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Being a Dick on Twitter Will Crater Your Startup: BetaPunch May Have Just Eaten Social Media Cyanide

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Danielle Morrill of Referly had a good reason to be upset with BetaPunch today. BetaPunch is a startup that provides user testing for startups. Apparently Danielle used BetaPunch last year for some user testing. It didn’t go so well because BetaTest violated her trust as a potential customer by sharing the data from her beta testing on Twitter without her consent or informing her first.

As a startup, they wanted to get the attention and notoriety that would come from having a Silicon Valley insider, like Danielle, as a customer. BetaPunch is a Baltimore startup – apparently founder Ross Nochumowitz is also a founder of BigBoyzBailBonds. So while this isn’t the founder’s first entrepreneurial endeavor, he may feel a bit isolated from the core of tech startups in Silicon Valley, and wanted to gather as much attention to his product, which admittedly, could provide a valuable resource. Other startups like UserTesting.com provide a similar service for $39 per test.

To make the most of Danielle as a customer, Nochumowitz tweeted the results of Referly’s beta tests (the tweets have since been deleted), perhaps following the example of the over-hyped “growth hackers” and grab as much publicity from the notable customer as possible. But he didn’t ask first.

He tweeted the results of Danielle’s beta tests, which contained raw feedback of an evolving product. You might as well share the first draft of your novel with a publisher. The results aren’t going to be pretty. That’s a violation of user trust, and warrants harsh feedback. If you don’t know how to keep customer data private, do you really know how to run your business?

The value of customer trust far exceeds the value of publicity one customer might bring, much less the monetary value of a customer. I think Nochumowitz got a lot more publicity than he originally intended, but I doubt the PR blitz will help sales much.

At this point, the job of the Social Media person is to jump in, take responsibility, apologize, and work towards a speedy resolution. Publicly asking forgiveness and making grand gestures of supplication are essential.

But Nochumowitz decided his own “death my social media” judgement by whining on twitter that Danielle hadn’t said “thanks” for the awful customer experience she had received.

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It was only then that Danielle wrote the post.

Then BetaPunch dug the hole deeper.

And still deeper.

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And then got out the shovel of self-righteousness, lest they never forget that HackerNews never sleeps and burns self-righteous founders at the stake.

Danielle decided to blog her dissatisfaction with BetaPunch’s customer experience, not because Nochumowitz tweeted the results, but because he acted like an entitled brat and demanded thanks for use of the service.

Sorry, Ross. You’re the one that should have been grateful to have an influential user, and bent over backwards to thrill her with your customer experience. If you had busted your ass and made the most of the customer, you would have created a huge opportunity for the hard work building your product to see the public.

If you had busted your ass, Danielle might trust your startup. And she might have written a completely different blog post.

Trust is everything. As a startup, you *must* earn your early customer’s trust one-by-one, and you must maintain it. You have no reputation to fall back on, so you’ll live and die by the trust of a single customer, and you’ve got to have a stockpile of trust and goodwill for when you make a mistake. And as a startup, you’re going to make mistakes, and the only thing that will sustain your customer relationships will be their trust in your company, your product, and your support.

Social Media is one of the fastest ways you can earn their trust. Quick responses, quality support, and cordial, earnest communication will create incredible relationships with your customers. A long string of happy customers on Twitter becomes an asset to your company every time someone researches your startup.

One of the biggest parts of my job every day is just being available on Social Media in case someone has something to say about WP Engine. I’m lucky that the majority of the time, when people have something to say about about our support team or our technology, they usually have something nice to say. But part of my job keeps me ready to respond just in case someone has something not so nice to say about our company.

My job on Social Media is to be there every time a customer has an issue. My job is to apologize for their trouble, listen to them vent, and empathize as long as they need me to while I escalate their issue for a quick and satisfactory resolution.

The job of the Social Media manager is care about our customers. Most of us are lucky because our companies have incredible customers to work with, but responsibility to our customers isn’t contingent on how we feel in any given moment. It’s contingent only on the fact that they’re our customers, and we want to provide the best support possible.

Every company will have a frustrated customer on Twitter or Facebook sometimes. Typically, it’s justified frustration. The level of frustration a customer expresses on Twitter is almost always equal to the size or reputation of the company in question, and compounded by the quality of their trouble with your product. Woe to the poor social media manager if the customer had a bad experience at the hands of a Support Tech.

The silver lining is that most people love an underdog and so startup companies will be forgiven for technical errors if they make up for them with stellar support.

But woe to the startup that publicly bites the hand of a potential customer, much less a highly influential one.

Whether you’re right or you’re wrong, your customer is always right. Make them feel happy they brought their problems to you by apologizing and making amends. They’ll trust you and tell all their friends to come spend money with you.

