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Brand Bullying: Is It The Power Of Social Media? Or Is It Just The Power Of Celebrity? And Who Will Protect Maytag From Us?

Brand Bullying: Is It The Power Of Social Media? Or Is It Just The Power Of Celebrity? And Who Will Protect Maytag From Us?

That's right, it's all about me, as per usual.

That's right, it's all about me, as per usual.

If you were on Twitter on Thursday morning between about 10:00 and 12:00 PST, you might have caught a little showdown of sorts in the mommy blogosphere as it exists on Twitter. By the way, we like showdowns in the mommy blogosphere–perhaps you’ve gleaned as much in recent weeks. Now, this particular showdown came as a response to tweets made by everybody’s favorite mommy blogger, Dooce, that concerned her bad experience with a brand new Maytag washer. This is a pretty standard use of Twitter, incidentally–to complain about products that are failing to meet expectations–since people tweet about anything and everything, it’s bound to come up at some point. And in and of itself, I don’t really think there is a problem with using Twitter as a means of getting the attention of customer service representatives–many companies have set up accounts specifically for this purpose–or simply to vent. If a product is crappy, then the company bears some responsibility in the public perception of it. And as a consumer, it is valuable information for me to have when a product doesn’t meet expectations, which is why I occasionally give bad reviews of products that did not work for me on my own commodity fetishism blog.

The thing is, Dooce has, at last count, almost 1.2 million followers on Twitter. I have just over 400. Me complaining about DreamHost is pretty easy to ignore, but Dooce tweeting repeatedly to NOT BUY MAYTAG? Not so much. Companies know this, too, which is why other companies quickly came to offer new appliances to Dooce:

Oddly enough, i didn't get this response after complaining about my Apple in-ear headphones. Huh.

Oddly enough, i didn't get this response after complaining about my Apple in-ear headphones. Huh.

Dooce’s Changing Twitter Behavior

Now, before I get too far in my deconstruction of The Maytag Incident, let me take a moment to point out that Dooce’s Twitter behavior has changed considerably in the last month or so. Yes, I noticed this phenomenon myself, but no, I’m not a stalker, I’m just one of the nearly 1.2 million people who follow her on Twitter. And also I have kind of an acute knack for pattern recognition. So here’s the thing, up until about two weeks ago (or so), Dooce has been notorious for not participating in @replies (or commenting on blogs, usually, or responding to email). If you’re not familiar with Twitter, then MOM I TOLD YOU TO QUIT READING MY BLOG. Just kidding, if you’re not really into Twitter, it might be time to join the 21st century, but also an @reply is where you basically just reply to someone by putting an “@” in front of their name. You don’t have to be following someone to get an @ reply, so for a big blogger like dooce, who follows far few people than who follow her, this is important: she could potentially read a tweet from somebody who @-replied her, even if she doesn’t follow that person.

But anyway, up until one day recently, Dooce has been what people have called a “broadcaster” on Twitter, viz., she’ll make one liners, maybe respond to her husband, or somebody very close to her, but for the most part her tweets are not part of a conversation as such. There are many people who do this. Still, it is kind of thought of as being snotty, particularly if you get @ replies regularly and ignore them. But something changed in Dooce recently, maybe her heart grew three sizes after having her most recent child, Marlo, maybe the fact that the White House responded to her husband on Twitter made her realize, ‘Huh, maybe I could interact with my public, too,’ maybe there was a PR consult–look, I don’t know, I just know that now she makes @ replies sometimes, beginning with this one, which is to another quasi-celebrity, but maybe @replies are like gateway drugs, I don’t know. And that’s great, but it is also what enabled The Maytag Incident to happen.

Come on. You know you LOL'd at this.

Come on. You know you LOL'd at this.

The Maytag Incident

Like I said, Dooce was having some problems with her brand new Maytag washer. And so she tweeted about it, and everyone who follows her was therefore told, repeatedly, “DON’T BUY MAYTAG.” Now most people, when they see this kind of thing, are just going to say, “Eh, maybe Dooce got a bad washer, but it was a freak thing,” or “Maybe she doesn’t like her Maytag, but I love mine,” right? Because that’s what reasonable people would do. But when you’re as big as Dooce, your following unfortunately starts to include people like this:

It’s just the fact of a numbers game like this: with 1.2 million followers on Twitter, you’re going to have some dumbass nutbag misogynists in the group, and some blind followers. It’s kind of unavoidable. So while me complaining about DreamHost to my 400 followers might influence them, maybe, in some way, to think before signing up with DreamHost as a web hosting company, my readers are all pretty reasonable people who can weigh the pros and cons of a service critically without my help. I don’t think we can safely say the same for people who say things like this, though:

According to Dooce, her tweets about Maytag were only made after trying (and failing) repeatedly to get customer service from Maytag on the phone. And since she has a newborn at home and another child, I’m sure that this has created a substantial mess at the Armstrong household. So I don’t blame her for being frustrated, frankly. I did a similar thing with my DreamHost experience a month ago. But as was first pointed out by @Sundry, another pretty well-known mommy blogger, Dooce’s tweets mean a little bit more than other people’s tweets:

Linda later followed up on her blog with a post about the whole conversation And, she makes very good points: mobilizing that many people against a company, particularly when your audience is big enough to be 1) impossible to control and 2) to possibly be able to vouch for the sanity and/or reasonableness of its members, is something to be taken seriously. Because now you’ve got people jumping into the fray willy-nilly, some of them (individuals and brands alike) just hoping to catch Dooce’s attention, and maybe shine a little bit of that limelight on themselves. When what probably happened was that the Armstrongs just got a defective washer, and yes, it sucks, but big deal, shit happens. And they should complain, because companies should be concerned with keeping their customers happy. And to be honest, I’m kind of predisposed to being on the Armstrong’s side, because I don’t like the kowtowing to corporate America that I’ve been seeing lately in the mommy blogosphere (more on this later), but then I see this mass of blowhardry and I have to rethink everything I’ve been thinking up to this point:

This is from Jon Armstrong's (@blurb) twitter feed. I would have put the actual link up, but he's since protected his tweets. Hmmm.

