Yesterday, Michael Wagner pointed me to this piece from Cindy Au (@Shinee_au on the twitternets) on the Matter Anti-Matter blog. It focuses on an interesting little incident that happened between Pinterest, a user, and the Mitt Romney campaign. You should go read it in all its glory here. Below are several of the good parts. Here’s how Cindy sets up the initial problem:
Recently, Pinterest was asked by officials from Mitt Romney’s campaign to change the name on the account of a user who had created a satirical board poking fun at Romney’s, how shall we say, epicurean tastes.
While it’s clear the Pinterest team appreciated the commentary and creativity that Eric’s board brought to their site, when it comes to setting a precedent for the rest of Pinterest’s community, things like fake accounts and impersonation swing both ways. It’s not long before you have more fake accounts pinning items and proliferating ideologies that may not be so easy to stomach.
In fact, Pinterest’s terms of service clearly prohibit impersonations. Here is the exact section. If the link doesn’t work for you, here it is:
General Prohibitions (Things you agree not to do):
– Impersonate or misrepresent your affiliation with any person or entity
There it is in clear black and white Anglo.
So… it would have been easy for Pinterest to deactivate the account outright. It wouldn’t be the first time that a social network shut someone down for the slightest infraction, no matter how benign or accidental. (Facebook, I am talking to you.) Pinterest would have been well within its rights to drop the hammer on the evil little user who dared spit in the eye of their TOS. But they didn’t. Instead, Enid Hwang, Pinterest’s community manager, sent Eric this message:
From: Enid Hwang
Date: Fri, Feb 10, 2012 at 9:51 AM PST
Subject: Pinterest: “MittRomneyGOP” username
To: Eric Spiegelman
I’m Enid, the Community Manager at Pinterest. As you might have guessed, I’m writing regarding your username “MittRomneyGOP.” We were recently contacted by officials from Mitt Romney’s campaign because they feel it’s very misleading and they’re requesting that it be changed to “fakemittromney.”
We actually really appreciate political commentary on Pinterest – and I know your account is clearly satirical – but we’re a young company so we don’t have a feature/process in place for “verified accounts” (such as Twitter) which would make the purpose of your account immediately obvious to any user on the site.
If you don’t mind changing your username, let me know. Or, you can just go ahead and make the switch yourself at: https://pinterest.com/settings. We’ve been brainstorming alternatives and unfortunately we feel changing your profile picture or adding a byline on your “bio” section on Pinterest may not be sufficient because that information isn’t included with all pins that propagate through the site.
We’re also really open to discussing the issue more with you, so you can reach me directly at [REDACTED] if you have any questions.
I’m sorry for the trouble and again, don’t hesitate to call if you’re concerned about this!
One word: Human.
Here are several others: Mature. Respectful. Professional. Kind, even.
So what happened? Eric Spiegelman responded (somewhat nervously) with a plea to Pinterest. Here:
Obviously I understand your concern. And I can imagine as a new company (one that’s really doing a great job), you’d prefer not to have hassles like this. But at the same time, you’re a publishing entity that’s more or less open to the public, and I can’t in good conscience change my parody at the request of the subject of that parody. It should be obvious to the Romney campaign that nobody sees this as official, and that I am exercising my Free Speech rights in making fun of Gov. Romney’s utter tone-deafness when it comes to matters of privilege and class inequality.
That being said, I understand that you are well within your rights to delete my account. But I really hope you choose not to.
You have a wonderful service in Pinterest, and I wish your team all the best, however you proceed with this.
No expletives. No anger. No “you suck” and “how dare you” indignation.
Lesson 1: Enid’s tone in the initial message set the tone for Eric’s response.
Lesson 2: Initiative matters.
Now check out how Enid responded to Eric’s plea.
Thanks for getting back to me so quickly: We have no intention of deleting your account. It’s satire and it should stay! We’ll change the username (this doesn’t affect your boards, pins, or anything else about your profile settings) and we feel that’s sufficient. Once we institute verified accounts this, and any future issues, will be taken care of universally. That’s our responsibility so sorry again for having you caught in the middle of it.
I really appreciate your note (and compliments!) and thanks so much for your understanding,
Note that Enid struck right to the heart of Enid’s central concern: “We have no intention of deleting your account.” Perfect.
He then offers a compromise, which… may not have been ideal for Eric, but solves the problem for everyone (Mitt Romney’s epicurean tastes notwithstanding).
The first remark I want to make is this: The way Pinterest handled this violation of its TOS shines in sharp contrast against the way Facebook handles its TOS business. This is the proper way to handle TOS infractions of this sort. This is the proper way for a company to treat its customers, users and fans: With kindness and respect rather than with a stick, a whip, or a hammer.
The second remark is more of an outline, really. How to handle customer care & community management responses in instances like this:
1. Identify the problem.
2. Understand the problem.
3. Understand the ramifications of the problem for all parties involved.
4. Outline several solutions/compromises.
5. Reach out to the individual responsible for the problem in a non-confrontational, non-threatening way. Stiff corporate tones here probably won’t have the desired effect. Be human. Be relaxed. Be professional but somewhat informal.
6. Politely and kindly explain what the problem is and why it is a problem.
7. Appeal to the individual’s sense of community and fair play. This is important.
8. Offer one or several compromise(s) so the individual feels empowered to make a choice. This steers him/her in the right direction without any strong-arming.
9. Address whatever fears or apprehensions the individual has. Recognize that this is stressful. Make him/her feel at ease.
10. Apologize for the inconvenience. Empathize.
11. Thank the individual for his/her understanding, patience and sense of fair play. Be appreciative of his/her support. Bond.
12. Throughout the entire process, remember that just because you have the power to be an asshole doesn’t mean you should. Treat people well. Treat people well. Treat people well. Repeat this as many times as it takes. Human beings deserve kindness and respect, whether your product is free or not. You want to know the secret to loyalty and positive word of mouth? The first half: Great products at a fair price. The second half: This. It’s that simple.
Or… you could just hide behind the usual excuse (“we don’t have the manpower to deal with every case in this way”), suspend account after account without explanation, make a point of being as impersonal as possible, and build an army of haters.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Excuses have an effective range of about zero meters. We all build the companies we want to build.
At least for now, it looks like Pinterest is on the right track. Everyone should take note.
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