Turning a Competitor’s Shady Tactics into a PR opportunity

It’s intimidating being a small business going up against goliath competitors. They have a ton of money, a huge staff and a lot of resources.

But when it comes to PR, savvy small businesses can stand up to larger competitors.

A few weeks ago, a small yoga software company, Tula Software stood up to it’s much larger competitor and taught it a few lessons about modern media.

Full disclosure: Tula Software is a client of ours.

Several months ago a question came up on Quora:

“Does Mind Body (mindbodyonline.com) have competitors? Who are they?”

Mindbody is a studio management software used by gyms and yoga studios. On the Quora thread, people listed competitors and gave thoughts on Mindbody. If you Googled “Mindbody Competitors”, this Quora thread showed up as the first result. Not a huge deal, but obviously not ideal for Mindbody. So they decided to hijack the Quora page by pushing favorable comments about themselves to the top of the page.

Mindbody had it’s business blogger, Dana Auriemma, pose as a satisfied customer and write a favorable response to the question “What are Mindbody’s competitors?”

“I have an unbiased point-of-view because I don’t work for any of the competitors that are answering this question….” She goes on to gush about Mindbody. When you read her answer, it seems fishy from the get go.

original quora post

Then, Mindbody pushed that favorable response to the top of the Quora page by having many of it’s employees vote the post up. (If you google any of the names of the people who upvoted the post, you’ll see most of them work for Mindbody.)

There are two problems with this.

First, Dana’s response is disingenuous at best. She does, in fact, have a biased point-of-view. In fact she even calls herself Mindbody’s business blogger. Had she made that disclosure in the post, none of this would be an issue. Not only did she not disclose that fact, she tried to highlight how impartial she was.

Second, a vast majority of the upvotes this comment received was made by Mindbody. Obviously, Mindbody coordinated the Quora hijacking by having multiple employees participate in a misleading post. That’s a big no no.

Most small businesses would helplessly throw their hands up in the air and write this off as a big company doing the things that big companies do. But Andrew Wicklander, Founder of the smaller Tula Software, decided to fight back.

His first step was to respond to the inauthentic post:
andrew response

Notice how he included a link to all of his other competitors.

Andrew then wrote a blog post documenting what happened and shared it on social networks, which generated a fair amount of traffic to his website.

He also tweeted to both the CEO of Mindbody.

 

This forced Dana to respond on Twitter and write a blog post.

 

Dana then made another mistake by closing off comments to her blog, which prompted Andrew to respond on Twitter.

Once Quora saw that Dana’s answer wasn’t exactly authentic, they removed the answer along with other questionable Quora answers that were voted up by Mindbody employees.

This week,  Business 2 Community picked up the story, by Chris Campbell of Review Trackers, which has gotten a few dozen shares on social networks so far.

The risk for Mindbody is that this article and social shares, may just be the beginning of this story. Fake reviews on Yelp have been a big news item and this story has the potential to hit the mainstream press.

All because of a shortsighted mistake.

So there are a couple PR lessons for small business owners to consider:
First, always be authentic on social networks. Trying to game social networks with inauthenticity can come blow up quickly.

Second, if you are a small business, you don’t have to sit back and let a bigger competitor bully you. Your audience is much more accessible today. You can fight back and turn shady tactics into a PR opportunity.

So far, Mindbody has not only lost their original posts on Quora, but they have now generated a handful of negative comments and posts on the matter and run the risk getting picked up into the mainstream business press.

Tula Software, on the other hand has generated traffic and has interjected it’s brand into the same conversation as it’s larger competitor on the right side of an issue.