How NOT to Promote Yourself Online

I had always thought CEOs were really busy people—at least too busy to be wasting their time on internet chat board. But apparently I was wrong! John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, proved himself to be the internet's most high-profiled troll recently. He anonymously posted to online chat boards, hyping up his own company and trash-talking his competitors.

While he is now being investigated by the SEC, the legal implications of such a move are not the subject of this post. What I'd like to talk about is conducting your business online. I think there is a lesson to be learned from Mackey's behavior, and that is everything you do online reflects upon your company. With that in mind, I'd like to reiterate some general guidelines about the positive ways you can promote yourself online using blogs and forums:

  • Conduct yourself fairly, honestly, and transparently.
    Secrets always have a way of coming out eventually—and when they do, the public will be left with a bad feeling about you and your company. Do you really want people to mistrust you?
  • Only say something online that you would say to someone in person.
    Sometimes people forget that on the other end of the screen, there is a live person.
  • Use your real name, but add a disclaimer if you need to.
    Matt Cutts and Robert Scoble fully tell you where they work, but they both have also added a disclaimer to tell you that their posts are their personal opinions—not the opinion of their respective companies. That being said, they still conduct themselves in a way that would not anger their employers!
  • Be positive.
    Remember that when you post online, you are essentially marketing for yourself. Bad press and negative marketing is not good for your business, so promote yourself positively through your interactions.

On a related note, I see that Joel has updated the StartupNation Community Guidelines. (Great leadership, Joel!) I see these kinds of guidelines as less "playground rules", and more as evidence of StartupNation's continued mission to help you grow your business by establishing some best practices for you to use in the StartupNation community or anywhere you might be promoting yourself online.

If you'd like to find out more about Netiquette, you can check out this Wikipedia article on it.

Nikole Gipps is the principal of NHG Consulting, a web design and marketing firm. She can be reached through her StartupNation profile, her company website, or her Small Business Essentials blog.

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