3 Steps To Making Your Brand Look Like an Ass: A True Raven Story

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If you work in marketing, you’ve undoubtedly seen some pretty good reputation management train wrecks.

At Raven, we’re no exception. We’ve watched people sabotage their brand’s reputation with our mouths agape, just waiting for what dumb thing comes next.

When it comes to online drama, we’ve totally done this.


Which makes it more than a little embarrassing that we found ourselves waist-deep in drama last week, with others watching our situation in the same kind of way (hey, we don’t blame ya).

We’ve covered online reputation management and social media crisis preparation on this blog. Heck, we’ve even talked about how crimes of passion happen and how to avoid them. How could we possibly end up in this kind of situation?

As it turns out, far too easily.

We’d love to hold up Raven as a shining example of perfect reputation management. But since we, well, can’t, we may as well pinpoint exactly how we screwed up. Want to be just like us? Make these three mistakes.

The Situation

A member of Raven’s affiliate program included Raven in a tools comparison post that our co-founder, Jon Henshaw, found unfair. He cancelled the affiliate’s account without communication — and gave him a piece of his mind when the affiliate asked why. Then, when the affiliate emailed follow-up questions later, they were ignored. Eventually, the affiliate gave up and wrote a scathing post about the whole incident. Jon apologized publicly, sincerely and honestly, but the damage was done.

The Steps to Self-Sabotage

We identified more than a dozen small mistakes (and a couple of giant, inexcusable doozies) that contributed to this situation.

But when we stepped back, it turns out that hurting our own reputation came about as a result of three fundamental mistakes.


Mistake 1: Let emotions rule actions.

Jon cancelled the account because he responded emotionally, not rationally. Even worse, he carried that emotion into a pretty inexcusable angry email later on.

As Jon later explained in an apology: “I was having a bad day, saw your post and did something stupid. It’s easy to be passionate about something that is basically your baby.”

Yep. Easy. But that doesn’t make it right.

“You know how when you sometimes write a message to someone when you’re upset, and then before you click send you re-read the message and realize you sound like an ass, so you rewrite it like an actual sane person? I skipped that last part.”

— Jon, today, after we yelled at him for quite a long while (yes, again today).

The Lesson

We’re human. We have emotions. But taking any action involving a customer when negative emotions are involved is shortsighted.

Breathe. Get a second opinion. Ask yourself, “What will the customer think? Have I explained myself? Is there anything I need to know before I take action based on how I feel?”

When the radiator starts to overheat, don’t drive the car until it blows up. Pull over. Top up the fluids. Call for help if you need it.

Mistake 2: Make sure no one knows who you are.

Making a bad situation worse, Jon didn’t sign his angry email or add any identifying information to it. That left the recipient with no idea who he was talking to, and no way to connect or appeal to a “real person” to get his questions answered.

How did this one mistake happen? After the person handling the affiliate program left Raven, the program lost its personal email and face. And someone who shouldn’t have been involved at all was trying to pick up the slack.

The Lesson

Customers want to want to know who they’re dealing with, particularly when there’s a conflict. Most of us would prefer to talk with real people, and it’s even better if you can connect with the folks behind the brand. Whenever possible, put at least a name (maybe even a face) to all communication — especially if that’s your practice otherwise.

And make sure it’s the right face. You’ll get new relationships off on the right foot and set the stage for a personal connection in the future.

Mistake 3: Don’t communicate. Anywhere.

If there was a way for us to assume, miscommunicate or just totally miss each other throughout this process, that’s what we did.

Jon didn’t communicate with the affiliate (or the Raven team) before canceling. A series of escalating emails never reached Jon because our marketing team had its own email wires crossed. When the affiliate’s frustration finally spilled over into social media, no one knew the whole story, so no one could see the full picture and react accordingly.

The Lesson

There’s no such thing as over-communicating. If something seems off to you, check it out. Follow up. Don’t let the ball drop.

For the good of the business and the customer, it’s everyone’s job to (respectfully) hold one another accountable — bosses included. We’ll be doing a lot more of that now.

Our Takeaways

Besides fixing the Raven-specific internal workflows that created this situation, there are larger questions we’re thinking about for the future. Questions like:

  • How do we know when something is worth escalating to a larger group?
  • How can we prepare for the crises we don’t see coming in the future?
  • When is it OK to communicate doubt or disagreement to your boss? How much is too much?
  • Under what circumstances is picking up the phone the best option?

“It’s a fact of life and business that you will make mistakes, and I’ve certainly made my fair share of them,” Jon says. “If I’ve learned anything from my mistakes over the years, it’s that you always own up to them, try to learn from them and do your best to make things right and move forward.”

It’s something we’ll keep working on, and we’ll do our best to stay honest with you as we do.

Meanwhile, we’ll give Jon, Raven’s Employee of the Month, the last word.

“I’ve learned that the next time I’m in a bad mood I should just stay home, turn off my computer and watch reruns of Firefly while tucked inside my Snuggie.”

22 Responses to “3 Steps To Making Your Brand Look Like an Ass: A True Raven Story”

  1. I’ve written in the past that almost every single problem can be tracked back to a communication problem.

    Even though I know this, I still make communication problems. The Internet is a dangerous place when you take anything personally. The goal I have is to never take anything personally (especially since it’s not usually about me).

    It makes me happy when a company I respect stands up and says, “yup, we screwed up”.

    • RavenCourtney

      It’s unfortunately that even good intentions don’t always fix this problem – we’d all be a lot happier if they did! I like your don’t-take-it-personal goal. I might borrow it!

  2. Patrick Coombe

    Out of all of the problems we’ve ever had with a customer, it all boils down to a communication problem between two people who have a communication problem (although the customer is always right, and the brand is always wrong [mostly]). This is a very great example of this and a great learning opportunity as well.

    Thanks so much for assembling this story / lesson Courtney.

  3. Steven W. Giovinco

    Hi Courtney, thanks for both the honesty and the information. I think emphasizing the human side of online reputation management is important, and it all comes down to communication. Cheers.

    • RavenCourtney

      Thanks, for reading, Steven. The human element is always a double-edged sword (one could say it’s how we got into this mess), but it sure keeps things interesting! 😉

  4. I hope nobody fires or continues to scream at Jon. Hey, we all mess up and I felt bad for Jon reading this whole thing going “GOSH! OK, the man messed up! I hope they didn’t just write this whole thing to embarrass him in front of the whole internet! He’s just human!”

    • RavenCourtney

      Hi Alex! You’ll be happy to hear we have since stopped yelling at him. 🙂 We wrote this not to shame Jon (OK, maybe the donkey GIF is partly about that) but to tell our community what they deserve to know about what happened and to show how easily this can happen to any of us with just a few small judgement errors. Thanks for reading, and for the thoughtful comment.

  5. Donald Nosek

    Candid, honest and refreshing to hear your Raven team do a mea culpa here. I agree with comments below that overwhelmingly, communication clarity goes a long way in these situations.

    I would add, and I’m not sure I’ve heard, that your affiliate guidelines should also govern this case (now and in future). I’m sure like most there’s a blanket clause for removing affiliates, but adding clarity and examples to termination events would help ensure this doesn’t happen again; regardless of anyone’s mood.

    The process for affiliate signup and removal sounds like it needs to be re-visited…

    • RavenCourtney

      Hi Donald,
      Thanks for your smart comments. You’re absolutely right on the affiliates guidelines. We’re working on some more concrete procedures right now. Adding examples is a great idea!