Gerald Ratner was responsible for one of the most famous gaffes in corporate history when “he joked that one of his firm’s products was “total crap”, and boasted that some of its ear rings were “cheaper than a prawn sandwich“.

Did Slideshare come close to a Ratner moment with yesterday’s April Fool gag, I wonder? Yesterday I described how Slideshare had sent out an email entitled “You’re a SlideShare RockStar” which contained spoof statistics on the popularity of uploaded presentations.

The Reactions

Phil Bradley spotted the so-called joke and gave his reasons why he felt this was a “huge mistake” by Slideshare:

  1. I don’t appreciate anyone manipulating data on my content. That Slideshare are so relaxed about this, and feel they can do what they like is really sending entirely the wrong message about how they view users and content.
  2. Using an April Fool prank to generate comment and visits is dubious at best. If they’d not used the hashtag suggestion I wouldn’t have worried about it, but it’s a deliberate attempt to get publicity.
  3. This has lead to a huge spike in traffic to the site. This is the most annoying aspect because the whole POINT of the site is to allow people to get access to slideshows directly from the site. It’s slowed down to a point where it’s entirely unusable. I’m just grateful that I don’t have any need to use it professionally today.
  4. There’s already a really big backlash against this prank on Twitter – people who are using the hashtag are looking stupid, which is making them angry. Clicking on a link privately and realising you’ve been caught is one thing – getting them to do it in public is another thing entirely.

Now rather than revisit yesterday’s discussion on Slideshare’s blog on whether the joke was funny or not  I’d like to explore the issue of reputation management. After all, those “po-faced and humourless” Slideshare users are at liberty to migrate to other services such as Slideboom, Authorstream, Sliderocket or 280Slides. And if they feel they have been made to look stupid they may respond in a similar fashion to custmomers who used to shop at Ratner’s.

Reputation Monitoring and Management

In Ratner’s buy medications canada online case his speech was picked up by the media, wiped an estimated £500m from the value of the company. Could Slideshare, who Secured $3M for Embeddable Presentations in May 2008, suffer a similar backlash?

In this case, however, I have to admire how quickly staff at Slideshare spotted that, in certain quarters, their joke had misfired and their honesty in their apologies. Rashmi, Slideshare CEO & Cofounder, SlideShare, responded to Phil Bradley’s blog post by sayingMy sincere, personal apologies. Its just an April Fool’s prank. I understand why you are upset, however, we did not mean to offend our users who we love. But I can see your perspective“. This comment was repeated on my blog. In addition Jonathon Boutelle, Slideshare co-founder addedReally sorry if we offended you. The prank was my idea, and I take full responsibility. There’s a lot of pressure to get April fools day right (sounds bizarre but is true), and it looks like we got it way wrong.” with an additional lengthy apology coming from Daniel in Slideshare’s marketing department.

In his blog post about this incident Phil Bradley commented thatI’m already seeing a lot of tweets from people saying that they’re annoyed and unhappy” and went on to provide a link to a list of 25 alternatives to Slideshare. Providing a well-read and well-respected blogger such as Phil with an opportunity to comment on rivals to Slideshare shows how inappropriate April Fool gags can go wrong.

Personally, though, I’m still a fan of Slideshare (although yesterday’s incident did cause me to sign up to Slideboom – and I’m impressed with my initial experience). And I admire the way they have responded. I’d go along with the comment from Steve Ellwood who saidkudos to the guys from slideshare for a clear explanation and what appears to be a genuine apology“.

And to be honest, this probably wasn’t a Ratner moment. It was just a bit of April fool’s fun, which only sad humourless people failed to get. Although, of course, Garland Ratner was also just having a bit of fun – although for Gerald Ratner  “It still hurts 16 years on“.