I’ve been reading Heather Armstrong for years, and I’m a big fan. Truly, it was the experience of reading both her posts and Jessamyn’s during their pregnancies several years ago that helped me start feeling like I was maybe possibly in theory just a tiny bit ready to have kids of my own. The realness of what they wrote about did a lot for me in terms of confronting a lot of vague fears; the palpable beauty and love in their words helped me in ways I find difficult to explain.

I think Heather’s a hell of a smart cookie for leveraging her website the way she has, and I believe she deserves every bit of recognition she gets. She’s got an audience that’s hard for me to fathom—over a million followers on Twitter alone. Even subtracting the spambots, that’s . . . intense. That’s, like, the entire population of Detroit. Can you imagine sharing the intimate details of your life with Detroit? I mean, not Detroit specifically, just—fuck it, you know what I mean.

Anyway, if you follow her on Twitter you may have seen some posts from her about Maytag. I don’t know the whole story, but it sounds like she bought a brand new washing machine, it broke, and subsequent attempts to have it fixed didn’t work out. She posted several frustrated-sounding Twitter updates that repeatedly included the phrase DO NOT BUY MAYTAG.

It sounded like Home Depot connected with her on Twitter, and eventually, Whirlpool (the parent company of Maytag). It wasn’t clear if anyone actually called her, or did anything to help resolve the broken washer situation, but from the perspective of Twitter-bystander it sounded like they were trying to help. But maybe not. It was hard to tell.

I don’t work for Maytag, nor am I a fan of sitting back and accepting bad customer service. When I was treated poorly by American Airlines a while back, I definitely complained about it. I think it’s a good thing to share these stories, both for consumers and for the businesses that are hopefully going to see them.

I think there’s a difference, though, between taking the time to explain what went wrong, and basically calling for a boycott of a company because of your own personal experience. “Do not buy Maytag” is a call to action, and it went out to over a million people. Does Heather have the right to use Twitter to vent about an annoying situation she’s dealing with? Absolutely. Is there an ethical issue in telling such a large audience not to give a company their business, without providing any backstory aside from a short-by-nature series of updates someone may or may not have read, depending on how frequently they’re checking Twitter? Maybe. That’s where I disagree with her choice to call Maytag out in such a public fashion—not because she doesn’t have the right to receive good service, but because it was less of a “Hey Maytag, here’s what’s going on, you are totally shitting the bed right now,” and more of a no-context brand-bash to her entire audience.

At my company we monitor Twitter mentions constantly. Our support team jumps on any issues we see out there and we do our best to make pissed off people happy again. I fully understand the impact one person can have when they’re unhappy with your service, and maybe part of where I’m coming from is imagining being on the marketing side of Maytag right now, trying to do damage control and—from the looks of things—learning about Twitter for the first time (note that Whirlpool has a total of 11 updates, 4 of which involve Dooce).

Does Maytag deserve this kind of bad PR? Well, I think my problem with the whole thing is that I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a company-wide Maytag problem, a local Home Depot problem, a stupid service-person problem, or what. A non-working washing machine sucks, especially in a house with kids—believe me, I get it. But should I not buy a Maytag the next time I need a new appliance? Heather seems to think so. And while I won’t make my purchasing decision based on one anecdotal piece of information, here’s the thing: some people will. Maybe a LOT of people. All you have to do is search Twitter for the responses people sent to Whirlpool on Heather’s behalf to understand the power of her influence. Or hell, look at some of the messages sent my way after I publicly disagreed with her.

Marketers will be talking about this, how one blogger stirred up so much conversation over a broken washing machine. People will theorize about the role of social media and the consumer, and much will be made of how consumers now have a voice in the face of uncaring corporate entities.

This isn’t quite the right story, though. Yes, companies should be using social media if they want to listen to their customers. Yes, consumers have the right to share their experiences, good and bad, because we can all benefit from that. But this isn’t the average customer/company interaction. Heather’s Maytag posts don’t prove that bitching about a company on Twitter gets you anywhere, it’s an anomalous data point. After all, how many people have over a million people listening to what we have to say? At this point, Maytag can’t win PR-wise: if they don’t respond, she stays mad; if they do respond, their actions seem less genuine than they would have been if Heather had, say, 20 followers. I think the more relevant issue has to do with whether a larger voice leads to greater responsibilities. In this case, as much as it seems like Heather should be able to say what she wants because what the hell, it’s her Twitter account . . . I kind of think it does.

