Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Attack of the Blogs

sword2.jpg

Back in November, there was a much-discussed cover story in Forbes by Daniel Lyons titled "Attack of the Blogs."   The article was mostly about how blogs have given a lot of power to "the mob" — meaning us — which can have an adverse effect on business.    Since the explosion of blogging, some disgruntled consumer can start a rumor that can quickly spread around the blogosphere, costing a business millions of dollars.

"Bloggers are more of a threat than people realize, and they are only going to get more toxic. This is the new reality," says Peter Blackshaw, chief marketing officer at Intelliseek, a Cincinnati firm that sifts through millions of blogs to provide watch-your-back service to 75 clients, including Procter & Gamble and Ford. "The potential for brand damage is really high,"says Frank Shaw, executive vice president at Microsoft’s main public relations firm, Waggener Edstrom. "There is bad information out there in the blog space, and you have only hours to get ahead of it and cut it off, especially if it’s juicy."

I was actually sympathizing with these companies, until I read one of the suggestions for businesses to "fight back" against bloggers:

Build a Blog Swarm:  Reach out to key bloggers and get them on your side.  Lavish them with attention.  Or cash.  Earlier this year, Marqui, a tiny Portland, Ore. software shop, began paying 21 bloggers $800 per month to post items about Marqui.

Isn’t that a bit like what Jack Abramoff was doing in Washington?

Why is this OK? 

I actually know someone whose job is to go to online forums and talk excitedly about movies and products to produce "a buzz" —  but acting as if she were a regular person just chatting online. 

I also remember going to a hotel in San Francisco because of a great "review" in TripAdvisor, only to find out that it was written by the manager himself.

So, the internet can be used for good and evil, on both sides.   Despite the potential for abuse, I like the fact that the internet gives Regular Joes and Janes the power to be heard and to speak up against the powers-that-be.    The internet will be a sad place when it is just another outlet for constant advertising and self-promotion. 

Oh right, it’s like that already.

Recently, I thought about blogging about a not-very-nice Los Angeles mattress store, just to embarrass it by publishing its name.  Normally, I would just suck it in.  But having a blog is empowering, it’s like I have my own New York Times.

Here’s the story:

Sophia’s mother and step-father are an older couple who only speak Russian.  For several weekends they asked Sophia and me to help them buy a new mattress for their bedroom, but like most selfish children, we were always too busy (going to movies, playing Texas Hold’em poker, etc.) to help.

"Next week… next week," we said.

Finally, they gave up on us and decided to buy the mattress themselves — at a store on Wilshire near Fairfax in Los Angeles.  When Sophia called them later, she became very upset when she heard that they paid a small fortune for the mattress + 80 bucks for delivery. 

Were they ripped off? 

There was certainly one way to find out.  I went to the store the next day and asked to buy the same mattress.

Can you believe that the salesman offered to sell it to me for a couple of hundred dollars less, with free delivery — without any bargaining at all? 

This was one day later.  There was no sale the day before.

Is this just business as usual — different prices for different people? 

Did he maybe recognize me from my blog and wanted to give me a special "blog deal?"

Or did he just rip off Sophia’s parents, seeing they were an older couple who didn’t speak English?

Of course, I have no proof of this. 

But would it really be so wrong for me to publish the name of this mattress store?  You know, the one on Wilshire near Fairfax in Los Angeles. 

42 Comments

  1. Neil, that almost looks like one of the geeky girls from the post below. You know, physics textbooks and samurai swords make good weapons…

  2. it is getting worse: random IMs asking if I have seen Brokeback Mountain, tried Mountain Dew Code Red and if I am happy with my choice of condoms

  3. You should have named the store. Really.

    By the way, did you ever confront them about the discrepancy in pricing?

  4. The other New York Times would publish the name of the store.

  5. The problem is that very few bloggers have the legal representation of The New York Times, and there is still a question as to whether blogs are considered “press” and enjoy the freedoms allowed to the press (though the First Amendment surely applies… for the moment anyway).

    I used to bitch about companies who screwed me over, but when I started hearing about blogs being sued for slander and receiving death threats, I toned it way down. Now I prefer to give free publicity to companies I like and ignore companies I don’t.