This is from Jon Armstrong's (@blurb) twitter feed. I would have put the actual link up, but he's since protected his tweets. Hmmm.

Because? OK. Enough with the bleeding-heart Si! Se Puede! bullshit, Dooce getting her washer fixed in like 8 seconds after complaining on the internet is like Oprah getting a new pair of defective Manolos after wearing them on TV. Or something. Because, like I said, I did not get anything like that kind of response to my own piss-poor consumer experience that I tweeted about for well over a week on Twitter. In fact, I wasn’t even acknowledged by the customer service team at DreamHost. Now this might be because it’s a different company, or it might be the fact that, oh yeah–I’M NOT DOOCE.

She makes a good point, you have to admit.

She makes a good point, you have to admit.

So then, to make things even weirder, Dooce responds to accusations of bullying, first on Twitter, and then by writing this post, in which she apologizes for the last big hullabaloo on the interwebs in which she was involved, which happened about a year ago, after Jenny The Bloggess referred (jokingly) to her as a mythical hobbit in her blog. [That whole thing was a misunderstanding and should never have turned into a big deal, but because of Dooce’s reaction and her celebrity everything got very strange very fast. You can read various recaps on the interwebs, I’m not going to waste time on rehashing that whole thing here.] The important point is: now, one year later, in the face of other criticism, from other quarters, Dooce is finally doing what she probably should have done a year ago, which is just to say,”Dude, I didn’t know what to say, so I said something snotty. Mea culpa.” So good. I’m glad that happened, but I’m not sure why it took a year or–more importantly–why she has to do it now, to kind of stick it to the other people involved in the fray this morning? Is it because it’s been a year since the last incident? And now she has perspective? Or, is it because Jenny The Bloggess has real talent and is beloved by her audience, and this fact has become apparent to everyone, even Dooce, over the past year? Is it because it’s becoming increasingly clear that The Bloggess isn’t just some random follower anymore, while she still has the luxury of treating the people who criticized her actions this morning as such? I don’t know. But I’ll tell you these recent developments: Dooce is following both The Bloggess and Mom101 now. As of today. But Sundry? Still out of luck.

Is this one of those awkward, passing-of-the-torch moments? I'm not sure.

Is this one of those awkward, passing-of-the-torch moments? I'm not sure.

I don’t envy Dooce in many ways. Well, in many ways I do envy her–the fact that she was on Oprah–HELLO?!–and the fact that she always looks so pretty, and her incredible eye for design–I envy her on those points. But I don’t envy being under the level of scrutiny she is. That would be hard, I suspect. And so when she is criticized for doing what many people have done before (complain about shoddy service), it seems unfair. But then again, do other, real world celebrities go on Twitter and bitch about brands? Or do they go on David Letterman and bitch about brands? I don’t think so. I think that is part of being a celebrity, no? That you cannot do stuff like that, without suffering consequences? Maybe Dooce did not set out to be a celebrity, but she is one now, and so that’s the way it goes, I think.

And then on the flip side, why are we always so excited about jumping to the defense of companies? Why is there this impulse lately, first with the #nikonhatesbabies backlash, and now this–to defend well-established institutions of capitalism? Don’t you think Maytag can stand on its own? Don’t you think Nikon can defend itself? And it’s often people who have well-documented relationships with PR companies who are jumping in and saying, “Hey, let’s not bash the big conglomerate, people.” Why? Why cannot we bash them? Or more importantly, why are we so quick to defend them? The impulse to want people to react sanely to thse kinds of things is understandable, but of late the imploring to “not jump to conclusions” is seeming a little bit convenient for me–like people are worried that maybe the PR companies won’t want to play in our sandbox anymore, if we don’t put badges up on our blog or if we don’t promise to say nice things after they throw us a party. And as much as I’d like to work with brands, I feel like we need to ask at what price? At what price do we do this?

Here, Dooce reveals that she'll be able to make good on @MommyMelee's suggestion that she try to get Maytag to donate some washers to charity.

Here, Dooce reveals that she'll be able to make good on @MommyMelee's suggestion that she try to get Maytag to donate some washers to charity.

So I guess what I’m saying is, internet, what is your take on this latest dust-up, from a future-of-the-blogosphere-and-branding standpoint? Was Dooce out of line? Or were the people who criticized her out of line? Because I cannot really decide who to side with here. And though I’m glad that some good might be coming out of this after all, I’m wondering what the best way to deal with these issue in the future is going to be.

UPDATE: In the extremely unlikely event that you’re reading this before you read Dooce, you can now read Dooce’s full story of the Maytag Incident here. There are a lot of all-cap sentences, so be forewarned.

Comments (46)

  1. Aug 28, 2009

    Wow. Great post. I guess Dooce can be defined as a “celebrity” .. but where is the cut-off point? How many followers is considered too many to rant about companies to?

    I think Maytag-gate will definitely open up a whole new era of the way people use networking sites.

  2. Sarah
    Aug 28, 2009

    I have to say, I am in the Armstrong camp on this one. I know that Dooce has a huge number of followers and with that she has some level of responsibility. But her shtick is her mundane life which includes washer break downs. So the expectation would be that she would tweet about it and even use the influence she has to get it fixed. I certainly won’t be mad at her for using what she’s got to get it done. And why are we holding her responsible for the crazies that take her tweets and claim we should all boycott Maytag? That’s ludicrous! It’s like Republicans being able to control the crazy lady at the McCain rally who said Obama was as Arab. As much as I am sure they would have liked to take her out with a poison dart, sh*t ain’t going to happen.

