‘I’m Sorry’ Getting Easier to Say

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I’ve seen two instances recently in which companies apologized after incurring the wrath of bloggers.

The most recent is the head of Jung von Matt, a German advertising agency. Jean-Remy von Matt sent an email to his staff complaining about bloggers after several savaged a campaign for which his agency was responsible. He called blogs “the toilet walls of the Internet” and asked, “What on earth gives every computer owner the right to exude his opinion, unasked for? And most bloggers really just exude.”
The blogosphere didn’t react kindly when the internal email was leaked. Now, according to the UK’s Guardian, he’s seeking forgiveness:

My mother taught me something. If you make a mistake, apologise … I was agitated, and I wrote an email to my colleagues, who had worked hard for months on the campaign and deserved some encouragement against the criticism, justified or unjustified.

Von Matt wasn’t content to let it go with the apology, sadly, taking one last shot at bloggers:

Even if most of the criticism of my email was serious and constructive, I still see it as a breach of respect that an internal memo of mine could be sent scampering like a sow through Little Bloggerville.

A better job was done by Alan Jones of Bluepulse, a developer of software for mobile phones. The controversy here began when the mobile phone blog Mobhappy found a misstatement on the Bluepulse website. The site claimed the software worked on any phone. The company denied it had ever made the claim and quickly changed the text on its website to suggest it works with almost every phone. The folks at Mobhappy had no trouble pulling a copy of the website from the Google cache link that contained the old claim.

Jones wrote a detailed apology and explanation, as did Luke, the fellow who changed the website. Jones’ mea culpa begins, “I apologise unreservedly; personally and on behalf of bluepulse.”

Reactions from readers who initially blasted Bluepulse were accepting:

  • That was a sincere apology and Carlo should update his post to point readers to it.
  • I applaud bluepulse’s decision to own up to and apologize for their mistake. While they certainly should have done so earlier, it speaks positively for the integrity of the company that they will admit to what they do wrong, and seem to have learned their lesson.
  • Mr. Jones’s well thought out and well written apology seems to have saved the day and managed to turn the gathering tide of criticism against them.
  • I just wanted to send you some kudos. After making many mistakes myself and seeing many others do them, I don’t ask anyone that they do not make them. What I do value highly is that they listen to criticism, and do their best to correct the consequences as soon as they’re aware. To me, you’re apologies & explanations above are the best possible handling of that. And we _all_ make mistakes
  • I think BluePulse has handled this well.

Jones continued a dialogue in the comment thread, and Carlo Longino (the author of the initial post) did amend it to note that Bluepulse had apologized.
Once, companies that made mistakes could get away with an arrogant attitude because word of their stance was slow to spread and couldn’t spread very far. These days, a sincere apology is the quickest way to quiet the storm when the consumer audience (and that’s who populates the blogosphere) catches you doing whatever it is you shouldn’t have done. Some companies seem to be grasping the concept. Maybe others will learn from the positive results of their actions.

Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.

‘I’m Sorry’ Getting Easier to Say
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