Customer Mistakes – Blog about Them or Not?

This post was written by John White on Wed, 26 May 2010 16:37:05 +0000
Posted Under: blog,process of writing,social media,value in content

Bloggers often learn from and post about mistakes. When it’s our customers who are making the mistakes, should we post on them?

In the 1968 comedy The Odd Couple, Jack Lemmon plays Felix Ungar. At a dinner party, he mentions that he writes for TV news broadcasts. Doe-eyed neighbor Cecily Pigeon replies, “That sounds like a fascinating profession. Tell me, where do you get your ideas about what to write?”

Boirrrrrr.

When you’re building out your company’s blog, where will you get ideas for content?

Mistakes – regardless of who committed them – are rich material. You can weave a post around a mistake and turn it into valuable content with a title that reads something like “4 Ways to Avoid…” or “13 Things Not to Do When You’re…” Your readers will enjoy and learn from these lists, and chime in with comments.

But Will They Respect You in the Morning?

Suppose you decide to post on mistakes that your customers have made. What do you do when you know that your customers are in the audience, and when they may recognize themselves in the post? Will they leave you a snarky comment? Will they Facebook-fire you, on your own blog, yet?

Helen Popkin summarized the balance between the temptation to post and the urge to stay alive:

Never post anything you wouldn’t say to your mom, boss and significant other…And thanks to Twitter further eroding the wall between your big mouth and a moment required to download some good sense, the Internet is now empowered to get you fired faster than ever.

Still, you’re convinced that it’s a good story, and so you decide to post on it. You can anonymize it the way Henry Miller did with the Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company in Tropic of Cancer, but if your customers are in your audience, they’ll recognize themselves. Worse yet, if you’re describing a mistake they don’t even know they made, you’ll be in double the trouble.

“That Won’t Happen to Me”

Maybe you think that your customers won’t ever subscribe to your blog or find out what you’re posting. Or maybe you think you’re indispensable, so even if they do read your post, they’ll just slap you on the back and let bygones be, as they buy  more of your goods and services.

Prudent bloggers think twice about that.

Joel Spolsky ran a blog called “Joel on Software,” which has a long, broad following among software developers. Last month, Joel announced he would cease posting to the blog. Among the reasons he gave:

We have so many customers that I can’t always write freely without inadvertently insulting one of them.

Getting Out of the Pickle

So you want to keep your blog going, and you want to write (nicely) about the mistakes your customers make, and you want your customers to read your blog. How do you reconcile all of these?

  1. Don’t post the mistake as a rant. The lesson you’re trying to impart will dissolve in the vitriol and you’ll have two problems: an insulted customer and an alienated following.
  2. When you describe the mistake, describe the solution. If the company hasn’t gotten to the solution yet, WAIT to post until there’s more closure to the story. It will make for a better lesson anyway.
  3. Don’t name names. If your readers can see their own company in the business situation you’re describing and think, “How did they deal with it?” then what will they care whether the company was Exxon or a hot dog stand?

And if my customers are reading this, I promise I’m not posting about you.

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a marketing communications writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s dirty work, but somebody has to do it. He also publishes a newsletter and would be honored if you subscribed.

photo credit: Jeffrey Beall (CC2.0)

Reader Comments

I absolutely think we should blog about them! And I think your ‘getting out of the pickle section’ describes quite nicely how to do it. I usually find many of my own mistakes addressed on copyblogger, or problogger and I can’t tell you how glad I am to see where I went wrong and how to avoid the same mistake next time. That’s just my 2 cents.

#1 
Written By Patricia Redsicker on May 27th, 2010 @ 5:03