    And if at the end of the day, Dooce softens a bit and is able to admitting she fucked up and show us just how real she is by apologizing to The Bloggess and work it for a women’s shelter then she’s even more in the right in my opinion.

  3. Aug 28, 2009

    I’m glad you tackled this because I wrote a similar, shorter, not as clear post last night and then trashed it because I didn’t have the energy to get to the real issue: the future of the blogosphere and branding. Personally I think that Dooce used her popularity to solve a problem. While the rest of us wait on the phone for 30 minutes to get someone in the service department who inevitably knows nothing and can’t schedule a time to fix the problem for us, Dooce was able to hop on Twitter and – with blurb’s help – cause a stir and get what she wanted. Do I think this is out of line? Not necessarily. Would I have done the same thing? Probably not.

    As for the people who criticize her, that comes with the territory. I agree with you, Anna, there are plenty of aspects of Dooce’s life that I do envy, but there are far more that I don’t. I don’t think there are sides to pick here, frankly, but I was really surprised to see that it took a Twitter meltdown to get Dooce to respond to last year’s episode with Jenny the Bloggess. Part of me thinks that Dooce responds to (and uses) the masses when it suits or benefits her. Another part of me thinks that she has established boundaries fairly well. Are there plenty of gray areas here? Sure. But I think that every blogger has to make hard choices when their popularity explodes. What you do with that kind of momentum says a lot about your integrity.

  4. Aug 28, 2009

    @eden, you bring up a good point: at what point does one have enough followers that they have to start being careful? Clearly it is somewhere between 400 and 1.2 million, but I’m not sure where that line would be.

    @sarah, it’s true that Dooce’s “brand” has to do with this very kind of thing. And back in the day, when she started out, this is exactly the kind of thing we would have expected her to do. But is she in a different position now? How would you feel if Barack Obama complained about Maytag on Twitter? Or, if that’s too out there, how about Oprah? Would you think it was OK in that context? I’m just bringing this up for the sake of conversation–I actually don’t know how I feel at this point.

  5. I do believe social media as a tool can be a powerful thing. However, I agree with you. It’s not everyone who has that ability (it’s false consciousness to think otherwise). Only if you have amassed enough of a following & are seen as a money maker. Following=influence that comes from being a money maker, because following=authority that comes from being a money maker. Money matters in this equation. Doesn’t matter if you do or don’t have actual authority on any one subject you have simply by default of being in the position of having a large following & you bring in the big bucks (or at least the perception of big bucks–I only know what I read/hear). I don’t buy for one second that anyone can use social media to enact change. Like all things there are strings, barriers, and burdens attached.

    I also don’t envy Dooce in this situation, I’m 1st to admit I read her blog & like it (I even *shock* comment even if I NEVER get a response).

    BUT (BIG BUT) Do I think the tweets could have gotten better customer service in a way that didn’t seem like one was calling for a boycott? YES. Do I think tweeting about sucky service is totally acceptable regardless of one’s position on the social media chain? YES. Do I for one second think my tweets would garner anywhere near the drama? HELL NO. THAT GOES FOR IF I CRITICIZED DOOCE–NO ONE WOULD CARE.

    Well, people might care but not unless it was seen as possibly “attacking” the establishment (e.g. #nikonhatesbabies) and there I’m not talking about corporations but the preexisting heirarchy in MommyBlogging.

    Good post. I’m thinking about this from a lot of different angles.

  6. Aug 28, 2009

    This entire incident gives me hives.

    I’m kind of dreading her recap.

  7. Aug 28, 2009

    @Elizabeth, “What you do with that kind of momentum says a lot about your integrity” I do think this is true. OTOH I do wonder if it’s possible that she ever goes to tweet something without thinking, “Oh yeah, this is going out to a freaking TON of people.” I know I do that. I only have 400 followers, but when I tweet I’m thinking of a group of like ten people or something with whom I regularly discuss stuff, even if in the back of my mind I know there are more than that. If I really think about it, 400 people is actually a LOT. Even though most of that number are pornbots.

    @beth, I like Dooce, too. And the thing is, she’s consistent. She does not pretend to be someone she’s not. I respect that and I think she’s talented. I also think she’s learning to do this as she’s going, and that perhaps she didn’t realize the more PR-oriented stuff was going to be so important. It might be that she learned that from the Bloggess incident, and now she’s going to have to learn about how she wants to deal with brands? I don’t know.

    @Maria, don’t worry–in about a year, she’ll be inviting you to have a drink with her. It’s all good.

  8. @Anna –And then there’s the angle about the fact that Maytag is a potential advertiser for her audience. More than her simply being a consumer, she holds the possibility of bringing in money for them if they do it right. The whole social media & blending of the personal w/ the public for profit is definitely something that will have to be learned on the fly by her & others who come into the new age of media. There is no playbook for this.

  9. Aug 28, 2009

    @Beth, I do wonder if companies are going to actually have to start having integrity and putting out quality products on a more consistent basis now. It seems like–even without Dooce’s influence–this may become more and more the case. I mean, just think about what google does–if you’re thinking about buying web hosting services, and you take the time to google, you can find a million stories about how much DreamHost sucks. So, presumably, at some point companies will start having to be accountable for this kind of stuff, even if it’s not Dooce or Oprah who is dissatisfied. But it will take much longer to spread. Like years.

  10. Aug 28, 2009

    Excellent post!

