Sorry, “Crazy Bully” Isn’t a Long-Term Business Strategy


After my post last week on 5 reasons not to delete negative reviews, a few folks directed me toward the DecorMyEyes situation recently covered by the New York Times and asked for my thoughts. If you haven’t read up on that situation or checked out Danny Sullivan’s incredibly comprehensive analysis of it, I would highly recommend that you do. But please come back. You have to promise to come back.

The Cliffnotes version of the DecorMyEyes situation is this: Instead of being nice to customers in hopes that they’ll leave positive reviews and refer their friends, DecorMyEyes owner Vitaly Borker has taken the opposite approach – he acts like a bully and joyfully threatens his customers. He does it because he thinks the negative attention helps his business. Customers who have been verbally attacked and bullied will race off to high-authority review sites like Get Satisfaction to write scathing reviews and recount stories of being grossly mistreated by Borker. Borker admits to spending much of his day fighting with customers and purposely poking them in the eye. The result is more reviews, higher traffic and, at the end of the day, higher Google rankings. Borker wants you to think he’s laughing all the way to the bank with this scheme, but he’s not.

Vitaly Borker isn’t a clever business owner. He’s a pathetic Internet troll.

The Bully Marketing approach is certainly not unique. You can find it being played out all over the Web and social media. However, if you’re wondering if perhaps the troll approach could be a viable strategy for your business, it’s not. And here’s why.

Negative Attention Doesn’t Build a Business

If you’ve spent any time on the Web, Borker’s plan for attention sounded pretty familiar – it’s something we’ve seen bloggers try to leverage for years now. After all, the quickest way to get someone to notice you is to start throwing things and wait for onlookers to come wondering what all the noise is about. However, those people aren’t customers. They’re rubbernecks. And Borker’s attempts to earn notoriety appear just as unsuccessful as the shock jock bloggers who have come before him. He may have just gotten some coverage – but is he making any money or growing a business? All signs point to no.

The New York Times article was broken into eight Internet pages, which means most people probably didn’t make it to the end. They just scanned the beginning for its most juicy bits – which is where the juicy bits were conveniently located. The final scenes of the NYT’s story don’t show Borker as the successful business man he wants us to believe that he is. They show him sitting alone, surrounded by an estimated $500,000 work of returned goods. We see him muttering under his breathe about lawsuits where he’ll have to pay out tens of thousands of dollars to people he wronged. We hear about the 300 complaints to the Better Business Bureau that his “business” has received over the past three years and how he’ll spend months, if not years, harassing the same person on the Web. He’s exhausted by his own efforts with very little to show for it. Yes, he has blind rankings, but he has no return customers, no loyalty, no business. If you’ve ever spent time offline with the Web’s biggest trolls – this is often their reality. This is what you don’t usually see. If that’s success, you can keep it.

Google is smarter than Borker

Danny does a good job in his article showing how Google is able to tell how many positive and negative reviews a business has associated with it. And even if they’re not currently using reviews as a factor in its ranking algorithm, it’s clear that they can and that, at some point, they will. Stop running your business around what’s working right now and think a year down the line. We’ve recently watched Google launch Google Places, release Google Hotpot to encourage users to leave review local businesses – you really don’t think this is going to become a stronger ranking signal in the near future? You don’t think not only the quantity of reviews but the sentiment of them is going to matter [UK SEO consulting firm Distilled already showed Google doing this last year]? And you’re so sure of that you’re going to encourage people to leave negative reviews about your business and start Internet flame wars? Okay then. Enjoy that.

Negative attention gets old

Let’s not lie – we were all drawn to the New York Times story this weekend. It got our attention because Borker’s strategy is so completely ass backwards that you can’t help but tilt your head and go, “wow…really, someone’s doing that?”. It’s the same reason we watch people have mental breakdowns on Twitter (it’s fun!) and find ourselves so horrifically mesmerized that we can’t take our eyes off it. But just because it’s fun to WATCH the crazy lunatic go nuts in public, it doesn’t mean we want to associate with them. And at some point, it gets old. You either need to begin providing value or find a new shtick. That’s why so many bloggers who come onto the scene ranting and raving don’t stay around that long. Or why they take month-long breaks between appearances. You run out of material, people stop caring, and as Borker so powerfully shows – it’s exhausting to keep that up.

