In case you don’t follow business or personal finance news, financial “guru” Suze Orman recently announced the launch of her new prepaid debit card. This article has nothing to do with the card itself. If you want to know more information on it, you can head over to the DollarVersity Facebook page where I’ve been collecting the reviews from my fellow personal finance bloggers. No, instead, this is about how Ms. Orman reacted to criticism directed her way regarding this new product, and how she may have done some serious damage to her brand in doing so. If you’re not careful, you can destroy a reputation in much less time than you can build one.
The issue stemmed from the large number of tweets criticizing the claims made about her new Approved PrePaid Debit Card. The card was purported to help those who live a cash-only lifestyle build their credit profiles, which the credit bureaus themselves dispute since no debit-based transactions are reported or collected. The new card would supposedly help build credit by working with the credit -reporting agency TransUnion in creating a new reporting system. That in itself drew the ire of many bloggers, since debit transactions can only be an indication of spending habits, and not an ability to repay debts.
The second issue many bloggers took issue with were the fees associated with the card. There is a $3 monthly fee which was one of the biggies here. Then there were ATM fees, which could be avoided in certain instances, but still apply even on in-network partners. Add to that fees for speaking with a customer service representative more than one time a month, and significant fees associated with bill payments, and the bloggers had a field day.
[If you are interested in seeing the history of the tweet war, you can check out The Debt Princess and 20 And Engaged who did a great job documenting it as well as the man who set this whole thing off at PT Money]
Left at that point, the backlash would have been minimized. That, however, is just where the story begins, and this is where you can learn a lesson on how not to react to criticism!
The name calling:
The first sign that things were going to get a little hairy was when she started referring to those who were questioning her new product as being idiots, ignorant, haters, saying they think they know everything yet know nothing, and telling a Twitter follower that they should be pitied. Rather than stooping to such juvenile, name-calling tactics, Ms. Orman would have been better suited responding with facts and real-world data supporting her claims while disputing the claims of others. It seemed like this wasn’t even happening, and some even questioned whether or not this was actually Ms. Orman doing the tweeting or someone else doing so on her behalf.
Ignoring the “little people”:
At every turn, the bloggers were being shot down and belittled. Ms. Orman at one point made a reference to “legit reporters” who are most likely her buddies writing glowing reviews as opposed to the bloggers who are the “haters” At one point they were even reporting that they were being blocked by her Twitter account operator. It may seem like the easy way to handle the criticism, since many of the people doing the bashing weren’t nationally (and internationally) known personalities. Unfortunately, when that happens, people tend to find other ways to get their thoughts out to the world, and when it comes to personal financial bloggers, they are able to reach a surprisingly large number of people. That is when all of the blog posts repeating the Twitter comments, and really dissecting the Approved Card popped up. Just because individually the bloggers didn’t measure up (statistically) to Ms. Orman as far as Twitter followers or Facebook fans go, they shouldn’t be dismissed, since when taken as a collective, their reach extends much farther. Plus, all it takes is one person to catch wind of a small movement on the internet and it can blow up to a phenomenon.
At one point, famed New York Times author Ron Lieber confronted her on the issue of the insults, to both the bloggers and himself. To that, Ms. Orman claimed to never insult him. Of course, he called her bluff, and was able to provide a direct insult coming from her Twitter account. Then came Phil Villarreal to challenge her apology to Mr. Lieber (twice in fact) while ignoring all the others she insulted. From there it was a bunch of blanket apologies to “anyone I called an idiot” and so on until she was called out on not apologizing to Mr. Phil Taylor (to whom her “idiot” remark was directed) because he wasn’t a writer for the Times (like Mr. Lieber). Finally, she made a directed apology to Mr. Taylor…
Qualifying every comment:
Unfortunately the most important of the apologies, directed at Mr. Taylor, was a bit half-hearted and prefaced by her saying “Even you PT…”. She also stated among her apologies that she has a hard time taking “defending my self against things that are not true”. This is where so many apologies go wrong. You cannot be taken as being genuine if you slip in snide remarks that detract from an otherwise stand-up gesture. Telling someone that even they are deserving of an apology after kissing the ass of a big shot is not cool. Taking shots at the people you are supposed to be apologizing to by continuing to inject your “but they are still wrong” defense isn’t cool either. She did earn some credit by admitting to not taking the high-road, and taking responsibility for her comments, but it still didn’t make up for the slights she tried to inject into the apologies.
While I do not know Ms. Orman personally, I do know that situation was handled in the completely wrong manner. Rather than taking offense at each negative comment, she should have taken a proactive approach to the matter. She should have encouraged the dialogue between herself and her detractors, which would have shown a genuine interest in improving her product. The way she ended up coming off, was as a little child who insists that their school project is accurate and the best in the world with no one being able to tell her otherwise. She also could have taken the criticism as what it was: honest opinions from people that were completely independent and who could have provided her with some great insight and in the future some publicity for her platform. Unfortunately, like many other celebrities, athletes, and public figures, in the heat of the moment she made a poor choice of words, which ended up spiraling out of control before anyone had a chance to contain it.
This should be a lesson to anyone who has a business or is on a public stage: be careful of how you react to those who do agree with you, as even the slightest mistake can lead to a firestorm of bad publicity and lost opportunities to improve.