Follow along with me, please: The story begins on Sunday, when our local newspaper runs an article about a local military man named Burke Jensen who’s facing legal action because his new home isn’t landscaped.
Shortly after Jensen and his wife bought the house, he was sent to Kuwait. His wife went back to live with family on the East Coast during her pregnancy. So, the home is in a new neighborhood, nobody’s in the house, and the yard isn’t finished.
That’s when the local developer, Chick Edwards, makes the mistake of opening his mouth. He gets angry that the yard isn’t done, that Jensen is violating the homeowner’s association covenants, and calls the Army Reservist a “clown.” Here are the developer’s quotes from the Sunday paper:
- “I really don’t give a (expletive) where he is or what his problem is.”
- “It doesn’t matter to me.”
- “(Jensen) doesn’t have the right to walk away from his obligation.”
- “I have most of the property still, so I am the homeowners association.”
- “This is a contract. I don’t like the way his property looks. This clown gets to do what he wants and I’m as mad as hell.”
Uh-oh. The developer obviously screwed up by opening his mouth like that about a guy who’s halfway across the world serving our country.
Online Conversations and Reputation Management
That one print article alone is a problem for the developer’s reputation. Tens of thousands of people probably read it and got angry. But, this is 2008 and we’re in the age of conversation. And our local newspaper just so happens to allow readers to comment on their stories online. You can imagine what people said:
“Sorry you’re such an awful, awful person… maybe you’ll learn when no one else buys your lots, you *******.”
“I for one will let everyone I know NOT to even consider purchasing a lot from you. You can have your development all to yourself. You deserve yourself as a neighbor.”
“I can’t understand how you could be so cold! Mr. Edwards I think you should have to take Lt. Jensen’s place in Kuwait while he comes home to clean up his yard for you.”
“You are not worthy to be living in the United States that our sons and daughters are fighting for right now. May God, karma, or whatever you believe in come full circle and bite you where you live.”
They also post his phone number, web site address, and call for others to tell Edwards directly how they feel about him.
Today, the Internet makes it easier than ever for people to spread the word about businesses they don’t like or don’t respect.
And it wasn’t just on this one article, either. The conversation continued in an online letter to the editor about the situation. It continued in an updated story about local residents coming together to fix the yard for Lt. Jensen:
“I am simply amazed that a member of this community can think that treating people like this will gain them recognition or business in some way. My wife and I are in the market for a new home with a couple of acres of land, but I will be sure to skip this offering while looking.”
“I’m sure he’s pleased that Jensen’s yard is being done, but I hope he realizes that it has cost him some seriously bad publicity.”
Viral News and Reputation Management
It has cost the developer some “serious bad publicity,” and not just on our local paper’s web site. In 2008, conversations spread quickly and easily.
- A Seattle radio station picked up the story and got the developer on-air the next morning, where his excuse was something about having “a bad hair day” when he spoke to the newspaper.
- The Seattle Times picked up the story, and two days later it’s still the most read article on their site.
- Even Seattle Times’ readers are blasting the developer online.
- The story hit social news sites like plime, on craigslist, and blogs as far away as Chicago.
How Does It End?
According to reports, the developer has stopped answering his phone and is getting bombarded with angry emails. Although local real estate agents would never admit to it, chances are good that a lot of them would warn their clients about moving into Edwards’ development. And he has about zero chance of ever restoring the Google SERPs on a search for his name.
No doubt this is an extreme example, but I think it proves the point I made a couple months ago: small businesses need to be concerned with reputation management. You may never anger your customers like Chick Edwards did, but this is a lesson in how bad things spread quickly online.