Social Media – Information Moving in Real Time

What do the Cash4Gold Social Media Meltdown and the Belkin Social Media Payola Scandal have in common?  They both CLEARLY illustrate that when it comes to Social Media Marketing – what you don’t know CAN hurt you!

Monday Morning Quarterback- Social Media Edition

Social media is truly the natural result of information moving at the speed of thought.  Even a company with a superbly crafted social media strategy will find itself flying by the seat of it’s pants at times.

There are two paths you can take when managing your online reputation.  You can choose to manage your online reputation in a PROACTIVE manner, which is highly preferable to taking a REACTIVE approach to your online reputation management.

Ideally, you should begin managing your online reputation the moment you launch your business.  That would be the PROACTIVE approach to online reputation management.

Would you rather buy a smoke detector BEFORE you smell smoke – or after?  In the case of Cash4Gold and Belkin – there’s a 4 alarm fire raging and there’s the question of whether the fire can be contained.

When it comes to online reputation management, you can choose whether to be PROACTIVE or REACTIVE!

Because most of what’s been done has been done RE ACTIVELY thus far in the case of both companies mentioned above, any positive blog posts uncovered on either company’s behalf are going to be viewed with suspicion and the keyword auto-tweets are like throwing gasoline on a bonfire.

Long ago, when I was an Account Executive with a regional advertising agency, I had a client who came under a media attack.   My client was flipping out and  my wise mentor and boss, Joan Elias, shared these words of wisdom with me to share with my client:

“When you stir shit – it stinks.”

Shit happens – and when it does – sometimes it’s just best to let it lie.  Eventually, it will “dry out” and stop stinking – but only if you leave it alone!

There comes a time in every reputation management campaign to lie low and let the stink dissipate!

The time for Cash4Gold to begin proactively managing their online reputation was February 2008 – about 6 months after launching the website and before they began actively promoting the business. (see the Compete.com graph below)

(Notice – the graph above seems to “mirror” gasoline prices.  Maybe more advertising wasn’t the answer!)

I’m sure the predominate thinking around the Cash4Gold offices back in the first quarter of ’08 was: “Hey, we’re seeing a real window of opportunity here.  Gold prices are on the rise, gas is nearing $4 a gallon and those Hummer owners are going to want to be unloading their gold chains to support their SUV’s gasoline habit.”

Cash4Gold did some BRILLIANT marketing moves along the way.  One of the best was to make the call to action in their television ads for the viewer to visit their website for more information. This would have been the ideal time to begin “inoculating” their online reputation, not only by implementing basic internet marketing and SEO practices but also by setting up systems to  “track” the conversation online around important keywords.

Had there been such systems in place – the Cockeyed Citizen’s blog would have triggered a “hit” and Cash4Gold could have been there to respond.  (Just as Carbonite responded quickly to my online review of their service on this blog.)

As other blogs picked up the story, other “hits” would have registered and possibly alerted Cash4Gold that a SuperBowl ad buy may not be the smartest investment of capital.

One way to begin creating a positive online reputation would be to actively solicit positive feedback.  For example, when the checks were sent to reimburse customers for their gold, there could be a coupon enclosed which asked happy customers to go to the cash4goldreview.com  website.  “Be sure to let us know how we did there and claim your reward.”   When buyers arrive,  they can “rate” their transaction – eBay style.  When they’re done – there’s an online coupon which can be printed and redeemd during their NEXT Cash4Gold transaction.  A $10 “bonus” on their next transaction of $100 or more could have gone a LONG way to making friends and influencing people’s perception of the company.

Studies have shown when customers are encouraged to write postive reviews – they actually become more active “proponents” of the brand.  A little of this could have gone a LONG way in the case of Cash4Gold.

Let’s say that none of this helps.  Perhaps Cash4Gold deserves their ever deteriorating online reputation.   Let’s say that despite the best proactive efforts – a negative blog posts takes the #2 position on Google.  Now what?

If you EVER find yourself in this position, let me tell you what YOU SHOULD NOT DO!

DO NOT SEND AN EMAIL OFFERING TO BRIBE THE BLOG OWNER TO De-OPTIMIZE THE POST!!!!

Where would Matt Drudge be if he would have taken a Clinton aid up on such a bribe?  Heck, where would BLOGGING be if that had happened?

The Cash4Gold story is the blogosphere’s version of Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket with a winning lottery ticket on the side.

I’m sure Rob’s thinking went along the lines of, “You’re paying six figures for a SuperBowl ad and less than a week beforehand, you’re offering me a measly $3k to make my #2 SERP disappear?”

His next thought HAD to be, “Pinch me – I must be dreaming.”

The bribe ranks right up there with the best of the Dateline: To Catch a Predator moments.  In the land of social media – that was the equivalent of showing up at a child’s home with balloons, candy and sensual massage oil.

“People and businesses alike just don’t get it. This is not a pen and pencil, snail mail, wait until the 5:00 news world. Information moves in real time. ” –  Valerie Johnson

What would you do if you were bribed like this?  Would you take the money?  Would you report the bribe on your blog?