I really do hope Heather’s washing machine gets fixed soon. And I hope that if the weird knocking sound in my dryer means my (non-Maytag) appliance is on its last legs, I can get it resolved. You know, on my own.

Comments

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Jenny
Jenny
13 years ago

Uh, yeah. That pretty much sums up what I thought of the whole thing. Well said!

Alice
Alice
13 years ago

I love you.

samantha jo campen
13 years ago

*clap clap clap clap clap*

*wolf whistles*

It’s been said a bunch of different times today but dude, yous got some BALLS.

Pete
Pete
13 years ago

If I had a million followers instead of Porn stars I would bitch about my fridge and maybe get it fixed. To quote Spiderman’s Uncle.. “With great power comes great responsibility”.

I would still like my fridge fixed. :-(

kate
kate
13 years ago

LOVE you and the way you put this! I agree that responsibility is a huge part of her online life now and should be taken into consideration very carefully. It’s one of the things that comes with providing for your entire family from your website and the millions of hits it’s getting. Well said, Linda!

Gleemonex
13 years ago

With great power, comes great responsibility.

In other words: Yes, what you said. heh.

Erin
Erin
13 years ago

Yeah! What you said!

Liz
Liz
13 years ago

This reminds me of when Oprah complained about beef back in the 90s.

It also reminds me of the time my friend complained about a certain brand of tea on Twitter (she currently has 193 followers) and somebody from that company contacted her and asked how they could fix it. 193! Behold, the power of Twitter!

Andrea
13 years ago

I think you’ve handled the whole thing, both your disagreement with her tweets and your response to the situation very gracefully, and her… not so much. It’s the not having the whole story that bugs me too. If we KNEW what it was she’s gone through, perhaps we could understand her DON’T BUY MAYTAG tweets but she hasn’t given that info out.

I agree wholeheartedly with you. She knows she has some pull on the ‘net, and she used it. Did she have a right to be frustrated? Sounds like it. Did she have a right to tweet it? Sure. Should she have used her influence to call for a boycott without giving the people who follow her the whole story so they can make up their minds themselves? Nope. Most people can make informed decisions without blindly doing what an internet celeb says. it’s the informed part that got left out.

Way to go, Sundry. I applaud you your cojones. I bet lots of people wouldn’t have tweeted her back their dissenting opinions simply because of her influence. Big brass ones, you have.

jennifer
jennifer
13 years ago

HEAR HEAR!!!

Smileen
13 years ago

People who have influence or notoriety should know better, and know exactly what the Domino effect will be if one was to say such statments. It seems like leverage is trying to be served instead of a sidedish of let our head deflate and handle the situation like us common folk.

Eloquently said Linda.

Joanne
13 years ago

I am with you 100 percent, if it matters. You have handled yourself very well, in my opinion. Also, word to Jessamyn’s blog – what would I have done during my first pregnancy and babyhood of my first without her blog?

She Likes Purple
13 years ago

It’s so dangerous to elevate someone so much that you listen to what they say, regardless of content or context but just because THEY SAID IT, IT’S FACT, AMEN.

As consumers we SHOULD be empowered but her updates weren’t about empowering consumers or demanding better customer service (which we can all agree is a fine thing to demand), but about blindly boycotting a company just because she said so. (At least the first few.) God, I’d hope that everyone reading her updates would say to themselves, “That sucks, but when I need a w/d, I’ll do my own research and form my own opinion,” but I know (and SHE knew, I’m sure) that wouldn’t be the case. It’s not even her fault that people can be so sheep-like, but I do lose some respect that she presented it in such a way with no context, knowing people would respond on her behalf in the way that they did.

I really like Heather, too. After BlogHer 08, there was quite the backlash about the Keynote, and I was there and couldn’t have disagreed more with people who said she didn’t handle things well. But she has a responsibility to the community who, basically, employs her. This is her job, and even though it’s the advertisers who are cutting her the check, they’re doing so because millions of people read and support her online website.