    My issue with it is the same as Linda/Sundry’s original objection. It’s FINE to complain about shoddy customer service and I think even as a celebrity, Dooce should be able to. But she didn’t do just that. She called for a boycott. Which yeah, I’m sure it was just typical Dooce hyperbole. But like Linda/Sundry mentioned, she is a “celebrity”. She may not have wanted it, but she’s got it, it pays her bills and she’s had PLENTY of time to deal with this fact. She’s been a “celebrity” for quite some time in the blog arena. Being a celebrity comes with some social responsibility. It’s why people have publicists.

  11. Aug 28, 2009

    @Kristabella, true, true. And your note about the publicist thing got me thinking: yes, this IS why celebrities have publicists. But the problem is, if Dooce were to employ a publicist, wouldn’t she cease to be Dooce? If suddenly there was a filter put on these kinds of things–well, that’s what we expect from Dooce, isn’t it? So in a way, she cannot use a publicist to protect herself from some of the more incensed criticism of her actions, because without those actions, she might be put out of business?

  12. Aug 28, 2009

    I see this as something that was said in a moment of frustration and because Dooce has so many followers it got out of hand. Sure we should demand good customer service, but yet we only demand it when it serves us. Like you said, if this happened to anyone of us, with lesser numbers, we would just be stuck on the phone yelling at some random customer service rep. I have been demanding good customer service from Cox cable and still nothing. I demanded good customer service when Pottery Barn said they would deliver our sofa on a Sat and still didn’t get it until Monday. So the little people are demanding good customer service, but only those with some pull are getting it by way of free stuff.

    I am not sure why but what got my feathers ruffled was the comment she made about doing 3 loads of laundry with a newborn and an older child. Hell, I got 2 older kids and a newborn in cloth diapers and I don’t do 3 loads a day. Now, I am sure I would be very pissed if I had to wait 5 days for my washer to be fixed, but still that doesn’t seem like an unreasonable amount of time. Again, I say that as a little person who shells out money, but gets pushed aside for someone who has the ability to rally a boycott. So where is the line between bad customer service or just wanting something done for us right this minute. Which I think was part of the problem as well. The point is that all these companies should be treat all their customers like kings and queens, because we keep their businesses going and growing.

    Also, why didn’t anyone bring up the fact that the Maytag repairman, in the commerical, now would have something to do. That would have been my first comment to the Maytag people. Hey, send that dude over he hasn’t got anything else to do, right?

  13. Aug 28, 2009

    @SoMo, LOL! Exactly. Aren’t those dudes just sitting around waiting for dooce to call them? What the hell happened?

  14. Aug 28, 2009

    Thank you for asking. Similar questions crossed my mind when I watched the situation unfold. It seems to me that while it’s true that Dooce is a celebrity and there’s some responsibility that goes with being such, her celebrity emerged from the very thing she does best: tell her stories, write her observations, rant her rants, and generally say what she has to say about WHATEVER it is that’s affecting her life at any given moment. She’s not a celebrity for being an elected public official or for being a motivational speaker. She’s not a celebrity for being an awesome singer or for phenomenal actor. We know who she is for the very kinds of things that were evidenced in The Maytag Issue. And while it’s true that I might have personally toned down the “boycott them” bit some, I can so imagine the feeling of having had someone come to the house multiple times to right the wrongs, all while the baby cried and the laundry piled up, and etc.

    Regardless of how I would have handled it – and how can I say, really? – I do know that a) when I’m frustrated by poor customer service, and feeling impassioned, I generally would do just about anything to get my problem solved NOW, and b) employing whatever means are at your disposal does not mean you feel entitled. She wasn’t writing as a celebrity. She was responding as a woman who was fed up. Who happens to be a celebrity. Like her or don’t like her, it’s a very human and in-the-moment(s) response. And a very authentic response for Dooce… of the kind we’ve watched unfold for years. I’m mostly in her camp on this one. Loons will follow lots of people; we aren’t responsible for the reactions of others.

  15. Aug 28, 2009

    @Melody, I do think it was a human moment. I also wonder what she is picturing when she tweets–because I kind of have a mental picture in my head when I tweet, like I said, of about ten people, even though I must realize on some level it’s more than that. But I wonder if I would still have those kinds of illusions if I had been on Oprah, Dr. Phil, gone on a book tour, etc., etc. I really don’t know.

  16. Aug 28, 2009

    Anna, you make a lot of great points – including the one in this last question. I realize that I personally move through life in a sort of Pollyanna bubble, so it’s likely a good idea to preface this next part with that revelation. 🙂 As one who tweets to less than half the number of people who follow you, even, I also tend to have a handful of specific readers in mind when I tweet. I wonder at what moment that starts to change? Does it? Is the average brain even wired in such a way that it does truly change? (Particularly if you’re only reading the tweets of such a fraction of the numbers of people who are reading yours.)

    Reading Dooce’s blog – POST BigTimePRMoments – I still get the sense (enter: the point of my Pollyanna disclaimer) that she remains quite affected by these appearances (in the “Holy crap, I have to pinch myself, how in the world did I end up here?” way of being affected.) Society adds the labels that accompany certain events and experiences – including those that cause us to tag someone “celebrity” and by the time one IS labeled as such, surely some perspectives shift. But at the core, “ordinary people” with their new labels, are still likely viewing life’s circumstances through the same lenses that provided their lifetime of perspectives.

    Wow. I had no idea I possessed so many feelings on the subject! Good job at getting people to think beyond an initial reaction. (Good job writing the post in the first place, too, btw.)

  17. Aug 28, 2009

    Excellent summary post. “And in this corner…” Heh. I couldn’t look away from the SOAP opera yesterday either. I’m not even sure if my kids had dinner last night, to be honest.
    Your post is way more eloquent that the bumbling, weird post on my ‘no one gives a shit that my Kenmore icemaker doesn’t work’ miniscule blog I did in reaction to another blog’s post on the issue- so I am off to RT. Thanks!