Think of some of the larger SEO trolls who have lived in the SEO industry. Where are they now?

Social media has as good way of highlighting people who get by as a result of negative attention and, as a result, we’re seeing more of it. More businesses taking to their Twitter accounts to get loud and tell their customers to shove it. But as Tamsen McMahon said so eloquently over at Brass Tack Thinking recently, asshole is not a long-strategy and the Internet will not make up for what happened in high school. Being a bully to your customers will not earn your repeat customers or scare people into giving you their lunch money. It will earn you a reputation for being a business that doesn’t care about its customers and as being too high maintenance for anyone to deal with. Rankings don’t mean anything when your company sucks.

Borker’s not running a business. He’s an Internet troll without a blog.

Your Comments

  • Andy Nattan - Unmemorable Title Copywriting & SEO Blog

    Wow, no punches pulled in that one Lisa.

    I don’t see where on Earth this guy gets off? How do you get to the point where you think bad publicity is, well, good publicity?

    I know the old phrase says that it’s better to be criticised than ignored, but money’s tight for lots of people and businesses. Are you really going to spend your money on someone who doesn’t get the basics of keeping customers happy?

    The mind boggles.

    • Lisa Barone

      But how many people think there’s no such thing as bad publicity? On the Web? A lot of them. There’s definitely a way to make it work for you, but you have to be doing something of value underneath all that bullshit. But yeah, this guy is truly boggling.

  • Amanda Orson

    Okay “Asshole is not a long term business strategy” is quite possibly the funniest thing I’ll read all day.

    Mahalo excepted, few SEO trolls get away with spamming/ being a troll for long and, given the notoriety and wildfire spread of the NYT article over the weekend, I would be very surprised if his site isn’t specifically penalized. The article is tantamount to an 8 page admission of how he games the SERPs. If that doesn’t warrant special attention from the Google Web spam team, I am hard pressed to think of a situation that would.

    • Lisa Barone

      I only wish I could take credit for that line. Sadly, I cannot. :)

      And definitely. The best way to see your Google loophole closed is to publicly talk about it on the New York Times. Good luck with that!

  • Jami Broom

    It boggles my mind when people don’t care that others think they’re a complete asshole, or that they do shotty work. We only get one life and idiots like Borker make a mockery of theirs and set themselves up for alienation.

  • Mark Carter

    What a great rebuttal article. Top read. It really has had me thinking all day about it. That man is off his head.

  • Matt Soreco

    Agree in a perfectly rational world, but it seems this guy isn’t really in it for the long term.

    • Lisa Barone

      He’s been doing this for at least 3 years, according to those BBB reviews. I think that’s long-term enough to be doing something that doesn’t chain him to his desk from 10am-5am arguing with people on the Internet.

      • JadedTLC

        He thinks he’s in it for the long term because as all scammers think, the money will never end, but it does end. Many end up in jail or living on the run, unable to sit back and enjoy their ill-begotten funds.

        I read the entire story. This guy even scams eBay sellers. So wrong.

  • TrafficColeman

    Lisa you are right when it comes to negative attention, its something I don’t want and care to have..a little disagreement is ok at time though..but not tongue lashing.

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

  • Leo

    I did stumble on that article via my Google alerts and finished reading – the 8 pages – just half an hour ago.

    It’s true that the way they wrote it make you think – wow successful guy (still couldn’t be him though) – until you reach the very last page.

    One thing that intrigues me though: why didn’t he put as much efforts in building a respectable business gaining good reviews instead of this really devious way of getting attention? Staying up and calling disgruntled customers in the middle of the night, applying every so often to get your website approved by CC companies etc… surely this isn’t the best way to be healthy (and he does say so himself).

