While our ‘twittership’ may have gotten off to a rocky start, Joshua the SEO and I have become great friends 140 characters at a time (I may or may not have accidentally unfollowed him on more than one occasion only to wonder why afterward…possibly. I plead the fifth! ). But, he tweeted this:
Being an opinionated copywriter, I couldn’t resist voicing my difference of opinion. I really had to disagree with him…well, I’ll admit part of it may have been purely for the pleasure of arguing…anyway, this isn’t about me, this is about him being wrong My point is why should people be ‘outed’ at all?
So, Joshua, thanks for being such a good sport and arguing with me! You get points for being a willing victim (ok, ok, a small chance you may be the victor) and taking it all in stride…
My issue with the entire idea of ‘outing’ anyone, personally or professionally, is simple:
What gives one person the right to do so? If you have a competitor wandering off the straight and narrow path, what makes you the judge and jury? Also, is there really a point to ‘outing’ someone other than to be vicious? Is it worth what you might pay for it?
The Practice Of Outing Clients
In my opinion, coming out and screaming about a client’s mistakes or foul practices has a number of big downfalls that would cost you and your business far more than it’s worth.
Consider the real life example of an SEO company ‘outing’ one of its potential clients. Interestingly, they’ve chosen to remove the content now, but for those of you who don’t know what I’m referring to, I’ll explain:
The post consisted of not much more than a copy of a client email, which was a request for services sent to 51 of the top SEOs. It also included numerous (some horribly nasty) replies that were sent back and forth in response to the client’s request.
Now, I’ll admit the client was wrong in the way he contacted these individuals, and in how he handled the situation. This client showed that he not only made a stupid mistake, but he also showed he was uneducated about the SEO industry and had little respect for some of the industry’s leading members.
This was, without a doubt his fault. However, was this type of treatment the best idea? After battering him with numerous rude and snarky comments, was it really necessary to publish it on one of the industry’s hottest blogs for everyone else to batter and join in the entertainment?
I’ll give the SEO company some respect in this matter. After all, personal and identifying information was edited from the email. The SEOs who originally received the email had a right to feel somewhat offended, but at the same time, this client was burned by the industry. Then, there was the effect it had on other potential clients as well.
As far as I’m concerned, this little link bait stunt did nothing but damage the company’s reputation and that of the SEO industry. Sure, it shows that those involved are willing to stand up for themselves, but it also made people I respect look arrogant and egotistical. I know they generally aren’t that way, but to those who are unfamiliar with these individuals, it sure looked that way.
The industry already has a severely damaged reputation, and outing a client in this manner did nothing but further degrade the way many outside of the industry see SEO and SEO professionals.
I guarantee you that, if I was in need of SEO services, those who participated negatively in that little game would not be on my list of choices for fear of getting a similar treatment. Granted, I would never treat others the way the potential client had in his email, but that’s not the issue here.
Here’s another good question: What did anyone gain from the experience?
Sure, a site, which already ranks well, picked up a few links, it created some buzz in the industry, and a few people had some laughs, but does this really seem worth it to you? Some would argue that making and example of the client served to educate others. You tell me who would walk away from that feeling educated? You know how it looks to a target audience? Some idiot went off the handle on someone. Most people aren’t aware of who you are and who you’re talking about. Sorry, but it’s true.
Did it make the company more of an authority in the industry? Well, they already carried a fair bit of authority previous to this incident, or they wouldn’t have been included in the email. And, it caused many people to lose respect for them. Lastly, if you’re looking to your competitors for validation that you know what you’re talking about, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Lets face it, ultimately, your competitors are in the game for one reason, and one reason only. This is NOT to see you succeed. Looking within your industry for authority and validation is extremely counter-productive.
The post certainly wasn’t written in an ‘educational’ light, and no one will learn from it. Don’t believe me? Do you remember doing your homework or schoolwork while having a parent or teacher standing over you yelling and berating you? Do you remember the last time someone told you mean horrible things after you made a mistake? Did you walk away feeling smarter, or did you walk away thinking about how much you disliked the experience and even what an idiot the other person was?
I’m not the only person to think this way, and I’ll also add that I’ve covered this topic before. In short, it turned a valid and important industry into a bunch of arguing, unprofessional individuals with no direction, self-control, morals, or values.
The Practice Of Outing Companies And Competitors
The concept of ‘outing’ competitors and other companies is nothing new either. It’s been done just as often (if not more so) for personal gain as it has for the protection of others. I have seen many scams as well as talked and helped numerous victims. However, there is a very fine line here.
Misinformation puts the company doing the ‘outing’ in the prime position for legal action. Slander or misrepresentation is no laughing matter. This benefits no one and the small amount of attention it would generate certainly won’t pay for the legal fees. And, no matter how careful you are, there is always that chance of being sued simply because, if you weren’t involved, you have no idea what exactly went on. You also don’t know the situation surrounding both sides of the argument.