  18. Aug 28, 2009

    I view this situation as completely in the hands of Maytag. If they don’t want to encounter PR issues, they should step up their customer service on every call. You never know who you might piss off. Plain and simple. They could’ve prevented this whole debacle in the first place.

    As for Dooce’s influence and abusing a social media tool…I don’t see that. You can only influence people who want to be influenced. It’s not as though she’s exerting some kind of mind control here. I looked at her tweets and thought “Hmm, she had a bad experience, sure. But that doesn’t mean every experience with Maytag would be just as bad. There are flukes.” Those were the exact thoughts that went through my head. I really don’t think celebrities should temper what they say to cater to weak minds. People need to be thinking for themselves.

    And poor Maytag? Maytag will be fine. It’s been around since 1893, and for the few thousand people who come out of this hating Maytag on Dooce’s behalf, there are surely millions of devoted Maytag customers who will continue to buy and recommend (perhaps even on Twitter) Maytag products, assuming that they aren’t a total nightmare as Dooce claims.

    As for the obsequious fans who say annoying things…Whatever. Yes, there are crazies in this strange world. She’s not responsible for them.

    I think it’s great that Dooce doesn’t have a publicist and pisses people off sometimes. She’s human. She got frustrated. And even sounded whiny! And possibly exaggerated! But I agree with you, Anna. If she had a publicist and a sterile, contrived persona she wouldn’t be Dooce. And she wouldn’t have changed the blogging world.

    And maybe Dooce even makes mistakes and gets embarrassed and doesn’t know what to do to fix it. Hey. BEEN THERE.

  19. Aug 28, 2009

    @Kathy: that’s a great point. Dooce wouldn’t be who she is if she were censored and packaged and programmed. That’s why we love her, because what you see is what you get.

    @Anna: So *that’s* where my pornbots went. They’re following you! Actually, they never left me in the first place, dammit. Regardless of whether you really think about the number of people reading your tweets, you have to, on some level, consider that most likely they are people just like you: intelligent, able to form their own opinions and able to decide whether or not Maytag is the Evil Destroyer of All Washing Machines or just another company that, as Kathy said, needs to step it up on the customer service front. None of us are being brainwashed here. Except maybe the pornbots.

  20. Aug 28, 2009

    Great discussion. I only got wind of this from reading Dooce’s post about the Bloggess. Which I thought was really well done and struck a good tone. As my mother always says, it’s never too late to say “thank you” or “I’m sorry.”

    I liked what you said, Anna, about this seeming rush to defend big corporations from people saying mean things about them. It’s weird. And in conjunction with the increasing “relationships” of bloggers to brands, it makes me a little queasy.

    I don’t know if Dooce should have thought twice before she tweeted that. If I had that kind of influence, I probably would have used it to get my washer fixed like she did, ONLY because that influence comes precisely from writing about running a household, not from being elected high office or gaining fame and admiration some other way. It’s not like she has the nuclear launch codes.

    I think the twitter dust-up comes from Dooce being so closely scrutinized. Maybe she’s reached the damned-if-you-do point. Seems like she’s destined (doomed?) to be the test-case for what celebrity is going to look like in the personal blogger world. Like, what is our paradigm for her kind of celebrity?

  21. Aug 28, 2009

    wait. i thought she DID have the nuclear launch codes. whew. ok,ok.

  22. Aug 28, 2009

    @Kathy, we actually don’t know for sure that Dooce doesn’t have a publicist. Because like I said, her behavior on Twitter has changed dramatically recently. And it’s tough to say where that came from. But even if she does have a publicist, it’s clear that the publicist is going to have to be making up new rules as he/she goes, because this kind of thing just hasn’t occurred in exactly the same way before now. That I know of, anyway.

    @Elizabeth, I do think that the increased accountability for companies–particularly huge conglomerates–is a positive thing. I don’t have a problem with bashing a large corporation. I feel like they can defend themselves, you know? If this were a mom & pop thing, that would be one thing, but Whirlpool has whole departments dedicated to this kind of stuff, and they should be made accountable. They have lived in this kind of controlled media environment for so long, and they’re shitting their pants now. Good! Viva la revolucion! or whatever. But how come Dreamhost still doesn’t give a shit about me? LOL

    @Becky, true–it’s never too late to say you’re sorry. And it’s good that she did. But I’m a cynic, so I’m reading into it and thinking it’s convenient that it was The Bloggess and not somebody who is still only getting 200 uniques a day or whatever. But that’s my brand, I guess.

    @marymac, I don’t think she has launch codes, but she may have Oprah’s home number. 🙂

  23. kakaty
    Aug 28, 2009

    Found your post via a RT and am so happy. This is such a great write-up of it all. Here is my take (and I’m a fan and follower of both @Dooce and @Sundry). I do think that Heather is the Oprah of the blog world and she 1)knows this and 2) usually acts with similar integrity. While she does sometimes act surprised by her celebrity, it is something she has been cultivating for years so I don’t buy the act of “I’m just little ol’ me!”. My main issue with how she handled this has to do with just how many negative impressions she dealt one company without much of a back-story. 1.2M readers x 6 negative, brand-identified tweets, including 3 “screaming” in all caps DO NOT BUY MAYTAG (just did a quick count, there may be more) = 7.2M bad PR stories for Maytag. And at that point of the timeline there were no details other then her brand new washer was broken and she had to make 3 service calls. Was it a faulty machine? Poor local repair service? Maytag not honoring a warranty after the Armstrong’s broke something?

