Spearboard Censorship Continued

This isn’t a rant against Spearboard, just pointing out an unfortunate situation and the lessons we all can learn from it. Don’t worry, we’ll be getting back to our regular content plus some major announcements later this week.

I recently wrote a completely vague post about Spearboard censorship. There has been a bit of activity behind the scenes (although no responses from anyone at Spearboard), so I’d like to look at this as an online marketing/reputation management learning opportunity.

The Spearboard Backstory

I won’t be linking to the thread because they don’t deserve a backlink. If you are really curious and can’t find it on ¬†your own, contact me and I’ll help you out.

My employer was recently mentioned on Spearboard regarding what should have been a simple customer service issue. However, the Spearboard community began to engage in potentially libelous remarks and other absurd statements. Claims like “dive shops don’t make money off classes” and “dive shops don’t make money off equipment sales” ran rampant (if not classes or equipment, how do dive shops stay in business? Air fills I guess ūüėČ ).

As is my responsibility, I responded to help clarify false accusations and help the original poster with their service issue.

All of my posts were deleted and my account was suspended.

I asked why and was told I was violating the Spearboard terms. I asked if there was any way I could possibly help members of the Spearboard community with their concerns. I was told “No – you are not a sponsor here.” Since that sentence completely contradicted itself, I responded asking if I were a sponsor, could I post and if so, how does one become a sponsor since all of the sponsor links don’t actually tell you how to become a sponsor. I’ve never received a reply. I guess they don’t want sponsors.

That prompted my last post since I genuinely wanted to find out how I could be a part of another dive community.

A few days later, I saw someone jump in on the thread to call out some of the mistruths. A few days after that, I received an email from this user letting me know he had also been banned. He was told he was obviously an employee of the company based on IP address, however he assures me he lives out of the country so that isn’t really possible.

A few more people jumped in to defend against the false accusations and have been warned by the Spearboard owner that they may be banned as well, yet he claims to not have a bias towards his local advertisers.

Transparency

If you visit ScubaBoard, the most active SCUBA forum around, ¬†you can easily find the owner Pete. You can contact him in a variety of ways, he’s friendly, he allows a lot of things to happen (unless it gets really ugly) and he doesn’t hide who his affiliations are with. This is a stark contrast to what you see at Spearboard.

The lesson:¬†The internet is a big place, people will find anything they want about you, so it’s best to put your cards on the table. If you don’t feel like sharing every morsel of your life, at least be honest when called on something.

Spelling and Grammar

In the aforementioned thread, a few of the loudest participants actually do have local dive store affiliations displayed in their signatures. Unfortunately, they are doing their dive center a disservice with their terrible spelling and grammar. While I understand the argument that language always evolves and someday “C U @ teh m00v135” might be acceptable, when representing a business, especially¬†if it isn’t your own, 133t/text speak isn’t appropriate.

The lesson:¬†If you want to represent yourself or your business online, even in forums, it might be worth knowing how to write at least at an 8th grade level. If you can’t, you may want to consider hiring a copywriter or an editor to help maintain your professional reputation.

Spreading Mistruths and Badmouthing

I always thank my stars I learned from Mike at Eugene Skin Divers Supply about these topics. He stressed the importance of being honest and always¬†looking professional when representing his business. If you don’t know something about a dive class or piece of SCUBA equipment, don’t make something up to get your customer into something you do know and have. Don’t badmouth your competition, just be the best instructor or dive business you can be. The public sees right through badmouthing.

That’s why I won’t give my opinion on NAUI or SSI programs, I know PADI. I will tell people “I don’t know”. Some people fear saying “I don’t know” and would rather make something up, but when that person realizes the truth, you are now considered a liar and that’s hard to come back from.

The lesson: Spreading mistruths and badmouthing your competition hurts the entire industry. Train a better diver than the next instructor, run your shop better than your competition, build a better piece of SCUBA equipment and you will succeed.

Communication Methods

I personally hate talking on the phone. I also have discovered my Google Voice-powered voicemail loses the occasional message. I much prefer text, email or IM. While I try to steer people in those directions, my phone number is included on every forum and email signature. You can contact me via Skype, email, Facebook/Google/Yahoo Messenger, text message or phone.

This is a stark difference from Spearboard where the owner doesn’t even publicly post his name. I understand the desire for privacy, but when you run a public forum and are its dictator owner, it seems like it would make sense to be relatively easy to be contacted.

The lesson:¬†It’s best to allow people to contact you quickly, easily and by the method they prefer to use.

Response Times

As we recently saw with the Florida dive center who left two divers behind, things can turn ugly online very quickly. Unfortunately for me, the aforementioned thread started during a work holiday, so it went a couple of days unanswered. Thanks to Google Alerts, I saw it almost immediately and it was difficult not to respond, but I couldn’t. I’ve held off on writing this post for over two weeks hoping that I might receive a response to my various attempts at communication with Spearboard. The last vague post was in the hopes that someone there had a Google Alert setup and someone would respond. Instead, I’m now using this situation as a learning experience.

The lesson: Respond quickly or at least make your response times public, as we do.

While I hope this analysis helps others to avoid the mistakes Spearboard has made (especially since I keep seeing more “Facebook for SCUBA” projects pop up daily), my main goal is to get someone from Spearboard to respond to me. I have proven to be a helpful, non-spammy member of ScubaBoard and simply want to learn how I can go about being the same valuable member of the Spearboard community.

UPDATE:¬†I received another email from the other¬†person who was banned and he’s been banned again. The “evidence” that this person knows me personally is A) the original time zone and date of birth used on the originally account and the second registration don’t match B) he had originally listed a home town in my state¬†but also indicated that he’s currently traveling which matches the different IP addresses used to post. I’m honestly not sure how those “facts” prove a personal connection, but it’s Tony’s site and he can do what he wants with it. It appears as though Spearboard is not an open forum although other posters in the same thread have been able to post how great their dive center is which is the reason (I was actually just trying to help someone, not promote my employer) I was originally banned. I’m doubting I’ll ever hear from anyone there. Oh well. I give up, ScubaBoard is a much better forum anyway.

UPDATE:¬†Now it’s turned into a stream of unmoderated anti-Semitism despite the owner claiming it’s a forum the promotes “tolerance”. Disgusting.

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