I do think she was wrong here, and I do hope she acknowledges your incredibly valid points and at least tries to see that it has nothing to do with voicing one’s opinion but about presenting the whole story in a way that respects both the company and her followers.

andrea
13 years ago

Yet another reason you are my favorite blogger out there.

My washing machine broke last month. Holy pain in the ass, yes. Yet within 4 hours I was able to secure a repairman to come out and diagnose and fix it and I remain a loyal Maytag owner.

SKL
SKL
13 years ago

If this is your belief, then it ought to apply to everything people say on Twitter and on twit-like sites. Especially political comments that might affect someone’s vote and hence the future of our country. Or the various versions of “Walmart is the root of all evil.” Or the colorful, and not necessarily balanced book reviews you post fairly often.

At some point, people are responsible for their own decisions. Anyone who would make a significant purchase decision based on a Twitter post (or posts) is . . . well, who would? I don’t get all this idolatry in amateur media in the first place. These are people you don’t even know. All this “you are so amaaaazing” and “what would I do without you” . . . seriously.

I don’t think it’s unethical to gripe in any informal setting because people have a right to assume their listeners are not idiots. Adults know the difference between a product review and a vent.

Maria
13 years ago

I’ve been following this all day, and I applaud you for speaking up despite the small margin of backlash you received. You are raising awareness to the fact that one voice heard by many can have a great influence. I’m not suggesting that all of Heather’s followers are sheep and would therefore not buy Maytag the next time they are in need of an appliance, but there is no denying she has the ability to make a great impact. Someone with over one million followers should recognize her influence. Yes, she has the right to express her grievances, but she needs to consider whether the damage she could inflict is appropriate to the offense.

Uncle Ben ne’er spoke truer words: With great power comes great responsibility.

danielle
danielle
13 years ago

I feel a reality tv show in the works! Dueling bloggers tweeting about their disagreements. You’ll be all over late night cable tv!

I applaud you for standing up for what you believe in. Courage is an under-appreciated virtue.

Michelle
Michelle
13 years ago

Sheesh. All I can say is that *I* am totally one of those people who hears a bad customer service story I automatically go to the “I WILL NEVER BUY FROM THEM” place. Unless the person who reports that bad customer service is a complete poo brain or they are talking about a company I’ve already found myself to be “tried and true”.

That said….even if Heather had not flat out SAID to ban Maytag her complaints (combined with others I have heard about them) might have led me to that act anyway.

I guess I’m saying that I would hope people would make a decision on whether or not to ban a company would use some additional info other than “A blogger I like told me to” before they take action.

Please notice I said HOPE.

Anne
13 years ago

Huzzah! I actually sent you an email thanking you for expressing your different-than-dooce-and-yet-totally-valid opinion, which I happen to agree with. In short: GO YOU.

caleal
caleal
13 years ago

I agree. That is all.

beach
beach
13 years ago

I just like the fact that You stood up for what you believed in….and you did it with class…

Frannie
Frannie
13 years ago

Let’s just say, I completely agree with you. Some people are easily influenced; there’s also a responsibilty when you have many people who are listening and are willing to speak on your behalf. It’s nice to know these companies are frantically scrambling for one person while they keep me and everyone else on the phone for two hours until I reach a human.

jessica
jessica
13 years ago

i really couldn’t agree with your more. I enjoy Heather’s website, I think she’s smart, funny, and an excellent writer, but I really do think she asbused her status here. She didn’t give the entire story, she simply comaplined, a lot, on twitter about something that was bugging her. and, yeah, we ALL do it, i know. But like you said, very few of us have the type of pull and audience that she has. And, well, frankly, she came across as whiney and self-entitled. very, DON”T YOU KNOW WHO I AM MAYTAG?!?! at least that’s how I took it. of course she has a right to complain and bitch, but to call for a boycott of a specific brand without telling anyone the whole story? I don’t know, it just seemed a bit over-the-top. She KNOWS she has 1million+ followers and I really don’t doubt she knew what she was doing when she “suggested” the boycott of the brand.