Think of it like divorce. The husband tells others of the mistakes the wife made, the wife tells of the husband’s mistakes, and it may even be entirely one person’s fault. BUT, no one else really knows what happened or what caused the situation because other factors such as upbringing and life experiences often determine our choices.
Not everyone sees a situation the same way. Not only is this topic a good example, but consider heated topics such as abortion, gay marriage, politics, religion, and war crimes, to name a few. These topics all have firm believers on both sides, and both sides are convinced they’re right. When in reality, who’s really right?
I don’t know about you, but if you’ve ever broke up a childhood fight or have tried sorting out what happened during an auto accident, you know there’s always three sides to every story — the ‘victim’s’ story, the ‘perpetrator’s’ story, and the truth. For me, this works in situations concerning morals and values too…just because one person sees a tactic as ‘slimy’ or ‘dark’ might not necessarily be viewed the same way by others.
I really dislike the way a hosting company markets search engine optimization services and featured listings (their words, not mine). To me, it’s nothing but a low-blow, cheap cash grab because the techniques they push at unsuspecting, unknowing webmasters are out of date and useless. Their ‘featured listing’ programs are nothing more than poorly disguised paid links, which are against Google’s Terms of Service, have little value, and will not have any sort of ROI. However, I won’t ‘out’ this company because:
- These are my opinions. I’m not a search engine, nor do I own or run one, so anything I say is merely speculation.
- I’m not Google, and while I may not promote the practice, it doesn’t affect me if this company decides to sell links.
- It doesn’t have any benefits.
- Outing them has a bigger price than I’m willing to pay. I guarantee they have more money to fight the issue than I do as well.
- We all do things incorrectly because we aren’t educated enough, or make basic, human mistakes. I don’t know if that’s the case here, but outing them is NOT a good way to find out for the previous four reasons mentioned.
Then, if you’re outing a competitor, your intentions will always be questioned. Did you do it simply to secure a larger portion of the market share? Did you do it for pure revenge? Or, did you really do it to protect others and stop the practice? I guarantee you that, no matter how much you want to look like a martyr, that quiet little question will always be in the backs of people’s minds.
The option Joshua mentioned was outing the company in private first before going public. I agree partially with this. If you see something that’s just plain wrong or shady and you just have to say something, it’s important to say something privately to that individual or company.
BUT, I don’t agree with publicly outing them if you don’t get your way in the private discussion. Why? The general public and others who might read your outing have no idea what has gone on in private, so it won’t make a difference anyway. Even if you explain what happened in those conversations, what’s to say you aren’t lying?
Lastly, if you aren’t the legal system, law enforcement, or regulatory authority, what right do you have policing in the industry? This doesn’t mean you should stay quiet, but there are much better alternatives to simply outing a competitor or company for bad practices.
In short, unless you are a direct victim filing a report with the Better Business Bureau, or whichever authority you choose, stay out of it.
Since outing someone has no real benefits, and doesn’t accomplish anything, it’s worth exploring some alternatives.
First, when you’re publicly outing someone through the media, on a social network, or your own website, you’re taking a chance that those in a position to do something about the problem will see it. This isn’t always the case, and when you think about it, this only makes sense. I mean, people complain all the time. How will the regulatory authorities see it? And, you might be the most honest person in the world, but how does the general public know you’re telling the truth and not omitting important information?
Therefore, if you’re truly bothered by the situation, file a report directly with those who can legally do something about it and are in control of the rules. This will give both sides a chance at fair representation, a fair investigation, and it takes the onus and danger off you.
If you have the need to educate the public or clients, do so in an educational matter by looking at the general problem. Making an example out of someone didn’t work to eliminate witches, the Jewish, school bullying, Robin Hood, or any other historic ‘examples’.
Look at the issues and offer valid solutions to the problem. Give constructive criticism. Don’t point fingers and out people. This just gets everyone stirred up and dilutes the effectiveness of your educational intentions.
Lastly, if someone who knows nothing about vehicles buys a used car without having it checked by a mechanic or test driving it, who’s fault is it if it’s a lemon? If they fail to wear their seatbelt because they didn’t bother to find out why they’re important, who’s fault is it that they got a ticket?
The consumer needs to realize that we no longer live in the 1700s when everyone was true to his or her word. We need to educate ourselves and walk into situations with our eyes wide open. I mean, who would pay for Social Media consulting, for example, if they have no idea what they’re paying for or how it works? As bad as it sounds, people need to take responsibility for their actions as well.
One last thing, make sure your own closet is clean before talking about other’s closets and nasty secrets
So, in short, ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’, or ‘instead of complaining, do something about it’!
Need a URL Short for this post? Use http://acopy.ca/outing