    I think it was 2-3 days before she named the company she tweeted “OMG, dude, you do not want to make the post I have written about your brand any more awful than it is going to be.” which to me kind of sounds like a diva celebrity saying “do you have any idea who you are dealing with?”. And if she was planning a post, why did she need to turn to Twitter for a blow-by-blow of her rant? Do I think she did this all with intention to hurt a company? No, I think she was just venting and trying to get some kind of service but she did it with little thought to the ramifications and when people called her on that she got extremely defensive which is surprising given all the other things she’s been accused of. I mean, come on – people leave hateful comments about her choice of wallpaper – she KNOWS that everything she does on-line elicits reaction. This is her chosen lifestyle, no one has forced her into this.

    And one more thing before this rambles on to much longer…to answer your question as to why we come to the defense of companies is because I think most people can’t believe that a company can treat anyone so poorly. Even though it does happen time and time again, I think many of us want to believe that the customer is always right and once isolated incident does not make a company evil.

  24. Aug 28, 2009

    Great post. I still have no idea where I stand on the whole thing, other than general amusement at Dooce being compared to Oprah. I mean, Oprah? No. Just no. Dooce is famous to all us bloggers, and perhaps to some people who scan the NY Times Bestseller List. But stop 10 people on the street and ask if they know her and I bet maybe one does. Maybe none.

    I tried to explain the whole thing to my husband last night and the best explanation I cam up with was: “Well, there’s this HUGE blogger, Dooce. And she twittered that her washing machine broke. And then she might have broken twitter because the trending topics disappeared for several hours. And then she told everyone to boycott Maytag. And then everyone got all pissed off. And now she apologized to this other awesome blogger for being mean to her last year at a conference.”

    After telling him the story and having him look at me like I was a total idiot, I realized this is like a soap opera and no one actually cares other than bloggers. Which isn’t to say I am not enthralled by the whole thing, just gave me some perspective.

  25. Lynn
    Aug 28, 2009

    Just want to throw my two cents in. I am on Dooce’s side on this one (not so much on her side regarding the Blogher Conference in 2008, however, I know that was a big misunderstanding between Jenny & Heather), but I believe that she was okay in tweeting about her experience with Maytag. A $1300 washer which didn’t last longer than a week? Yeah, Maytag has some issues and if it takes Twitter to bring it to their attention, so be it. Maybe I’m a bit biased since my sister purchased a new home with all new Maytag appliances and they didn’t last longer than a year? The maddening thing in all of this is that companies will bow down to those with the biggest voices while everyday people have to fight harder to be heard. I think Dooce tweeted a bit too much about her experience and/or dislike for Maytag, and in that regards, makes her appear to be a bully, but she was frustrated and we’ve all been there.

  26. Aug 28, 2009

    @Kakaty: I agree, there were some times when she was tweeting in a way that sounded diva-ish. Which you can hardly blame her for, when you’re being treated like shit, I think you do start to fall back on things like that. Like HOW DARE THEY?! I think that’s precisely when you are feeling like you want to use your power the most. And the question is–is it OK to do that? I think if this had been a smaller entity–an etsy company or an eBay seller or something, it would be a clear abuse of power, I really do. Because she could shut somebody like that down, effectively. Maytag is so big, it’s harder to feel bad for them.

    @Snarkymommy, yeah, I don’t think anybody is really comparing Dooce to Oprah in earnest. We’re more saying, hey–within this little world, she kind of IS like Oprah. Except less beloved. But yeah, on the internet, she is kinda. And she was named the #26th most powerful woman in media by Forbes recently. And Oprah is #1. So no, she’s not exactly Oprah but she does garner quite a bit of power in a certain context. But you’re right–I was telling my husband and he was rolling his eyes at me again with my internet drama.

    @Lynn, I think if this had been the first we had heard about Dooce, maybe we would all be less likely to throw the bully word around. Personally, I don’t think it’s possible for a customer to bully a larger corporation–I have trouble seeing even somebody like, yes, Oprah, being able to do that (though in her case it’s much more possible). Corporations are just so much more powerful than any one individual, it’s tough to make that comparison.

  27. Aug 28, 2009

    I don’t get the big deal about her boycott. Seriously, celebrities get on their soapboxes every single freaking day. The difference to us bloggers, I think, is that we’re jealous that we can’t wield Dooce’s kind of power, and we’re somewhat put off by this blogger who many of us admire and would like to be like in terms of pageviews and revenue and popularity, but who never stoops to answer us. We love to vilify those people who we think could tumble. It’s why we love celebrity gossip. It’s why, when the prom queen gets her period all over her white dress, we rush to her rescue while laughing our asses off behind her back. And the girls who lost the vote and are just prom princesses point and laugh in her face. Girls are bitches.

    Had Dooce been a man, seriously, would any of this outcry happened? I think not.

    Here’s something I know about human nature: we generally wield the power we have. I once pulled out my cellphone contacts list to show I had several local investigative reporters in there when an auto dealer was trying to screw me over big time. (I did media relations at the time.) All I had to do was threaten, and they gave me what I wanted, which is what they should have given me in the first place because it was the right thing to do. And also, I wrote a letter to the chairman of the board and president of the hospital I’m forced to use through my health insurance after several horrible service incidents with them that cost me time and money. I tried to work with the office manager but got nowhere. So why waste time? Just go to the top. (It worked: I got money back and now get VIP service.) Or go public.

    Like you said, you complained about BlueHost on Twitter and on your blog, and while they still haven’t acknowledged you that doesn’t mean you haven’t influenced your 400 followers by tweeting it. Maybe you didn’t get the personal satisfaction of resolution, but guess what, you saved ME from switching over to them, which had been my plan.