I guess what really irks me, is that I know if I were in those shoes, NOTHING would be done. Shit, I’ve been in those shoes, openly complaining about my cable provider on twitter and NOTHING was done. I didn’t get upset over that becuase I really never expected something to be done. I was simply venting frustrations. But! after seeing the reactions that Heather has received (offers for FREE MACHINES from Whirpool)makes me feel like she has abused her “internet celebrity status” to get something many of us just can’t get. action – fast.

i applaud you for speaking your mind on this. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought the whole ordeal was a bit, ohhh, over the top.

I hope Heather gets her problem resloved. And I also hope she shares THAT part of the story as well. I think that’s only fair.

Pam
Pam
13 years ago

Right on, sister.

JMH
JMH
13 years ago

Great post. I appreciate how you calmly and rationally explained your point. IMHO, that is much more effective.

I personally no longer read Dooce simply because I no longer liked her posts. BUT, I think *any* person who has some level of “fame” needs to be very careful about what they say in public…on the Internet, on TV, etc. I thought it was very unfair for her to only give bits of her side of the story. Yes, she was mad, but it seemed a bit extreme to ask people to ban a company over one mistake (or 2 or 3)

SKL- I LOVE this quote “I don’t get all this idolatry in amateur media in the first place. These are people you don’t even know. All this “you are so amaaaazing” and “what would I do without you” . . . seriously”

Ha! That is hilarious.

kate
kate
13 years ago

Yes! I really applaud how you’ve handled yourself in this situation.

callie
callie
13 years ago

Have you noticed that no one who “disagrees” with you has had their comment posted? Hmm.

Well I for one think your point of view is way off base. You don’t know her story…and it seems to me you want her following and some attention your way. Which you apparently got.

You will never in a million years be one-tenth as interesting as Heather. But goodluck.

Colleen
Colleen
13 years ago

You fucking rock.

Belle
Belle
13 years ago

And, this is why I read YOU and not HER and I totally agree with you.

chan
chan
13 years ago

Just wanted to add my support to your side of the debate. How ironic that when Heather plays David to Maytag’s Goliath, she gets an avalanche of support, but when you play David to HEATHER’s Goliath, you get an avalanche of hate.

Mimi
13 years ago

I was totally turned off by her tweets as well. I kept thinking… doesn’t she know that people have been sued for less than this? Really, is she asking for a lawsuit?
I was glad to see the tweets that you posted were a voice of reason, none of that sort of hysterical tone that Heather had.

Eric's Mommy
Eric's Mommy
13 years ago

You kick ass Linda!

Trish
Trish
13 years ago

Reminds me of Oprah and the beef industry….on a smaller scale, of course.

kalisa
13 years ago

I am behind you all the way on this one. But I disagree with one point: that Heather Armstrong has the right to vent on Twitter.

When you’re #26, it comes with responsibilities. Does Diane Sawyer have a right to call for a company boycott on GMA simply because she’s had a bad experience? NO. For someone like me, with 200 followers, Twitter is very much a place to vent my frustrations if that’s how I chose to use it. When you’re #26 and Forbes says you rule the internet, then you have a responsibility to use that tool differently than the “little people” do.

Smileen
13 years ago

::says Callie w/ no link to anything about her::

bessie.viola
13 years ago

I really appreciate you saying this. I thought it was pretty unfair to call Maytag out without saying exactly why. Kudos to you for speaking up!

I’m sorry that you’ll have minions on your site for a while, though. I happen to think that Dooce would be lucky to be one-tenth as interesting as you.

monkey
13 years ago

Very well put and I totally agree.

Marketing seems to be a very exciting field but I have to say that brouhahas like this are exactly why I slowly drifted from wanting to focus my MBA in marketing to multinational management/strategy with my marketing on the side. Because dare I say it? I find some of this stuff very childish and unprofessional and I stopped babysitting years ago.

Sara
Sara
13 years ago

yes yes yes.

I was in/around Seattle last week while tagging along on my husband’s business trip & I tried to keep an eye out for Cat. I’m sorry I didn’t see him on his vacation.

