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.

A Rebuttal

There has been some conjecture lately in my email inbox, on Twitter, and most recently today on the NewsGang Live podshow (a show I call into probably more often than people wish) that I am somehow working for Rackspace/MOSSO – or that I am positioning myself to work for Rackspace/MOSSO.  Or that I am getting kickbacks from Rackspace/MOSSO.

So let me clear things up very quickly – right now both Rackspace and MOSSO work for me.  I am THEIR customer.   They need to please me. 

I have several clients hosted on Rackspace.  I manage 12 servers on Rackspace.  And as of a few weeks ago I have an account on MOSSO.  I am a Rackspace Partner  What that means is that I do enough business with them that they assign someone to take care of me.  His name is Abel, and he does a wonderful job.  I enjoy talking to him, and working with him.  But don’t confuse things – Abel works for me.  The Chairman of Rackspace, who I met just recently, works for me (and one of the reasons I respect him/Rackspace is because he realizes this).  They all understand this – I am their customer.  Their goal is to make me a happy customer. 

And they have.  So I’ve done a few posts lately talking about Rackspace and MOSSO.

That doesn’t make me a shill for either of them.  I found companies I like to work with – ones that are willing to work with me.  Companies that show a mutual respect.  And until about a month or so ago I never met one of them in person.

It is true that I have blogged about them more since I have met them – since I toured their facilities.  Since they hosted an event.  But that’s not shilling – that’s just me learning more, which gives me more to share.

I invited FastCompany/TV (Robert Scoble) to San Antonio to meet up with some local tech companies – one stop shopping for a half-dozen videos.  It was a win-win-win.  Robert wins (a lot of videos in one place/one day), I win (San Antonio tech gets featured – my initial goal), and the covered companies win (exposure).  Nobody loses.  I love deals where nobody loses.

To my surprise, Robert accepted – but I had no plan for that eventuality.  So I contacted Rackspace PR – which I had done only once before, and that was as a favor to someone else, completely unrelated to my areas of expertise or my business with Rackspace.

And Rackspace did what I could not do.  I blogged about this earlier – I am NOT an event coordinator.  I could not have put this together.  Rackspace did – and they did it well.  They provided physical space, appropriate gear and Internet connectivity, and food and drinks.  To host an idea I had only a few weeks earlier.  So Rackspace (Halli, I DO so respect what you do) stepped in, stepped up, and just made things happen.  She basically told me, “Tell me who the companies are, make sure Robert gets here, and we’ll do the rest”.  And she did.  Rackspace did.

But none of that makes me “owe” Rackspace anything.  Nor do they owe me anything – beyond what my clients are already paying for, and receiving.

So you might wonder where this rant comes from.

In the last few days I have had 11 people tell me they thought I was going to work for MOSSO/Rackspace and that my coverage of them was somehow related to that – and that is absolutely not true. That doesn’t mean I may never work for one of them (or both, even).  But there have been absolutely no talks about me working for Rackspace or MOSSO.  I have not brought it up, they have not brought it up.  I will not say that I will NEVER work for them – life throws curves, and that’s a promise that I can’t make.  In fact, if I DID decide to go back to work for a big company Rackspace/MOSSO would be high on my list – because I respect how they care for customers.  And people that really know me know that I love customers – I like helping them.  Even the angry ones.  As long as I am empowered to.

So I was a bit surprised that so many people thought I was going to work for Rackspace/MOSSO just because I wrote a few positive blog posts about them.  If you read my blog you will find that I can be brutal to companies that let me down – and that I do praise those I really like. 

Rackspace I like.  MOSSO I didn’t really learn about until after Scoble left – and then I kicked myself for not making sure he met them.  But Rackspace, being a gracious host, didn’t want to push themselves into “my show” – even if they were running it (and no, nobody told me that – I’m just guessing – otherwise they would have had Scoble meet with MOSSO while he was here).

So two things – I have a lot of respect for Rackspace.  I had a lot of respect for them as a hosting company before I met them.  Now that I met them I respect them more.  So I have blogged about them more.

And MOSSO?  I found out about MOSSO after Robert left.  And I was blown away, and still am blown away – not just by their product, but where I think they can take the product in time – it is not your average hosting platform.  I have already thought of interesting ways to serve my customers (and save them money) by using MOSSO.  After Robert was back in California I Twittered him about MOSSO, and sent a link to my blog post on MOSSO.  Robert thought it was interesting enough to link to.

And that (almost) ends my story of Rackspace/MOSSO.  I say almost because while it is absolutely true that I have not applied or been offered (or even discussed an offer) with Rackspace I DO still have business interests I am pursuing with Rackspace.  But zero talk of me becoming a Rackspace/MOSSO employee.

And that is not shilling for Rackspace.  If I like a company, I’ll talk well of it.  If I like it a lot, I’ll talk a lot about it.  If you show me MOSSO I might even fucking *gush* about it.

But I won’t sell myself out and shill for you on podcasts – or on Twitter, or anywhere else.  Not unless it is crystal clear to everyone that I am getting paid to do that.  And that isn’t the business I am in.

So when I mention MOSSO and someone suggests I am “working for them” – you are wrong.   And that happened today and it didn’t piss me off – it did hurt  a bit.  I thought the people I was talking to thought more of me than that, knew me better than that.

I am as open on my blog as a guy can be that has two teenagers.  Once they are a bit older I’ll be a bit bolder.  But that will be about personal things.  When it comes to business I am almost (within NDA – I don’t talk about my clients) completely open with you. 

If I have a conflict I’ll tell you.  If I don’t have a conflict, but am accused, I’ll leave a little rant.

Like this one. 🙂

And yes – I do think my next post will be about Rackspace – but mostly because FastCompany.TV just posted the Rackspace video (and I think Rocky did an awesome job!) – AND – my motorcycle actually makes it into the piece.

How cool is that?

Rob