  28. Aug 28, 2009

    @Lynn, we absolutely have to take into account jealousy when talking about Dooce. In fact, last year in the wake of BlogHer and that whole debacle, it seemed to me that jealousy was everything about the issue with Dooce. Now, I don’t know, I think it’s more nuanced than that, but jealousy absolutely factors in whenever there’s a blowout involving Dooce in the mommyblogging community. Many people think they can do just what dooce does, better than dooce does, and they resent her. So on that point you are right.

    but this, this would have been big anyway. Dooce is a figure outside of mommyblogging now–not as huge as she is to us, but she is a bona fide public figure to a certain extent. So her behavior to Maytag would absolutely have been noteworthy, IMO, even without the whole Mommyblogging bruhaha.

    You make a good point–there are people who won’t use my old host because of my tweets, so that is some influence. But just so you know, it’s DreamHost you shouldn’t use! I have heard bad things about BlueHost second hand, but my own experience was with DreamHost–just so you don’t go joining them, either!

  29. Aug 28, 2009

    Oh yeah, and you’re right–it absolutely makes sense to use all the power you have–I always am demanding to talk to a supervisor, etc. to get past red tape. So on that front, yeah, if I had that many twitter followers it would be so hard to not jump on that as a tool!

  30. […] posted a thorough recap of the mess today (holy thorough), posing some salient questions raised by this brouhaha. […]

  31. Aug 29, 2009

    I go on vacation and miss everything. I thoroughly enjoyed this post, thanks.

  32. Heather
    Aug 29, 2009

    I completely missed the entire Tweet battle on Thursday so I had no idea it had gone on. I read the post about the Maytag and my only question is this: Isn’t there a laundry mat where this supposed pile of laundry could have been taken too? Who piles filthy laundry up for days? And tries to use a broken washer? Surely that makes the situation worse? My reply here really isn’t a contribution, it seems more like a complaint but it just struck me as odd that soiled laundry is left to pile up when there are laundry mats and friends’ washers out there to use. It may have been said for effect but it just struck me as gross. But whatever. This was a good post and you brought up points that I had never even thought about until after I’d read it. I hadn’t really imagined one Tweet could actually make that much a difference about products. But I guess it can.

  33. Maurina
    Aug 30, 2009

    @HEATHER: While I’m still a little unsure of how I feel about Dooce’s use of Twitter, I totally get the laundry issue. When you have a newborn and a young child, it’s an enormous pain in the ass to spend 2 hours at the laundrymat doing laundry. And if you use the drop-off service, it’s a small fortune.

    Plus, laundry does tend to pile up when you think your machine is going to be fixed today. Or maybe tomorrow. And that becomes 3 days, then 4 days – you see where I’m going with this. And if I just spend $1300 on a brand-new machine, I would be loathe to have to spend another $25 + a week to do laundry at the laundrymat.

  34. Aug 30, 2009

    @Marinka, see I knew somebody would miss the whole thing and be annoyed that they couldn’t piece together what happened. That’s kinda why I wrote the post, to be honest–after the whole Dooce/Bloggess blowout, I couldn’t figure out what happened and nobody had written a concise summary. This annoyed me to no end. LOL

    @Heather, the laundry does pile up fast with a newborn. Of course, I would probably have made somebody take it to the laundromat or some other means of doing it. But I think that makes for less hyperbolic comedy. So you know, take what she says with a grain of salt. She’s trying to be entertaining, I suspect.

    @Maurina, I agree, it does pile up. And once you’ve had a newborn you have a little bit more of an idea how much laundry it entails. But yeah, I would have sent somebody to do the laundry. Either her husband or her assistant. It might not be as much of a priority to her, though.

  35. Aug 30, 2009

    It will be interesting to see whether any of this will be covered in the mainstream media this week. It’s the end of August (a notoriously slow news period), and now that they’re finally done eulogizing Ted Kennedy, they’ll need something to talk about.

    Isn’t being a little bit of a train wreck the reason Dooce made it big to begin with? My understanding is that her blog exploded when she had postpartum depression, and in the aftermath of that. It seems like being a spectacle is what made her big, so doing things like this that attract attention aren’t necessarily going to hurt her brand. Her fans surely can’t be under the illusion that she’s one of those calm, unemotional, polite types of people. (I’m not saying that she was that calculating in this case, because I think she was just plain pissed that her washer didn’t work and that they were jerking her around…and I would be too).

    As I said elsewhere, I was only mildly interested in Dooce’s tweets. What really got my attention was the actions of the mob. If my readers were making calls and sending emails and being threatening on my behalf, I would be COMPLETELY freaked out.

  36. Aug 30, 2009

    Here’s a thought that didn’t make it into my post, about whether this incident makes Dooce a brand bully: When she goes on Twitter and tells everyone, “Wait till you read what I’m going to say about this company” and then does her all-caps boycott rally … how does this make her any different from the Attempted Crocs Extorter? (Other than the obvious – that Dooce would have left BlogHer with a steamer trunk full of Crocs and the delusional ACE got bubkes, that is?)

  37. Aug 30, 2009

    @Kerry, I was kind of wondering if mainstream media would bother with this story, either. It seems noteworthy, but I’m sure my perception is totally colored by being in the middle of the mommyblogosphere. And I agree, it’s interesting that Dooce did this in a gossipy sense, but the really shocking part of it is the behavior of the mob, and how Twitter helps that spread so fast.

    @Eliz, I think the premeditation makes it worse, yeah, and I didn’t really point that out in this post. And to be honest, the only reason it’s different is that money changed hands–she had already paid for a product, and that makes her more sympathetic. Also, people understand being pissed about a large appliance being defective, whereas begging for plastic shoes is kind of declasse. But yeah, it does come from the same impulse–that “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!” diva impulse that everyone hates in a celebrity. Particularly just an internet celebrity.