Olivia
Olivia
13 years ago

Very well stated! Thank you so much for posting this.

Frannie
Frannie
13 years ago

Linda, I think you’re really interesting and actually have more creativity that you will use to, I don’t know, not write a book about your life -just like your blog, but something really cool. Perhaps with zombies. (By the way, get on it!) Sure, you didn’t know what the whole story was about, but I think that’s part of what your point was….Trollin on the internet is so 1998. Someone with class doesn’t need to beckon attention, it just comes naturally.

Gina
13 years ago

Yes! I have few followers and absolutely no influence, so I was happy when Glad sent me a coupon for a free box of trash bags last week after I got a defective box.

Amy
Amy
13 years ago

Well said!! With great power comes great responsibility. (At least that’s what Spidey’s uncle says!)

monkey
13 years ago

Just to be clear, I’m not calling your behaviour out as unprofessional and childish! This is just another instance of WTF I’ve experienced as I considered making the switch into marketing. And it’s not one way with bloggers behaving badly-I’ve read about some wtf marketing-to-bloggers snafus, too.

The nice thing about my current field is that it’s boring, stagnant and brouhahas are kept to a low because of malpractice issues and licensing violations.

Kate
13 years ago

I thought you handled yourself exceptionally well.

I have to say, I had been thinking about doing it for a while, but after today’s events, I broke up with Dooce. Deleted her feed from my reader and un-followed her. There might be a chance for us again in the future, but I just don’t know. :)

MEP
MEP
13 years ago

Believe it or not, I don’t Twitter and don’t follow anyone’s Twitter (except Evany Thomas while she was in labor, because her site was so neglected). I don’t read Dooce every day, but I do read you every day, Linda, and have for years, because you’re a mensch. But am I reading this right — are you defending a giant corporation’s right to provide shitty customer service to everyone equally, rich or poor, and never suffer consequences? I have no idea what happened but it sounds like they neglected a consumer — until they found out she has more ears that just the gals in book club. Which is shitty of THEM, not HER. What is her responsibility, exactly? To make sure Whirlpool’s feelings aren’t hurt? She’s not CNN. She’s also not responsible for what wackadoos do in her “defense.” And regardless, I’m pretty sure Whirpool can take it.

Say what you will about Heather Armstrong, but she is single-handedly blazing a trail of internet celebrity and power, and while I love you and your writing, all your extra endeavors and side bars and ads and plans to write a book, plus now TWO entries about how Heather Armstrong won’t play right… I don’t know. To me it all sounds like sour grapes.

jen
jen
13 years ago

Kalisa hit on what I was going to bring up…

I was watching a Maher or Daily Show, forgive me, I can’t remember which, and one of them was all over a Fox News commentator who had said the abortion doctor in KS should be killed and then this crazy guy went and did just that. And Maher or Stewart’s point was that being a News Person, having millions of people listening to you, requires a higher level of responsibility to what you say. Not that the commentator cannot have his opinions but that his opinions have more weight with some people in society and him saying what he said was reckless.

Naturally, this situation is not quite as extreme as the Maher/Daily Show example. But the point is the same. Being an Influential Person means being held to a different standard. It’s part of the deal.

Kate
Kate
13 years ago

Ugh. Can we please retire the “it’s just because you’re jealous” philosophy? That is such a childish argument, right up there with “Yuh-huh” and “You’re not the boss of me.” Sometimes we disagree with people, it doesn’t automatically equal jealousy.

I enjoy both Dooce and Sundry, but in this instance, I agree with your take on the situtaion, Linda. I think you handled it very nicely, and I appreciate your explaining yourself, which you didn’t necessarily need to do.

Kate
Kate
13 years ago

Exactly. Very well said.

Emily
Emily
13 years ago

I’m another one who unfollowed Dooce on Twitter after today, not just because hearing nonstop about her washing machine was getting old, but because of the way she got so defensive about your comments, Dooce. And then, of course, she made a point to have some positive updates about the situation, so I think you hit a nerve.

Callie can…nevermind. I love both blogs but you are more interesting than Dooce — if it’s a contest, anyway, which I didn’t realize it was.

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