Earlier this week, my friend Catherine posted a Tweet about her mother’s new website. It was a gesture from a loving and proud daughter — this was her mother’s first foray into social networking and Catherine wanted to give the website a little exposure. The responses from Catherine’s followers on Twitter and Facebook were welcoming, kind and gracious.
I remember how nervous I was when I published by first blog post. Unlike posting a note on Facebook, it was out there for the whole world to read and comment on. I overcame my fears because: a) I had confidence in my writing skills; b) I have a thick skin that makes me impervious to trolls; and c) I had a great network of friends and colleagues that supported and guided me.
But if you’re a 60-year-old woman who lives in a small town and is unfamiliar with social networking, starting a website can be a daunting experience. It certainly doesn’t help when your first efforts get slammed by a stranger.
The following is an email sent to Catherine’s mom that same evening.
Subject: Hi Helen.
Date: Wed, 11 Nov 2009
First, I know am probably going to regret this. I just know I will. My apologies up front!
It generally happens when I poke my nose in where it does not belong.
Ok, that being over with — here is the scoop.
Your daughter whom I have never met, but see on that stupid thing called Twitter sometime, just announced that your NEW website was up and running.
GOOD FOR YOU!!!
Well, I went and had a peak.
Here is where I will start to regret all this …
First, my background is online. I have built well-over 1000 sites. They (who ever the heck they are) say I am an expert in this stuff and have been online from day one, in truth
well before the web was invented. I am also a writer and a photographer and a musician.
I am happy you have a site. We should all have sites.
However, and I am not sure how to put this, yours is horrible.
I am sorry, I am not trying to be rude.
And I am not talking about look and feel or design although it is not as good as you deserve — there are simply things that have been done incorrectly and will more than likely diminish your brand.
Here have a look …
I did this in 10 minutes. I used a simple template I had sitting around — there are a lot of templates just like this. http://www.styleshout.com/free-templates.php?page=1
I am not suggesting you use what I have done. There are probably dozens you would like better.
This site is built properly. Meaning people can navigate through it and it will be found buy search engines and a bunch of other stuff I will not bore you with.
I tried to get hold of your daughter to see if I could get her to bridge this — but she did not get the message (the Twitter thing is useless at contacting people — probably a good thing)
Anyway — please accept this message in the spirit it is intended.
Your daughter seems like a great Gal and moreover you seem pretty amazing yourself. You need a better online presence.
I just hate seeing people do what I consider is the wrong thing.
And if you want this work I did — I will happily complete it of course — this was 10 minutes work so I would add your gallery and what is missing. It is no charge.
[Business contact information removed.]
I can’t even begin to list all the things that are so wrong with this email. I won’t go into the obvious, but here are a few that stand out:
1. The unsolicited sales pitch. Yes, this was a sales pitch, albeit a very poor one. I don’t care how carefully you choose your words or try to be friendly, when you list your CV and offer your help at “no charge”, you are selling something. If you are truly interested in helping someone, with no selfish motives, then start a conversation. Don’t be a spambot.
2. The casual tone of the email. Pete has never met Catherine or her mother, yet he thinks it is perfectly okay to speak to and about them as if they’re friends. And don’t get me started on the “great GAL” comment.
3. It’s never a good idea to insult the person you are trying to help/sell to. Hard to get buy-in from a person whose website you describe as “horrible”. Hint: look up “finesse” in the dictionary.
4. Was he that anxious to tell Helen how “horrible” her site was that he couldn’t wait one day to hear back from Catherine? Despite its limitations, Twitter IS a good way of contacting people you don’t know. Just don’t expect an instant response if they don’t know you personally. (And if you think it’s a “stupid thing”, then maybe you shouldn’t be on it.)
5. Just because you call yourself an expert, doesn’t mean you are one. “I just hate seeing people do what I consider is the wrong thing.” Pete should have taken the time to find out the purpose of the website before making this arbitrary call. The site is clean and easy to navigate; it’s a forum to showcase her work to friends and colleagues. What is so “wrong” with that?
6. If you think you are being rude, and if you think you’ll regret what you say, then don’t say it. Stating it upfront in your email does not mitigate the damage that will follow.
To the unfamiliar and uninitiated, the Internet can be quite intimidating. Some of us put aside our fears and dive right in. Others prefer to dip their toes in to get a feel for the temperature — let’s invite them in, and not push them under the water.