Cash4Gold and the Ensuing Social Media Firestorm

The tale of Cash4Gold SuperBowl ad buy should have been a storybook tale extolling of the value of effective advertising.  The Cash4Gold story could have read, “Business buys SuperBowl ad.  Traffic to website increases 10 fold  and justifies obscene ad cost.”

Instead, the Cash4Gold SuperBowl ad buy is a cautionary tale  which should serve as a warning to any business of how social media will “get you” if you or your business model are less than authentic.

Barry Hurd over at 123 Social Media began telling this tale on February 2nd when he warned in his first post Cash4Gold Superbowl $2.7 Million Online Reputation Nightmare

Chief Marketing Officers beware: before spending a hefty sum of your 2009 budget on having two celebrities do a 30 second Superbowl ad… make sure you clean up your online reputation first!

(Note – read on – because Cash4Gold tried to do exactly that – only they tried to “buy” their way out of the social media muck they found!)  Three days later, Barry continues the story in Cash4Gold – 72 Hours Later, Dugg to Death where he reports:

As of this morning: if you go to Google and do a search for “Cash4Gold” or “Cash 4 Gold” you will find the second search result to be an article titled “10 Confessions Of A Cash4Gold Employee” on the Consumerist. The article talks in-depth about how the Cash4Gold company works behind the scenes (and it is not a glowing review.)

It’s 48 hours after his 2nd post, I did as Barry suggests.  I did a search on Google for the term for “Cash4Gold” (without the hyphens – as “regular” people would do) and found the situation for Cash4Gold’s online reputation is even worse than Barry reported.

When I did my search – I was greeted with a Google Ad for Cash4Gold which reads: “Deal with Refiner – Maximum Payout! Request a FREE Kit. 100% Guarantee.”  Cash4Gold is definitely AWARE of the firestorm and has decided to try yet another way to “buy” themselves out of their continually deteriorating online reputation.

The organic search reveals why they’re having to spend money to get the top listing for their own domain name: the first organic search result which is an article in the LA Times Beneath Cash4Gold’s shiny veneer, a dull reality.

Guess you can’t count on people to skip the news stories and go straight to the the 2nd organic listing for the business name which is the Cash4Gold website so when in doubt, throw more money at the problem and hope it goes away.

Meanwhile, the list of blogs which have picked up the Cash4Gold story continues to grow.  When I did my search – next listing following the Cash4Gold website was an entry over at the blog Cockeyed Citizen: Cash4Gold Will Offer One-Third of the Actual Value for your Gold.

Turns out, this blog post is NOT something new.  Turns out, this blog post has been up for a while and was the first in a two part series written by Rob Cockerham.   According to Rob’s 2nd post, Cash4Gold did go on a “search and destroy” mission to try to clean up their online reputation before the airing of the SuperBowl ad.   Guess it took writing checks to Ed McMahon and MC Hammer, in addition to writing a check for the famously overpriced SuperBowl airtime for the execs at Cash4Gold to do a quick check to see what 30 million SuperBowl viewers might find if/when they did a Google search for the company.

In the 2nd blog post Cash 4 Gold would like to melt down and recast their reputation, Rob not only shares the emails received from Cash4Gold, he also shares the price they were willing to pay him to remove the posts.  It’s really WELL worth the read.

However, the efforts to buy their way out of this by Cash4Gold execs was too little, too late.  Way back in October, a time when no one would have IMAGINED that the Cardinals would be playing in the big game, the blog the Consumerist had already picked up the story and run How To Avoid Getting Ripped Off By Cash4Gold. They then ran a follow up post just before the SuperBowl ad aired in Cash4Gold Offers Blogger $3,000 To Remove Negative Post.

The first comment on the 2nd Consumerist post was by Cheesebubble: “suddenly, i hate everything …and i’m gonna blog about it!”

That, my friends, is the way of the new web.

Tom Volkar was venting the other day about being authentic.  He was authentically pissed off and he wrote:

A well-known social media expert recently tweeted something like this. “Don’t share anything here that you wouldn’t put up on billboards all over town.” Even that pissed me off, because he seemed to be saying, “wear the mask – don’t be real – be careful.” Bullshit to that! I wouldn’t pay to express my anger on a billboard but I’ll not run from it either.

Tom doesn’t have to buy a billboard to vent his anger because he’s got a blog, just as Rob Cockerham doesn’t need a billboard to share his experience with Cash4Gold.

Oh- did I  mention that YOUR customers don’t need to buy ad space either to vent THEIR anger?  This is Web 2.0 and the power is quickly shifting to the people.

Got a business?  Got Social Media Strategy?

I would venture to guess that 20 years ago, the Cash4Gold story never would gotten this big.  The question now isn’t will it get big – it’s how big will it get?

One thing is for certain – this is DEFINITELY bad news if your business model is threatened by the growing transparency of the new web.

Any chance you’ll mail your gold to Cash4Gold after reading this?  (Me neither.)