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The online space is defined by its openness and the astonishing ability for people, including your customers, to interact and communicate, potentially to the vast majority of the world's population. 

Many of the interactions are marked by their frankness, honesty and transparency, look at Facebook and Twitter if you are in any doubt. The internet is not just driving connection, it is demanding new levels of openness.

Against this landscape of increasing transparency, there are millions of businesses, many now online, which seem to stick to an entirely different approach. The tendency is to try to hang on to old style privacy, to lurk behind the barest minimum of marketing speak, revealing very little - and then only a manipulated upside.

Granted it is human nature to do this, but online businesses should consider adopting more human behaviours in their interactions with customers.

And that includes sticking your hand straight up when you make a boob.

Don't try and sweep stuff under the carpet. Not only is it taking people as fools but you will probably get found out anyway.

In this connected age, information gets out and it lives on. Look at what happened when United Airlines broke rock singer Dave Carroll’s guitar and didn't fix it. He released a song called “United Breaks Guitars” that stormed the online charts getting 9.2m hits on Youtube. United’s share price dropped by 10% and the song is still around for us all to sing along to, perhaps with the exclusion of the CEO of United!

Do you want to be exposed to public ridicule and have your misjudgements enshrined in catchy songs?

I have just had to face up to a personal misjudgement which could easily have escalated into public ridicule.

At LovingOutdoors.com we recently ran a competition for which we had 4,000 entries. We duly awarded first prize - and sent out an email to all the other entrants saying they were second prize winners of £50 off a GPS.

There was no deliberate intention to deceive but it was clumsy and probably a bit over-hyped. People talked- and some thought they were being abused, conned even. I could immediately see their issue and could have kicked myself for our gaffe, wanting the problem to go away.

But that kind of inward-looking response doesn't cut the mustard in the online world of transparency and openness.

To every person who complained I sent a note of explanation and apology, with an attached picture of me holding up a big sorry note. People seem to accept this - we made a mistake......we let our commercial enthusiasm overtake our critical faculties. We're sorry and people can see that we are only human.

Loving Outdoors

And that's the moral I want to share: never forget that the digital world is at heart also a human world. Treat your customers as human beings, and that includes saying sorry when you get it wrong. Out of sight does not for a moment ever mean beyond transparency.

Scott Woodhead

Published 6 October, 2010 by Scott Woodhead

Scott Woodhead is a contributor to Econsultancy.

2 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

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Ian

Great post. This is exactly how I feel about online interaction. You can't 'spin' things in the online world; there will always be someone who is insightful and keen enough to find you out. Instead, being committed to an authentic approach will pay off in the long wrong by building trust and loyalty.

almost 6 years ago

Scott Woodhead

Scott Woodhead, Founder at Loving Outdoors

Thanks Ian, you are completely right it is all about being authentic and building trust and loyalty. Not rocket science really but there are hundreds of, many high profile businesses getting this fundamental principle wrong.

almost 6 years ago

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