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Businesses shouldn’t be so scared of having a healthy debate

I have a new blog live over at Popup Weddings. It’s about a little Twitter spat that started when Brides magazine posted a new advice article, part of which said you don’t need to feed your wedding photographer.

Some photographers didn’t like that too much and promptly tweeted their disagreement. And that’s all it took for Brides magazine to take the article down. There probably wasn’t even 50 tweets on the topic, but it was enough.

The crippling fear of offending people

Let’s ignore for a moment who’s right and who’s wrong – I covered that in my Popups blog. The bigger question is: why are businesses so petrified of having a debate?

Whether it’s a website, a store, a restaurant or any organisation with a reputation to consider, they always react to a few unhappy tweets in one of two ways:

1. Remove the offending tweet, blog, product or whatever and then act like it never happened. (As Brides magazine did.)

2. Remove the offending tweet, blog, product or whatever and then post a grovelling, nauseatingly corporate apology.

Either way, most businesses are panicking and running for the hills at the slightest indication they’ve offended someone.

And what message does that give to their customers?

Lack of character. Lack of personality. Lack of confidence in their product.

Whatever brand identity they’re aiming for, this kind of reaction trashes it.

Pretty much any strong brand identity is based around coming across as a group of honest people who care about customers – not a boardroom full of suits who will say any old bulls**t if it gets people’s wallets out. A big part of that is sounding sincere in everything you say.

So when you immediately backtrack at the slightest murmur of customer discontent, you expose your message as pure fluff – empty words based on what market analysis says is profitable.

So what’s the alternative?

Shock, horror – be honest.

So Brides magazine said you don’t have to feed wedding photographers and some photographers on Twitter disagreed. The lady who wrote the blog is an experienced wedding planner who clearly knows her stuff, so surely this disagreement is worthy of further discussion.

The writer, Sandy Malone, actually tweeted responses to some of the criticisms. And what developed (briefly) was an interesting debate of contractual obligation vs vendor etiquette.

So why not encourage a healthy debate? Exchange a few more tweets, let more people weigh in on the discussion and then decide whether you’ve heard enough to change your mind.

Because here’s the key thing:

It’s perfectly okay for a business to change its mind without a grovelling apology

If you have a constructive debate with customers on social media, you can consider both sides of it and decide whether to keep or change your original opinion. Either way, you can summarise your conclusions in a  follow-up article that shows genuine interaction with your customers. It shows you’ve listened to what they have to say.

The worst case scenario is that you consider all sides of the argument and quickly realise you’re wrong and you need to concede. Even then, you can come out of it with some credit.

For Brides magazine, even their worst case scenario could’ve been handled with a post like this:

We were wrong – you really should feed your wedding photographer

We’ve had a bit of a debate on Twitter recently about a blog in which we said you don’t need to feed wedding photographers.

The writer who penned this blog knows her stuff and gives loads of great advice through our magazine. But in this case, we think she was being a bit harsh. It’s true that, by the letter of the law, you don’t need to feed any vendor who doesn’t have it in their contract.

But having heard the counter argument, we agree that for the relatively small amount of money it costs, it’s a nice gesture to make sure your vendors never go hungry.

Thanks to everyone who pitched in on the discussion. 

Is that really so scary?

You can even keep the original post up, just with a little amendment or a note.

And remember, that’s the worst case scenario. And you’ve used it to show you’re honest and passionate about giving good advice, also that you value your customers’ opinions.

So businesses: if you genuinely believe in your expertise and your brand identity, stop being such wimps and have a healthy debate or two.

You might learn something. Hell, you might even find that being wrong and admitting it every now and then makes good business sense.

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