    Also… does the store work on commission? Did you get the same salesman? Maybe the guy who sold to Sophia’s mother and step-father was a bad apple, and the store owner is completely unaware? Have you confronted the manager to see if the store will do anything about it? One way to cover yourself is to give the store the benefit of the doubt until they have a chance to prove they’re not complete tools. If it then ends up that they ARE complete tools, at least you can name them with a clear conscience!

  6. That ticks me off. Please tell me that you said something.

  7. Fine line, Neil.

    I recently was invited to the opening night of an independent film as a “guest” of the writer/director, primarily because I occasionally write about film for BlogAsheville (www.blogasheville.blogspot.com). Of course, I then felt I should write a review of the film that I’d been given free tickets to see. I didn’t have to, but there was the expectation. Am I a ho or what?

  8. And to think Benjamin Moore skipped on my commission!

  9. I say it’s time to name names. But not in a McCarthy way. Just in a “screw-the-meanies-at-the-mattress-store” way. Which is completely condonable.

  10. Mean, mean, mean. It makes me sad when people take advantage of people who don’t know any better (and if you don’t speak good english, my guess is that you have a distinct disadvantage re: bargaining and mattress stores). A pox on them and their mattresses…the sellers…not Sophia’s parents!

  11. They probably started quaking in their boots when they saw you coming. “Oh my God, it’s Neilotchka the famous blogger. Quick throw discounts at him. Does he like girls? I think he likes girls. Who has a pretty wife he can have?”

  12. Good grief – what, companies don’t like being held accountable? Well surprise surprise.

    Of course it’s not ok to wifully slander a company, but it has to be ok to write an honest review of experiences with company X, good or bad. It’s up to them to make sure that they’re up to scratch.

    I don’t know if it’s legally ok (and by ok I mean affordable) for you to name that company, but damn, it seems that they could do with exposing. I thought there were some good points raised by Dave2 in his comments. Perhaps if you’ve taken things further with them, you could blog the whole thing. I think that’s called investigative journalism – and you da man, I reckon. 🙂

  13. Elisabeth — Sophia’s step-father is a proud guy and he didn’t want to make a big deal about it, so I just let it drop.

  14. I actually used the threat of telling my blogger friends if an online store didn’t correct the mistake they made. This was after waiting two weeks to even have them respond to my email about the problem….well long story short…they did correct the error…maybe they feared the Neilochka?

  15. I would publish the name. Although I’m such a weenie I usually only publish the names of businesses that make me happy. Or I’m so tall and intimidating people don’t mess with me?

    Do it Neil!! Double dare you!!

  16. At times like this ask yourself just one question.
    What would Gandhi do in a similar situation?

  17. How about this: if people want to know the name of the store they should email you (that way you’re not publishing it to the world)?

  18. i will NEVER buy a matress there.

    forget the fact that i live 600 miles away.

    it’s the principle of the matter!

    🙂 sizzle

  19. I went to one of those free seminars where they were trying to sell you stuff and one of the speakers was a writer. He suggested the promoting of your stuff in forums.

    Even if they disallowed advertising he would sign on under one name and post a question about getting his kid a good book and ask for suggestions.

    The he’d sign on under another name and recommend a great book and go on about how wonderful it was. Of course, it was the book he had just written.

    Mik

  20. Hi, this is my first time to this blog and I have to say this is the best blog I’ve ever read. I hope this thing with Sophia falls apart, because as a woman, I can’t wait to date you and jump your bones. I can’t imagine any woman not wanting to go to bed with you, since you are so bright and sexy. I’m going to tell all my friends to read “Citizen of the Month” every day. I think everyone should do the same. And make sure you nominate him to every award possible, including the Pulitzer Prize.

    Thanks and god bless you, Neilochka!

    Anonymous Female Reader

  21. We should set up a whole Mattress Store Blogging week where we all do a post about a horrible mattress store near each of us in each of our cities.

    That would break huge ground.

  22. That’s amazing that happened. Did you ask them about it? Was Sophia with you when you went back? I bet she would’ve let them have it. 🙂

  23. Hey Neil, Howdy?
    Your comment about internet having its positive sites brings to mind something quite recent which happened in France. 3 sisters (The Cohen) sisters who got separated at the concentration camp times were reunited thanks to the Internet!!!

    Even medicines which are meant to cure you have side effetcs, the same goes for everything else!

