Get Satisfaction is better known these days for providing a platform for companies to “love their customers,” but at times it’s also a channel for consumers to make their voices heard to companies that actively spurn them. Ever since we launched, GS has allowed people to post an issue about any company, whether or not the company has created an official community space.
An article in today’s New York Times, A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web, profiles a company that takes customer loathing to a bizarre extreme: DecorMyEyes and its owner, Vitaly Borker (though he goes by a shifting array of aliases), has built its marketing strategy–believe it or not–on the back of customer anger. Get Satisfaction plays an important role in the story because many of the on-record complaints were posted to Get Satisfaction, and we even tried to pro-actively intervene at one point. However, the Law of Unintended Consequences was in full effect: by providing a soapbox for abused customers we inadvertently played right into DecorMyEyes absurd strategy. In Mr. Borker’s own words on Get Satisfaction:
“The more replies you people post, the more business and the more hits and sales I get. My goal is NEGATIVE advertisement.”
The article continues:
It’s all part of a sales strategy, he said. Online chatter about DecorMyEyes, even furious online chatter, pushed the site higher in Google search results, which led to greater sales. He closed with a sardonic expression of gratitude: “I never had the amount of traffic I have now since my 1st complaint. I am in heaven.”
In the hands of the Times journalist it’s easy to think of this guy as the Hannibal Lecter of e-commerce, a man who is deeply interesting precisely because he operates so far outside the bounds of polite society (and the law). And let’s be clear, of the tens of thousands of companies who we’ve encountered since launching Get Satisfaction, DecorMyEyes and its owner are a remarkably unique case.
But the article is unintentionally misleading. The story implies that links on Get Satisfaction positively accrue to the benefit of a company, even if they’re negative. Like any online community that cares to combat spammers, we code our user-submitted links so that Google ignores them for the purposes of calculating page rank (specifically, we attach “rel=nofollow” to anchor tags). Somebody trying to gin up their Page Rank by encouraging complaints on Get Satisfaction would be sorely disappointed.
Secondly, throughout the article the implication is that bad behavior such as this pays. It is not until the last page of an EIGHT page article that it becomes clear that Mr. Borker is quite troubled financially. This is no formula for success.
As for our role in helping to create such a monster, I wanted to share a few facts to discourage the notion that Mr. Borker is a harmless “shock jockey” worthy of emulation. Also, several people have wondered about the references that the Times article makes to our employee who tried to “mediate” on behalf of one of our users. Here’s the email that our community manager sent him on March 20, 2008:
Hello, I am with a start-up called Get Satisfaction. I wanted to take a minute to introduce myself. We’re located in San Francisco, and we have created a spot where companies and their customers can engage and forge stronger relationships.
Someone recently started a conversation about DecorMyEyes, and I wanted to invite someone in your organization to respond and participate. Take a look and see what it!s all about: http://getsatisfaction.com/decormyeyescom/topics/need_to_share_my_bad_experience_with_decormyeyes_com
I’d love it if you wanted to join in these conversations. It’s an opportunity to provide customer service that’s above and beyond.
We’ve got a lot of forward-thinking companies on board already, and we’d love to have you participate.
Mr. Borker explains what happens next:
“They wrote to me, ‘We’d like to talk to you; we should take a proactive approach.’ ” Mr. Borker sneers and rolls his eyes. “I sent him a photograph of this,” he says, raising his middle finger.
It was actually clip-art. Though he claims in the Times article that he only responds to “psychos” with his unruly attitude, it is clear here that he has a very broad definition of “psycho.” He went on to violate many of our most important terms of service:
- He threatened users physically (“I will slap you/pee on you”), and otherwise harassed them
- He was banned from our system after posting “extreme” porn
- He subsequently created many additional accounts on our system to get around the ban, each of which we shut down immediately
- He created accounts with nearly identical names to his critics to post as them
Put simply, Mr. Borker is a plain, old fashioned Internet troll who happens to have an online store. He may be a character worthy of Dostoyevsky, but seriously, folks, don’t try his brand of buffoonery in your own business. It can’t help but end badly.