There is No Such Thing as an Anonymous Blog Comment…

…as the following PR career-suicide maneuver proves.

Jeff Jarvis, one of the best and most credible bloggers about the impact of the blogs on the news media, wrote a post yesterday about Dell Computers’ new blog. A big part of the blogosphere would have been wondering what Jarvis might say about Dell’s new gambit, because it was Jarvis’ bad “Dell Hell” experience with the company’s much-maligned customer service department that demonstrated the power of viral blog posts to impact business, and the powerlessness of conventional PR techniques to counter it.

Jarvis’ lengthy comments about Dell’s blog are worth reading, but for now, I’m more interested in Dell’s reaction to them. It came at two levels. First, on the blog itself, this rather ungracious response:

Yesterday was the first official day of Dell’s one2one weblog and already Jeff Jarvis and Steve Rubel were kind enough to tell us what we’re doing wrong. Thanks for the feedback, guys. We’ll keep working to get it right.

As Tony Soprano’s mother used to say, “Poor you.” Or, as an old boss of mine would say, “Now tell us what you really think.”

So that’s what one of Dell’s PR people did. Tell Jeff what he really thinks. Anonymously, he thought. Here’s how the comment looked:

Chris Says:
July 11th, 2006 at 1:29 pm

Hey Jarvis

I honestly think you have no life. Honestly? Do you have a life, or do just spend it trying to make Dell miserable. I’ve been working with Dell the past three weeks researching trashy blogs that worms like you leave all over that frigen blogosphere and I cant (sic) honestly say that Dell is trying to take a step towards fixing their customer service. They hire guys like me to go on the web and look through the blogs of guys like you in hopes that we can find out your problem and fix it. But honestly I dont think you have a problem Dell can fix. Your problem is you have no life.

Jarvis looked up Chris’ IP domain and, guess what. The comment came from GCI Group, which is in charge of the a PR campaign for Dell entitled Rebuilding Corporate Reputation Through Grassroots Efforts. No kidding.

This episode illustrates a lot of things.

First of all, there is no such thing as anonymity if you post on blogs. Time and again, this fact has been proven, to the great embarassment of the poster. My favorite example involves Cathy Seipp and Nikke Finke, two LA writers who don’t like each other. In a comment on Cathy’s blog, Nikke objected to something Cathy said about her. Then there was another post minutes later from someone claiming to be Nikke’s lawyer, threatening a suit. But the IP address showed they came from the same computer. And of course there’s Michael Hiltzik, the LA Times writer who posted anonymous comments on his own blog and others, praising himself and bashing his foes. Patterico busted him the same way.

Secondly, there is just no telling how stupid some people can be. I mean — if you’re at work, take a look at the people around you. Is there anyone who you think could do something so stupid one week after your client started a blog? It calls the sincerity of Dell’s blog into question. Plus, what incredible ignorance of Jarvis’ role! He’s not just some crank with a hard-on for Dell.

Are you sure nobody in your shop would do something like this? “Are you feeling lucky, punk?”

But the most important lesson for PR people is one of the first ones I ever learned. It’s almost a Zen koan: “Don’t believe your own press releases.” Another variation is “Don’t get high on your own shit.”

PR people owe their clients loyalty, but not blind loyalty. You need to be the benevolent outsider looking in, giving a candid, confidential assessment of how things really look to the target audience. In most cases, your client is already defensive enough; you shouldn’t be egging them on or throwing yourself in front of moving trains to prove your love for them. Doing that is bad practice. Just because the client responds like a puppy being scratched on the tummy doesn’t mean you’re giving them what they’re paying you for.

“Chris” sounds like a guy (gal?) who ordered six rounds of the Kool-Ade. But his post is going to cost his client a lot of money and time.

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis hears from GCI’s Digital Media practice. “Chris” is “a summer intern who got caught up in the emotion” around Jarvis’ Dell Hell tales. Jarvis sees a link between Chris and “Customer Service John” from AOL. To me, there’s a difference. “Customer Service John” followed his company’s policies, and got burned purely because the exposure of AOL’s practices demanded a sacrificial lamb.

“Chris” is an example of lax supervision. Allowing an intern to “get caught up in the emotion” means someone failed to communicate the meaning of professionalism. Allowing an intern to speak for the client means someone was giving this kid too much latitude. Where were the adults? Off pitching new business?

