Updated: There’s a mess of inline updates to this story, provided by one Manny Ramon in the comments. Mr. Ramon says he was “SEOColumbus” on Twitter (though that account now looks to have been deleted), and that he provided “SEO expertise and tips” to a friend that worked on DSW.com, but otherwise has no connection to DSW. There are a lot of strange coincidences here, though Mr. Ramon says it’s just a case of mixed online identities.
1. I start following the CEO of big US online shoe retailer Zappos.com on Twitter.
2. He tweets: “Weird, just found out through a PRESS RELEASE that DSW [a bricks-and-mortar shoe retailer that just happens to have launched an online store)] filed a lawsuit against Zappos. Maybe phone call, letter, or email more productive??” followed later by “Just checked with Zappos legal team and haven’t received any communication (phone call, letter, email) from DSW, just press release. Weird.” (Here’s the release about the suit.),
4. I get a pro-DSW Twitter reply from one “SEOColumbus”. I check out his Twitter page and there are more of the same, as well as others talking up DSW’s newly launched site and talking smack about Zappos.
5. My shill radar starts going off, so I Google “SEOColumbus” and “DSW”. I find a LinkedIn profile for a guy, listing one of his current jobs as “Manager – E-Commerce Operations at DSW”. (Update: One Manny Ramon, an SEO Columbus employee, stops by in the comments below to clarify things. He says that he is “SEOColumbus” on Twitter, and that the person in the LinkedIn profile is somebody else unrelated to this episode.)
6. This starts bouncing around Zappos’ well-developed community of Twitter users. SEOColumbus says he used to contract at DSW, but the profile is “outdated”. (Update: Again, Manny Ramon/SEOColumbus on Twitter says in the comments that the LinkedIn profile belongs to somebody else unrelated to this episode, and that he mistakenly thought the link was to his own LinkedIn profile.)
7. LinkedIn profile disappears. Thanks to the magic of Google’s cache (hat tip to The Stalwart) and screenshots), you can still see it. (Update: Again, Manny Ramon/SEOColumbus on Twitter says in the comments that the LinkedIn profile belongs to somebody else unrelated to this episode.)
9. Zappos, which has done an awesome job of building its business through social media, smart marketing, and great customer service, looks like they’re getting attacked — on Twitter and with a lawsuit-cum-marketing vehicle — by a rival who was terribly late to the online game. This person on Twitter says he doesn’t work for DSW any more, but that’s not really relevant. By not disclosing his connection to the company (previous or current), DSW looks bad. Zappos has cultivated a strong online community of passionate customers; now they’re not just pro-Zappos, they’re anti-DSW. How does that help DSW’s business? Oh yeah, it doesn’t.
So the moral of the story: people expect and demand transparency and truthfulness in social media. If you can’t give it to them, you’re better off just staying out of the conversation.