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Reputation Management: How Suze Orman Jeopardized Hers

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:

At Planting Money Seeds
At Free From Broke
At Hi That’s My Bike

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).

RESPECT

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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17 Responses to “Reputation Management: How Suze Orman Jeopardized Hers”

  1. emory @ clickfire (11 comments) Says:

    I’m really surprised to see her reaction. Charlie Sheen might be the only figure who could get away with personal attacks. I wonder if it was actually Orman behind the tweet or an intern.

  2. Tom Shivers (11 comments) Says:

    Great points on properly managing disagreements in social media. The Internet is too powerful for the rich and famous when it comes to managing their reputation. Every one of them would be foolish to not have an online PR advisor.

  3. Renee (1 comments) Says:

    Excellent study in what not to do – name-calling doesn’t work. I would argue that you don’t even need a PR consultant to tell you to take the high road and be civil. I hadn’t heard of her pre-paid card until this dust-up. I guess she did get some publicity for the card, but probably not the kind she wanted.

  4. David Leonhardt (122 comments) Says:

    Renee. That is so true. You don’t need a PR consultant to teach a person good character.

    If you subscribe to the “any publicity is good publicity” philosophy, I guess she would be happy. And if the PF bloggers had gotten into calling her names, perhaps it could even have been good for her in some way. But since each blogger focused his/her attention on what they saw as the weaknesses or even tragedies of the card itself, I cannot see how negative press like that could in the slightest way be a positive thing for her.

  5. Betsy (1 comments) Says:

    Its sad to read the replys that Suze gave on Twitter. Suze should have acted professionally, especially to her peers that may have once respected her. She acted like a bully, and I’m sure that her new show America’s Money Class with Suze Orman, which just recently aired on the OWN channel will affect her ratings. In my opinion, I think her EGO (“Edging God Out,” which I learned while watching th OWN channel) got in the way. Her behavior doesn’t seem like the right match for the OWN network. I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when you take it personally, it can affect your reputation.

  6. Turner Harriot (1 comments) Says:

    I can’t blame Suze. Emotions run deep and before you know it we all get to see something we typically wish we could do over. Suze is no different than a lot of high profile and no profile people. I can almost guarantee that Suze’s response put her in a place that was reactionary and defensive – she was out of control and didn’t know how to get it back. No excuses for her or anyone else. When you’re in public behave yourself, even if it means biting your lip or go home :)

    I wish Suze had read this, it would have possibly saved her the headache. http://www.reputationsquawkbox.com/2012/01/why-filing-a-rebuttal-online-could-be-the-worst-thing-you-do-to-your-reputation/

  7. Innes (1 comments) Says:

    This is sad to see this happened. She has let herself down here in my opinion and it will be something of a challenge to now underwrite all the damage that has been done.

  8. Glen Craig (1 comments) Says:

    Her reaction to the criticisms was shocking to say the least. She really could have taken any number of better routes to defend herself and the product. My way or the highway just isn’t a good way to speak to the masses, not if you think they are intelligent.

    She’s lost a fan in me.

  9. Vaughn Ripley (1 comments) Says:

    Boy is this a great article. It shows just how important communication can be. I try to be very aware of all online conversations even email, because it is permanent and might come back to bite me. That said, I’m also a firm believer in the Golden Rule and try to never do or say something to others that I wouldn’t want said to me. Thank you for the great information with a great example of how things can go so wrong!

  10. Michael (1 comments) Says:

    This is classic not only offline, but you see this exact thing on the Internet with the Gurus. Most people earn some status and next they will try to earn cash from their followers. I wouldn’t want to believe Suze was doing anything like this, but with all the proof I only have to agree with your post.

  11. Matt Hamilton (1 comments) Says:

    Hi David, just stumbled onto your blog and enjoying the articles, thanks!

    I agree with most of the comments on this one, a lot of people still seem to think that saying things online is different than real life in some way. The best advice I always give to clients about social media is pretend you are saying everything face to face with clients and everyone can hear you.

  12. Jayne Kopp (4 comments) Says:

    Hi David. Definitely a case of mouth in high gear and brain in neutral. No matter how ticked off you might be you can’t go spouting off without looking bad. Do that on Social Media, especially and you look worse. A well known ‘celeb’ so to speak on Social Media spouting off can certainly damage a reputation.

    I dont think her profiting from the card would have damaged her reputation nearly as much as she damaged her own.

    Interesting post. Thanks for sharing.

    Jayne

  13. Steve Nicholas (1 comments) Says:

    Great post, David! I am a fairly regular watcher of The Suze Orman Show and I have read two or three of her books. I am surprised all around about this whole thing. For one, I didn’t think that she would get behind something like this, and it is disappointing. Second, either her or the person who handles her Twitter account (they may be one in the same, but you just never know sometimes) definitely messed up the damage control on this one. If she did have an assistant handle her account, it was at least good to see her not throw the assistant under the bus, as some are eager to do when this happens. (I do think that, regardless of whether you wrote it or not, you do bear personal responsibility for things that go out in your name.)

    I personally would see this as a mark against her reputation, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that decades of good work is wiped out in one Twitter flame-off. Still, it reminds me what one of the sports radio personalities said about Twitter: too many celebrities just get in trouble with Twitter, and they really shouldn’t be on it.

  14. Versatile Blogger Award - Peer Recognition and Relationship Building for Bloggers Says:

    [...] DAVID LEONHARDT — SEO Writer ~ Although I’ve read articles by David on his other sites, I just came across this one within the past few days. True to form, he’s on top of issues that matter. Great Article: Reputation Management: How Suze Orman Jeopardized Her’s [...]

  15. Ariel (1 comments) Says:

    great post! suze orman needs to worry less about finances and more about damage control. enjoyable to read! thanks!

  16. Mitch Mitchell (7 comments) Says:

    That’s just amazing David. First the pitch (turns out there was another pitch in her book as well), then her reaction on Twitter. I also read that she then was on a show two days after apologizing on Twitter where she called a guy who did an analysis of her card an idiot once more. As someone who has warned people about debit card fees, she should be ashamed of herself.

  17. Reputation Management: How Suze Orman Jeopardized Hers | Clixto7 Says:

    [...] Management: How Suze Orman Jeopardized HersPublished March 12, 2012 | By Robot Reputation Management: How Suze Orman Jeopardized Hers was written by David Leonhardt, THGM professional SEO [...]

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