    Fascinating read, but only because of the “personality” behind the website – who knows, maybe he’s going to get a movie deal out of it :).

    • Lisa Barone

      It’s a good point: Why didn’t he invest the time he spent belittling his customers into building a better business? Probably because it’s harder to do. It’s harder to get attention when you have to earn it by being useful and by proving a point of difference. It’s far easier to stand in the back of the room and throw things. But as you can see by page 8, it hasn’t served him as well. He spends 19 hours a day chasing people around the Internet just to abuse them. It’s not a way I’d want to live.

      • Unmana

        I wonder how much of his attitude towards customers are driven by business sense, and how much IS actually, his personality? He might have cranked it up because it seemed to work for him, but really, this guy enjoys being mean.

  • Colin Carmichael

    I sold a pair of sunglasses to Tony about 6 months ago on ebay (I mostly sell shoes but get in sunglasses from time to time). He had asked that they be sent to a different name/address in California. This seemed odd, so I called the phone number he had registered on ebay, which turned out to be his girlfriend’s (wifes?) mother’s home. She told me to “be careful.” When I eventually heard from Tony, he was nice enough…but the transaction stood out as rather odd (which is why I remember it now). Thanks for the article…great read.

  • bluephoenixnyc

    It’s bizarre that we live in an internet era where people need to be reminded that “being mean” is not a viable business plan.

    I suppose a lot of people look at the break-out success of Gawker and other similar blogs that have successfully employed snark and bullying as long-lasting marketing gimmicks and assume they can try to employ it to their own ends.

  • Ian

    This is guaranteed to blow up in his face at some point, and soon. Between the ridiculous workload, the growing number of people who would like to remove his internal organs, and the fact that there actually ISN’T an infinite customer base out there, his days in this business are numbered.

    Maybe he can switch to handling PR for a political campaign after this business folds?

  • Jennifer

    I read the New York Times article and kept thinking, “I’m never buying from an internet shop I don’t check up on again.” I hope a lot of other people had the same thought. The savvier consumers get, the less mileage businesses will get out of being bullies. One of the weirder elements of the article was that he seems to genuinely enjoy being horrible to his customers (for 15 hours a day!).

  • Sahil

    It does seem he has been in business for 3 years, so in some ways it has worked for him in his mind atleast, only hard numbers would tell the truth.

    But as Danny suggested it does challenge Google in certain ways because the sentiment niche is an area where Facebook has an inbuilt potential and their competitors like Bing could tap it out and get an edge in a crucial area – shopping. Considering that he ranked for all the important keywords, users were getting an algorithmically relevant result but good or bad had to be assumed via Google showing it or worst still, experienced.

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    You actually summed up exactly what I was thinking while reading this post with the phrase: “wow…really, someone’s doing that?”.
    I seriously wasn’t aware of this individual, but really, wow.
    I agree it’s fun to watch these people though.
    Reminds me of an episode of Big Bang Theory where Wolowitz and Raj watches Sheldon raging at Penny and Wolowitz goes “it’s fun when it’s not happening to US!”.

  • Bo Johnson

    Slightly reminiscent of the Soup Nazi, except people went to get GREAT soup in spite of, not because of.

  • Jennifer@voip mpls

    Whoa. I cannot imagine that anyone would antagonize their customers on purpose. I don’t think the old adage that any publicity is good publicity is the right view. Of COURSE bad publicity can hurt you! Your reputation as a business is everything. Nobody wants to sign up to be mistreated. That’s just crazy.

  • Chris B.

    When do you think Google will incorporate sentiment analysis into their algorithm? Is this even possible in the near future? I agree though that it’s such a high-risk, short-term, non-sustainable maneuver…UNLESS maybe you plan on building a notoriety only to do a complete 180 later down the line?

  • Maurice

    Wonder if Michael O’Leary is the esception that proves the rule he sees to enjoy being the “most hated man in Ireland” – though is supect that he’s lost that crown to the FF Govenment in the south now