But Jarvis makes a valuable point. The days when a company and its PR people could clamp a lid on employees, and expect to control its image through a “spokesperson” are over. Says Jarvis:

Every one of your “customer service” employees and every one of your “public relations” employees in every encounter represents your company. That has always been the case. Only now, we can record their actions and report them to the world.

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50 thoughts on “There is No Such Thing as an Anonymous Blog Comment…

  1. But there is such a thing as an anonymous blog comment! If people just spent twenty minutes learning about the wonder of proxy servers, they could make as big a mess as they liked (barring commiting actual crimes; even proxy servers aren’t immune to subpoenas).

  2. >>”…twenty minutes learning about the wonder of proxy servers, they could make as big a mess as they liked”

    I had two reactions to this:
    1. And deprive us of our fun? What are you, new?
    2. Don’t give away our secrets! You’ll ruin the fun. What are you, new?

    Additionally, this is another classic example of a corporation trying to seem like “one of the guys.” I was in the military (Navy) a few years back and had a Executive Officer (one person below the Commanding Officer on a ship) like this. He was generally detested by the enlisted and junior officers alike. The only problem was he would occasionally descend from his stateroom, into whatever bar the enlisted folks were hanging out at with a case of beer under each arm. Proclaiming lots of non-sexually threatening, job affirming love, he would distribute said beverage. These events were usually capped off by a series of “toasts” to the ship and to the CO, mostly participated in to ensure that the XO continued to distribute whatever libation happened to be handy.

    After one such little gathering in Okinawa he (the XO,) returned to the ship to find a single candy bar wrapper left on the floor of the enlisted mess (galley.) (As a side note, we do not have galley slaves anymore.) He then secured snack sales (including turning off the soda fountain in the galley) to the enlisted as a “lesson” for a period of two weeks.

    Most of the other officers and the enlisted did not know that the XO was often sent with the blessing of the CO to determine “what [expletive] their [expletive] problem was.” Both the CO and XO had zero respect for or understanding of their senior enlisted leadership, the crew, and the junior officers. As a final indication of this I offer a quote from another junior officer onboard the boat, who upon returning from a duty run seeing it still moored to a pier in Japan stated: “I was hoping the damn thing would have sank. But I guess God still hates me.”

    My point here is that Dell has elected to follow a similar course. By hiring what appears to be a gang of apparently unsupervised and technically illiterate PR goons, they have highlighted the extant massive disconnect between corporate America and their customers.

    Much as Bill Ford continues to wax poetic about sales losses in the face of stiff competition from Toyota, Honda, and Nissan, Dell just does not understand that sending a few spies into the midst of your detractors accomplishes nothing. The fundamental issue here is one of a complete inability to understand what it is that people want. Do not offer excuses, stop cloaking your problems in PR spin, apologize, move on, and most of all: FIX IT.

    Hiring companies such as CGI only proves what the CO and XO of my ship did was also flawed: you don’t force or cajole people into liking them. You do it by respecting them, earning their trust, and never abusing the priveledge.

  3. Thanks Jarvis,
    for this anonymous topic spotlight.
    I wanted to avoid lengthy comments but did have two concerns of the anonymous comments-whether on blogs or elsewhere -that i agree with the influences ablove; and second , of the perceptions and cautions percieved to be about on “anonymous websites” that can be mistaken to the characters who post anonymously…

    Also i must look further as i am “new” to the others:
    learning about the wonder of proxy servers, they could make as big a mess as they liked two reactions to this: 1. And deprive us of our fun? What are you, new? 2. Don’t give away our secrets! You’ll ruin the fun. What are you, new?

  4. you can look up someone’s ip address but all you get is their provider like comcast or qwest…

    by id’ing someone’s ip address, you WON’T get an actual name to that person’s computer.

  5. I agree. There is no anonymity on the web. People can link right back you to by looking up your IP address. It confuses me why people comment on their on blog to praise themselves…it will eventually come out and make them look bad. Also, don’t bash your enemies because it will end up making you look bad!

  6. My mouth dropped when I read what the intern at Dell had written. I was pretty shocked, while at the same time, I was cracking up.

    Good read…and you’re right. It goes to show that the days when you could control your brand from all possible angles and corners is pretty much gone.

    Transparency, openness, communication, engagement, and honesty is the world of media today…be it for better or worse (in my opinion, it’s for the better).

  7. get lost… motherfucker…
    u r sick and monotonous..
    u kill people for money.. and then u write such stuff.. to hide evidences…
    go to hell… or get in depression…

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