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

November 29, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Online Marketing

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.

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