    Fitèna

  24. I despise haggling. When I move, I will be faced with mattress purchasing and I’m not looking forward to it. Why can’t mattresses and cars just cost what they cost (not the gouge you price, but a reasonable one)?

  25. Being the devil’s advocate … as Davy2 asked, was it the same salesman? It’s not always the company except to the extent that they have hired an ass to work for them, which is a mistake that’s easy to make. So while I’m not a big fan of companies I would give them the benefit of the doubt assuming they would do something to fix the problem.

    Having said that … the Internet has turned into horseshit thanks to marketing idiots who …

    Sorry … I almost went off on a rant. My real point is that sometimes the problem is not so much the company, as a company, that is the problem but the fact that some moron has gotten the keys to the car. Meaning – they hired an idiot.

    Did that make any sense?

  26. I want someone to pay me $800 just to write about things I like.

  27. While I’m not sure it is the same salesman, it was definitely the same manager.

  28. Wilshire near Fairfax… Well, there’s Ortho Mattress (6205 Wilshire), and also Number One Discount Furniture, aka Number One Mattress Discount (6124 Wilshire), and MM Furniture Liquidators (6032 Wilshire).

    You should spit out the name and not be a big wuss.

  29. Jeez, Richard, you know your mattress stores.

    Ortho.

  30. i don’t know what your laws are about doing that in the states, but it’s your blog, why can’t you name names?

  31. In montreal, “Ortho” is slang word similar in meaning to “riding the short bus”.

  32. LMAO! I’m sorry, but the commenter named “Not Neil” the one who wants to jump Neil’s bones, was hilarious!
    But the writing style seems vaguely familiar….I’d swear if it didn’t specifically say “Not Neil” I would have thought it was him. (hehehehe)
    My mistake.

    3T

  33. There’s a brand spanking new law that’s just been passed that makes it a crime to “annoy” anyone on the internet under an assumed name.

    I say, go ahead and out the store–you’re using your real name here (aren’t you?) Would serve ’em right. Ageism, xenophobia, discrimination–lift up the rock and expose the slimy underbelly of the mattress world!

  34. Why don’t they speak a lick of our language??? This never fails to amuse me. Foreigners move into our grand land but refuse to learn our language. Puzzling.

  35. Now, Inky, don’t be dinky!

    Not everyone can negotiate with the sharks of the mattress industry. Elderly people are victimized all the time by unscrupulous rip off artists. Doesn’t matter how good your command of the language–the point is the guy cheated Sophia’s folks, pure and simple.

  36. Those damn foreigners! How are they ever going to blog if they don’t learn our language? Inky, I’ll be looking forward to your move to the grand land of Ukraine when you’re 75 years old, because I’m going to enjoy hearing your negotiations with the cab drivers in their native language.

  37. Ok, if someone wants to pay me real money to blog about them I will consider it. So feel free to send those offers my way.

  38. It reminds me of my Mom and telemarketers etc. I’d say, “Mom! Just say you’re not interested and hang up. They WANT you to talk. The more you talk the better their chances are to sell you crap you don’t need. Just say no and hang up!”

    But Mom would talk away. Because they, “… seemed like nice people.” It wasn’t in her to be abrupt and cold on the phone. I drove me crazy. Of course, I wouldn’t have had her be any other way.

  39. If anyone wants to take up Pauly D’s suggestion on Mattress Store Blogging week, count me in.

    I entered a mattress store on Pico. Blvd., west of the 405. The salesman started asking me questions, and I replied that I was “just browsing” – because I generally need to look around before I start talking terms, and I don’t shop well when I’m distracted by questions. But the salesman wouldn’t leave it there and asked if I was looking for a specific size. Again, not wishing to get into a protracted discussion before I was ready, I said, “No,” and tried to continue browsing. STILL, the salesman wouldn’t quit, and when I didn’t answer him, he told me I was being rude and said I should leave the store.

    I was flabbergasted. I have NEVER been asked to leave a store before. When did it become wrong to just browse? What the heck kind of customer service is this? Is there something weird going on in the mattress business or is this happening in other retail areas, too?

  40. The whole industry is sleazy. And I can’t believe the companies change the names of the mattresses for each store so you can’t compare prices. Sealy Mattress X at “Sit and Sleep” is called Sealy Mattress Y at “1-800 Mattress.” It seems strange that such a common household object (made for sleep and lovemaking, two essentials of human life) is sold by such sleaze.

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