Social Media – The Double-Edged Sword

“Social Media” is amazing in how it lets you meet your customers – on their terms.  It has changed the way business is done.  There is no hiding from your flaws.    Everything is “open”.  Social media is very much the open sourcing of traditional PR and Marketing.

And as powerful as it is – you need to realize what it means.  If you want to “control your brand” then social media will scare the crap out of you.  If you want to understand your brand, it is invaluable.

When my employer suffers even a small failure in even a fraction of a percent of one of our data centers we see Tweets that say, “Rackspace is down”.  While this is often 99% untrue we realize that for that 1% it is 100% true.  So we treat it as if we are down.  1% isn’t acceptable and we don’t disagree with those that paint any outage as a significant outage.  Our goal is perfection.  We know we cannot achieve it, but we also realize we can most closely approach it by simply expecting it of ourselves.  And letting our customers demand it of us – even encouraging them to do so.

Does that get painful at times?  Certainly.  Do we sometimes feel as if we should be more defensive – absolutely.  It would be nice to minimize the concern to shareholders, employees, and customers when only a fraction of customers are affected by an issue.  But that also requires that we minimize the pain that affected customers feel – and we aren’t willing to make that trade.  There aren’t many successful companies that minimize or marginalize their customers.

Most of us at my office run our own websites – and we know how painful downtime is.  In fact, many of us were Rackspace customers before we came to work here – and we chose to work here because we know that the good far outweighs the bad.  Especially compared to the industry as a whole.  We are expected to be perfect in an imperfect technology.  Failure is in our future.  We know we can’t be perfect.  So we plan for when we aren’t.  But we are here because we love to help.  We feel most successful when we give others the ability to succeed.  And we can’t do that unless we know how and when we are failing them.  So we really appreciate that social media allows us to have those conversations early, and often.

But a failure is a failure – and they all hurt.  And social media may make that failure more apparent to more people – and frame things in context that sound ominous.  But we would rather hear about our failures than hide from them.

And social media makes damned sure that every failure is heard.  But it also makes sure that every success is shared.  So it is a double-edged sword.  Once you realize that you don’t wield the sword you start to think more pragmatically about things.

Then social media becomes what relationship management has always been about.  Add more value than noise.  Be genuinely concerned.  Do better.  Learn.  Get better.  Invest where your customers tell you to invest.

Be honest, and don’t be afraid.  Embrace the chaos.


  1. Fran Stephenson says:

    Social media = relationship management at the speed of *click.* Awesome being in that space with you. So many people still don’t understand the power, much less how big the commitment to make it happen.

  2. I love the sentiments here, Rob. When it gets too painful, there’s always denial 🙂

    My friend Jan Triplett at Austin’s Business Success Center tells me I’m a “believer” type (and not a competitor or rebel type, which operate from different worldviews). Sounds to me like you may lean toward believer as well.

    I believe that others can perceive the truth and self examination in our words and deeds. I hear it coming from Rackspace, loud and clear.

    • Susan – thanks. I am a believer type – no doubt. I believe you can only be measured by your actions, and never by your intentions.

      I also believe that the only way you can win long term is to be genuinely open, and helpful. And care.

      Wish my cell phone company thought that way :S


  3. Bruce Hughes says:

    Nice post. Honest and true.