We’ve all been there, it’s not nice, but hey, it happens. I’m talking about receiving a negative review for your brand or business online. The best way to deal with this is to learn from it and try and improve, right? Well – some people might disagree.
Today we take a closer look at one of the world’s leading tech companies who thought they were the Mafia. Apparently some of the executives at eBay were “unhappy” with the coverage of their company on an e-commerce newsletter and that’s when things started going horribly wrong. For more than 20 years, David and Ina Steiner ran an e-commerce newsletter called “ECommerceBytes” from their home in the suburbs of Boston. In recent years their writing has mostly focused on the dealings of Amazon and eBay, things like criticisms and analysis of their corporate practices, including shareholder meetings, etc. Apparently some of the executives at eBay were “unhappy” with the coverage of their company on e-Commerce Bytes. So in August of last year they decided to take action. Listening to US Attorney Andrew Lelling’s press conference where the charges were laid out, is surreal. Listen for yourself here.
Let’s unpack the three phases of this campaign:
1 – Sending disturbing deliveries to their home day and night
2 – Sending the couple anonymous threatening messages online
3 – Actual physical surveillance of the couple including at their home near Boston.
They also set up fake social media accounts that were supposedly by people who sell items on ebay and disapproved of their coverage, and sent threats including profane messages that took credit for the deliveries. And as things grew more complex and surreal, they actually flew from California to Massachussetss to physically surveil them at their home and around their town – including breaking into their garage to install a GPS on their car.
It’s almost too much to believe. And the fact is… it worked. They intimidated these people – terrorized them for weeks. The Natick, Massachusetts police were the first to uncover the scheme which they originally thought was all just a series of pranks. But when the Steiners reported that they were being followed, things got more serious.
So what was it they were so enraged by? Well according to various reports, it originally started when former eBay CEO Devin Wenig enlisted chief communications officer Steve Wermer in a campaign to prove what they believed was Amazon’s practice of paying publications like the Steiners’ for good press. Amazon denies the practice, and ultimately Wenig and Wermer were unable to prove their suspicions.
What happens next depends on who you believe. Although it would appear that Baugh and company were just continuing the next phase of Wenig’s campaign against negative reviewers. Wenig claims he knew nothing about what they were doing, he says he never ordered any of it, and (and this is rich) that he was on vacation in Italy while it was all going on. Yeah right! According to the affidavit, the two (Wenig & Wymer) continued to discuss the problem they believed the Steiners to be. Read all the text messages here. Ultimately neither Wenig nor Wymer have been charged with any crimes.
This leaves us with the question…how could something like this happen? Even if Wenig is not legally to blame, he should for sure bear the blame for establishing a culture where this could seem okay. For more information on this topic, head over to The Marketing Rescue Podcast.