A Scenic Tour of the Online World

Etiquette and Manners For Content Marketing

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

We’re big fans of mobilizing your entire team to pitch in on content marketing, social media, and other online communications. But we’re also fans of making sure your team knows the importance of presenting themselves professionally. Once the toothpaste is out of the tube on the Web, it’s out of the tube, and you’re going to have a much bigger audience for your gaffes than you may want.

There’s a great reminder of this making the rounds on the intertubes of late. It’s an email exchange from 5 or so years ago between a town manager and a representative of the CentOS community.

(CentOS is a server operating system. It’s not the kind of thing an average end user would be familiar with, but would be installed by a server admin managing a website. And CentOS is open source software, so it’s not really a support provider the way Microsoft is for people who have bought Word.)

Here’s a quick summary: the town manager of a small town in Oklahoma found a problem with the town site. The site was gone and in its place was a message from a company he didn’t recognize. He did what he thought was logical and contacted the folks who’s product’s name appeared on his screen. He had the impression his site had been hacked, and that the CentOS message screen he was seeing was some sort of “ha ha, we got you” message from the folks who had hacked the site.

Unfortunately he was, in his initial message, an utter jackass.

Thu, 23 Mar 2006 00:52:58 +0000 (Wed, 18:52 CST)
Jerry A. Taylor submitted the following Information:
Email xxxxxxx
Company City of Tuttle
Location Oklahoma

Who gave you permission to invade my website and block me and anyone else from accessing it???
Please remove your software immediately before I report it to government officials!!
I am the City Manager of Tuttle, Oklahoma.

Content Marketing Lesson 1: Threatening FBI action or making accusations that may not be true is not a good way to encourage open communication.

I can understand his tone arising from a real fear that his site may have been hacked and his not understanding the situation, but that’s no excuse. If you check out the full exchange (link below), you’ll see he starts to bluster about how much he knows.

But, of course, it takes two to tango, and while I would have been tempted to flip this fellow the proverbial bird, leading off a response with, “I feel sorry for your city.” might feel good, but it’s not going to lead to productive conversation.

From: Johnny Hughes
To: Jerry A. Taylor
Subject: Re: www.centos.org – Contact Us Form
Date: Wed, 22 Mar 2006 18:59:18 -0600

I feel sorry for your city.

CentOS is an operating system. It is probably installed on the computer
that runs your website.

We hope you are happy with it, since we produced it for free and you are
able to use it without paying us … and are even threatening to have us
arrested for providing to you free of charge.

Please contact someone who does IT for you and show them the page so
that they can configure your apache webserver correctly.

Johnny Hughes,
CentOS 4 Lead Developer

Content Marketing Lessson 2: If you wouldn’t say it to someone in person – with your Mom watching – don’t put it in an email.

Things escalate from there and though both men have their defenders and fans, neither really comes out looking too terribly great.

So the big lesson is that while it’s more productive to empower as many people as possible in your organization to engage in discussions online, rather than leaving it all on the shoulders of your marketing team, you have to give them proper training, and have to put procedures in place for handling any and all kinds of disputes.

Empower people to make decisions – and even mistakes – but hold them to a reasonable standards of conduct. Every interaction you have becomes part of your social media persona. Make sure your team understands that before they start shooting from the hip.

(You can see the full exchange here. https://centos.org/modules/news/article.php?storyid=127. It’s an entertaining read.)


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