because they had the same concerns about this whole Suze Orman Approved Card thing as the “Idiot” did.
To their credit, most of the bloggers kept it above the belt, and spent the rest of the week giving their analysis of the card itself and of pre-paid debit cards in general. In other words, they stuck to the issue, which is what Suze should have done. Did she really have a good product or was she just fleecing her starry-eyed followers?
STICK TO SUBSTANCE.
None of the bloggers (to the best of my knowledge) accused Suze of malice, and yet the whole affair left one feeling like she was trying to cash in on her celebrity status, misusing the trust her followers had placed in her and picking their pockets. All because of how she reacted, by throwing back insults rather than responding to the concerns and correcting misperceptions.
Instead of getting out her side of the story, she went off message (yes, this is sooooo like a political campaign screw-up).
OK, so let’s suppose you are really angry at somebody? Do you punch them in the face? Do you tell them to “Got to Hell!”. Do you call them an idiot? Of course not. No matter how angry you might be at the moment, you don’t want to burn bridges for things you will want to do in the future.
Social media is social. And it is amplified. It would be bad enough if Suze Orman had called a blogger an idiot in private. But she did it in public, in front of all her Twitter followers and, more importantly, in front of dozens – maybe even hundreds – of personal finance bloggers.
This showed at best pathetic judgment and at worst a mean and nasty streak.
Interestingly, a number of personal finance bloggers I know made comments to the effect of “I hope that was just some PR advisors that wrote those tweets, and not her.” I have my doubts. The first thing a PR person would advise her would be to stick to the issues, don’t get personal and don’t burn bridges. She did apologize later in the week, which sounds to me like she finally did get some PR advice.
If was her PR advisor, I would have tweeted back to the skeptics that they are missing the key point, and I would make that point. I would contact the blogger off-Twitter and request permission to provide a guest post – not to rebut his argument, but to explain why the card is indeed a good deal and why it is a step forward and look at all the good that can come out of it. He worst that can happen is a “No”…which would be far better than the huge loss of esteem she suffered last week. And the best would have been another platform to get her message out and at least to some degree neutralize the criticism that had been made.
By way of a wrap up, I came away with the impression that Suze Orman really does want to do something big with credit scores (which might be good), but could not resist the chance to make some nice cash from her followers. The combination of feeling righteous because she believes she is doing something positive and defensiveness due to guilt of having stepped over a line would explain her reactions.
But you and I will never know the truth behind all of this. We will only know what impression we are left with. Which is why online reputation management is so critical.
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