  38. Aug 31, 2009

    ah, the mysterious Croctomom. Who could forget her?!

  39. Aug 31, 2009

    I have to say I’m with Team Armstrong. I found Sundry to be snarky snarky snarky. I have used Twitter to demand service from Snapfish when I was getting no where using other channels(and I only have 10 followers). I think companies are becoming aware of the use of twitter to spread the word. To me, what Dooce did is no different than me texting some friends from the cell phone store and going “OMG NEVER BUY A SAMSUNG PHONE” or whatever. I took it at face value, she was having problems and would share the details later. Just like i would to the friends I’d texted. The ONLY reason people are having issue is because she’s ‘famous’. If she was just joe schmo with a few hundred followers, no one would think twice. Regulating how we can use twitter, and what we can say is wrong IMO.

  40. Aug 31, 2009

    @Jessica, I agree, the action is no different from one that many of us (myself included) have taken. I think what we were questioning was whether or not the fact that she has a following–a very loyal, vehement following in some cases–if this required her to behave differently from us. Like, would you be OK with Oprah tweeting “Don’t buy Maytag”? Or Ashton Kutcher? What if you were a Maytag employee? Would that change your mind about whether it was the same thing?

    I don’t really have an answer for these questions, by the way–just asking!

  41. Aug 31, 2009

    @Anna, good questions, and I can only speak for myself, but if any of those people said what Dooce said via tweet, I’d have the same reaction. Perhaps be MORE curious because I can’t see Oprah ever getting bad service. But just like with Dooce, I’d wait for more of the story to come out. If nothing ever was posted/announced for the why they were hating Maytag(or who ever), like many people seemed to expect with Dooce, then I’d brush it off. People rant, even famous people and I believe we have this fantastic thing called free will where we make choices. We chose to believe or chose to not. When I go shopping for something, especially something major like an appliance, I take everything into account. My cousin’s neighbors MIL’s battle over months for them to fix her…fridge, that had broken after initial use. Dooce’s experience would be something I’d consider, but in the same way as my cousin’s neighbor’s MIL. I think that people, even famous ones, have the right and IMO should assume that people will use their free will and intelligence to make decisions. Are there nuts? Absolutely, but I don’t feel we can or should play to the crazies.

    If I was a Maytag employee? I’d be appalled by my companies behavior. If what Dooce says is accurate, which I have to assume it is as Maytag hasn’t blogged their side and we’ve all had that level of stellar service, I’d be horrified that she was treated like that. Just as I’m horrified when I’M treated like that. When I worked for Greyhound, I would bend over backwards to right the wrongs of my passengers, even though it wasn’t my job. I wasn’t customer service, but I wasn’t going to sit back and let a big company treat them unfairly. I was also open to the idea of being duped so I’m not totally gullible. 🙂

  42. Aug 31, 2009

    @Jessica, interesting perspective! I would say that I agree with most of your points–a brand should have to stand by its product, no matter who their consumer is. They should be putting stuff out there and assuming that it’s going to Oprah, or Ashton, or Dooce, because it might be and if it’s bad, then that is bad news for them.

    I think what turned many people off with this incident was the tone of the posts leading up to it–like when she made quasi-threatening posts, because some of the tweets sounded possibly diva-like. And people don’t react well to that. But then again, others have argued that they would have used any routes available to them, had they been in her position. I know it would have been tough for me not to do so, if I had been in her place.

  43. Aug 31, 2009

    Actually, now that I think about it, the couple of times Oprah’s done something like this, it didn’t go well. There was that one time, with the designer store in Paris (Hermes, was it?). She took a bunch of crap for that.

    Then, obviously, the one about the beef…that didn’t go so well either.

    Not that Dooce is Oprah…but I’ve said some nasty things about beef too, and no one’s sued me. Being famous is obviously a key variable.

  44. Leslie
    Sep 2, 2009

    Sorry folks, but this entire situation reeks of entitlement to me. Dooce didn’t think she should be ignored and went public to over 1 million people to make sure they knew about it. Here is a person whose entire income is the product of her writing blog posts (none of which require research, editors, or a staff to produce) whining about the kinds of things that happen to normal folk all the time. She has companies tripping over themselves to give her new products and yet she remains surprised people aren’t showering praise upon her for complaining. Dooce, YOU ARE ENTITLED. You have umpteen people drinking the Kool-Aid willing to read, eat, or watch whatever you say. You created a public space to write your thoughts and want to get upset that people respond in ways you don’t like? You’ve been doing this for 8 years and you just figured out that is how this works? C’mon, girl. No one is calling you a bully, just shedding light on the fact that you’re a celebrity and they have to play by different rules. Stop apologizing and pretending and just accept it.

    And seriously, while you’re waiting to get the machine fixed, go to a laundromat. It ain’t rocket science.

  45. Sep 4, 2009

    The best part of the story is MommyMelee’s suggestion of donating to the women’s shelter. A publicist long ago should have told the Blurbdoocery that modeling charitable giving or even generosity in the blogosphere is an admirable use of power, and Heather’s lack of public generosity has cost her a lot of good will–but really only among a segment of keyed in bloggers. That is something that someone like a sloppy Forbes reporter wouldn’t be able to understand about why bloggers would dis her when she throws yet another claws-out diva fit. (I hate it that you and Maria didn’t get linked to in that story, and that Maria didn’t get credit for the idea. )

  46. Sep 4, 2009

    Yeah, that story was BS. I mean, that’s what they’re calling reporting over at Forbes? I understand that she isn’t part of this subset of the blogosphere, and as such would read Dooce’s actions differently from how we would. But she made it sound like we just sat around all day thinking about how sucky our lives are in comparison to Dooce’s. And she made it sound like Maria is quoting Spiderman without irony!

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