The Lotus blogging community has had much discussion in the last few weeks about the perceived down side of writing "negative" blog postings directed towards IBM Lotus.  I have contributed to the discussions as they have arisen, but haven't yet said anything right here at home.

There are many means of communication available from customer or partner to vendor today.  I am not sure if I can even enumerate all the ways I personally hear from customers/partners:

  • My IBM e-mail address: ed_brill@us.ibm.com
  • My personal e-mail address (linked on edbrill.com as "contact me"): edbrill@gmail.com
  • E-mail to ed@edbrill.com, an address I used to give until too much spam was directed to @edbrill.com addresses.  I have this address redirected to a separate gmail address.
  • E-mail via LinkedIn
  • E-mail via Facebook
  • E-mail via other online communities (which I typically ignore)
  • Twitter @edbrill updates in the public stream
  • Twitter direct messages (which, I assert, are also simply e-mail addresses)
  • Calls or text messages to my mobile phone +1.847.736.0638
  • Comments on this weblog, on-topic
  • Comments on this weblog, off-topic ("sorry, Ed, off-topic, but have you seen x?")
  • Weblog postings on other weblogs, which either link to edbrill.com or mention "Ed Brill" (thereby drawing a Google alert... I don't watch referrers as much as I used to)

And these are just messages for me individually.  I still try hard to monitor weblogs and news sites for Lotus Notes-related stories, through Google alerts, Technorati, Twitter search, and other tools.

You have a lot of choices if you want to get my attention.  And after eight or nine years of participating in online communities related to the Lotus brand, I believe I've built a reputation as being approachable and responsive.  I answer almost every e-mail I receive (regardless of which of the above channels), and endeavor never to wait more than 48 hours to respond.  It is not just the authorship of edbrill.com that has cemented my affiliation with IBM Lotus Notes, it's that I've consciously made myself available to the entire customer base of a product that has 46,000 companies using it around the world.  I'll never meet you all, but in every individual meeting or public presentation, I always publish my e-mail and blog addresses, and of late, my Twitter ID.

Anyway, to go back to my opening, if you want to share some information with someone at IBM about Lotus Notes, you have many choices -- not just about who to communicate with, but what approach to take.  And this is why I think it's important to reiterate, during all of the recent discussion, that sometimes a private communication is a better approach than a public one.  

A few weeks ago, a business partner posted on his blog that IBM was about to lose "another Notes customer" and wasn't doing anything about it.  That post, which received hundreds of click-throughs on PlanetLotus, did not result in anything positive.  The author knew me, knew my role at IBM, and instead had chosen to blog (in ALL CAPS no less).    A casual, not-in-the-"yellow bubble" reader of my blog or his suddenly knew that there was some BIG negative situation that IBM was apparently screwing up, and see, there they go again, and Lotus marketing sucks, and Notes is dying.  Instead of being able to quietly provide feedback that, yes, actually, the IBM sales force on the whole is really competent and that this particular customer has legions of Lotus brand-related people working with the situation right now, the first thing I had to do was put out a public fire.  I actually believed that the public response at that moment was more important than dialing the posted cell phone number of the blogger/partner -- whatever it was, it could wait until morning to be handled privately.  But it needed to be handled online in the immediacy of the RSS and PlanetLotus readers, and to ensure that by the time Google searchers three years from now come across it, the situation looked OK.

That whole thing should have been an e-mail or a phone call.  It never had to come into public view, and it did nothing good for either party for it to be in public view.

Very late last night, this played out similarly again.  A blogger posted about a conversation they had had with an IBM sales manager, in which they indicate that the IBMer was very negative about Lotus Notes.  I happened to still be awake at that hour (2 AM or so locally in Z├╝rich), but my first reaction was different this time.   I copied the blog entry into an e-mail to one of my IBM Lotus colleagues, and asked him to get involved.  I decided that it was not appropriate to say anything on the blog entry until I knew our side of the story.  After sending the e-mail, I went to bed.  When I awoke this morning, I had an e-mail, a direct twitter message, and an off-topic edbrill.com blog comment all directing me to the blogger's posting.  I had not yet heard back from my colleague, but realized that once again, the public fire needed to be put out, or at least dampened, before going any further.  Thus, I posted a comment on the blog entry, in which I indicated that perhaps the blogger should have chosen a private communication first.  He doesn't agree, but suggested that I could follow up via e-mail.  I don't want to do that with him, for sure not yet.  I want to know what the IBMer has to say, and shortly thereafter I was told that our side of the story is quite different than represented.  In the end, I do not know where that discussion has gone today, but I will say it has only the possibility of damaging the reputation of both parties involved.  Little good can come of it at this point.  In my opinion, the whole thing should have started as private communication...and probably would have stayed there.

Earlier this week, another blogger sent me an e-mail about IBM's non-participation in a particular conference.  He indicated that he wanted to blog about it, but wanted my opinion first.  I offered a very open and direct perspective, and his response to that indicated that the e-mail discussion had been helpful.  He probably will still blog something about the topic, but now at least I am confident he will have a more balanced viewpoint, even if he chooses to still criticize IBM in the process.

Bottom line, it's a free world baby, and you can say what you want where you want and when you want to.  Sometimes it is worth remembering that there are humans reading those words, and those humans don't always represent the same point of view as you.  Can you believe that I've seen comments from postings on "notes.net" sometimes used out of context by competitors?  The shelf life of public writing, as captured by Google, can be years.  I simply ask that you consider how your writings can be viewed, what kind of "online personality" they convey about you, and what unintended audiences might be out there for them.

PS: Writing this has, in part, been to serve as a reminder for myself.  A few times in the last few weeks, I would have been better off going offline.

Oh, and as for how to reach me -- please try e-mail to either my IBM or personal e-mail address before all other methods.  If you are on Facebook, guess what, my e-mail address is on my profile.  If you are on LinkedIn, the same.  Direct Twitter?  Makes sense in the moment, but asynchronously just makes me chase another channel.  All other methods are less likely to succeed, or if they do, my attention will already have been diluted before I get to the point of the interaction.

Post a Comment