Whine that they didn’t ever “say thanks” for the free trial of your product that you offered them, and you’ll burn a bridge before anyone else has a chance to walk across it. They’ll tell all their friends about you. Tell them to stay the hell away.

Let’s say you’re the founder of a company. Your job sometimes is to eat some shit. Wash it down, put your big boy pants on, and get back to work. If you let a bit of negativity get to you, giving up will start to look easier than pushing forward. Find a way to be thankful for the opportunity to learn something about your product and something about your own ego. Whatever you do, don’t go AWOL on Social Media.

Social Media is a double-edged sword for your startup.

Social Media makes communicating with your company incredibly easy, so people will communicate more. This is a good thing. It’s an opportunity to develop more relationships with more customers.

Social Media also makes every single piece of company communication public, and everyone can see the things on Facebook and Twitter that are being said on behalf of your company. This is also a good thing. It means that you can build relationship with hundreds and thousands more customers by proxy.

But only if you are polite and prompt every single time you speak with a customer on Social Media.

If you’re a dick, Social Media will bury you. It’s not one customer, it’s one customer, and the reach of their entire following. Danielle Morrill has a large following. Forget a Klout Score. If you can write a blog post and bury a company, you’ve got influence.

By the way, BetaPunch finally said something nice on Twitter about the whole experience.

Too little, too late. There are 96 comments on HackerNews as I push “publish” on this. So much traffic went to Danielle’s blog post that her server crashed. BetaPunch, everybody knows about you now, but nobody is going to trust you with their beta testing.

In the end, BetaPunch may actually have turned out to be a fitting name for the startup. The “Punch” they’re feeling right now is the wind knocked out of them. Never underestimate the power social media can have for a startup company.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

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  • 10For2

    After several years in retail, I can assure you the customer is not always right. However, getting into a pissing contest with them is never a good idea. Nice post, Austin.

    • http://www.austingunter.com Austin Gunter

      Thanks for sharing your perspective! I agree with you. The customer isn’t always *right,* but the business must never make the customer feel *wrong* or insulted by the customer service or the product. The better a customer feels about working with you, the more *right* they feel, the more they want to come back and the stronger your relationship with them can grow over time.

  • LA

    BetaPunch just got bitch slapped….lest we not lost site of the best point you make here:

    [The value of customer trust far exceeds the value of publicity one customer might bring, much less the monetary value of a customer. I think Nochumowitz got a lot more publicity than he originally intended, but I doubt the PR blitz will help sales much.]

    Thanks for bringing civility to the fore.

    • http://www.austingunter.com Austin Gunter

      Thanks LA!

      I’m glad you pulled that quote out. I think customer trust is essential to growing a business, tech startup or otherwise. When your customers trust you, they trust you to resolve grievances and that means they trust your product experience so thoroughly that they know if there is a hiccup, you’ll be there for them when other companies might not have been able to. Social Media is just one part of having a killer customer experience.

  • http://www.socialnerdia.com/ Esteban Contreras

    A tweet button would be nice. Wanted to share this…

    • http://www.austingunter.com Austin Gunter

      Thanks for the comment :-) It’s actually just been added.

    • missdk

      It’s to the left of the article in a share bar. Expand your screen a bit – it sometimes gets lost.

      • http://www.socialnerdia.com/ Esteban Contreras

        Thanks

  • http://twitter.com/MarkAEvertz Mark A. Evertz

    Straight up love this Austin. Also really stoked to see how the blogging community (long form, twitter, et al,) rallied to slap down a whiny self-righteous tool when the time came to do it. Good to know the idiot police are out there when needed. Cheers, Mark

  • http://twitter.com/BrianCrouch Brian Crouch

    Good case study. I can’t imagine being that snarky with a prospective customer in any private forum, let alone a public one.
    I will never forget when I helped a customer first via Twitter, then via phone, to later discover that he’d recorded it and posted on YouTube. He was completely happy with the experience. Every interaction is potentially public: to be so shortsighted in an overtly public venue is beyond foolish.

  • http://ontechies.com Ricardo

    “So much traffic went to Danielle’s blog post that her server crashed” She should have her blog hosted with WPEngine!

  • missdk

    Great article and so true. If you sell ANY product, be careful how you post. There are a couple people I follow on twitter who do not separate the personal from the professional and it’s disconcerting. If I dislike you as a person, why would I want your product?

  • http://twitter.com/karenebaker karen baker

    Great post that needed to be written. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.brandonkraft.com/ Brandon Kraft

    Thanks for this one. Amazingly enough, the tweet they deleted never was: https://twitter.com/BetaPunch/status/256384610529857536

  • http://cubicleninjas.com/ Cubicle Ninjas

    The best promotion is still word of mouth; give enough users good service and it will pay off. As soon as you start taking advantage of people you should just quit.