"Instant karma's gonna get you."
Poor Charlie Wenzel. Poor, poor Charlie Wenzel.
On October 2, 2005 at 9:21pm, this struggling 19-year-old decided to sell some truck gears. He listed them on an industry website for $100, plus $15 for shipping. Sounds fair. A buyer cut him a check, which Mr. Wenzel speedily cashed. Sounds good. Happy ending, right?
Actually, wrong is not a big enough word. People like money. It's nice to have. And, Mr. Wenzel wanted more. So naturally, he surreptitiously edited the original post and "showed" the buyer the "real price": "$125, plus $15 for shipping." The buyer didn't buy it. He asked Mr. Wenzel to do the right thing, who didn't, so the buyer asked for his money back. Mr. Wenzel not-so-politely declined.
Then, all [h-e-double-toothpicks] broke loose.
Mr. Wenzel didn't nearly grasp a key aspect of social media, namely: people are in no mood. They don't want honesty and transparency. They demand it. And, they're willing to defend it furiously.
A small, but passion-driven army of red-faced people let loose on poor Mr. Wenzel. The threats eventually moved from "clicks to bricks"-in other words, from digital threats to real-life ones. One man, who claimed he knew where Mr. Wenzel lived, threatened to "back up a truck and pour cement" on his front lawn if he didn't return the buyer's money.
Naturally, Mr. Wenzel caved. I mean, concrete on your front lawn-for gears?
He genuflected on the forums, begging for forgiveness and sent the gears back to the buyer. Too little, too late. In that time, the buyer learned the gears were not in fact, shiny and new, but used...and used. Like any self-respecting gear buyer, he wouldn't take them back.
What ensued likely stunned Charlie Wenzel, and it serves as a sobering lesson for us all: his last name became synonymous with word "fraud" across the Internet. In fact, "Wenzel" became an Internet "meme," which is essentially an idea that is propagated so far and so fast across the Web that it becomes a verb, like Google.
Mr. Wenzel earned a lifetime achievement award-in the Urban Dictionary, a Web-based, user-generated dictionary of millions of slang words and phrases.
And, here it is: "To get wenzeled: 1. Defrauded by an Internet seller. 2. Publicly outed as fraudulent person of low character. 3. The act of being screwed on a fraudulent Internet sale, as in:
"Hey, wanna buy some brand new gears for your truck?"
"LOL ok, here's $115."
"Now I want $140 for used gears out of my 2WD truck"
"Oh snap! I just got wenzeled!"
Imagine how you'd feel if that were your last name being bandied about like that online. And, this "scarlet letter" will never fade. There's so much association between the words "Wenzel" and "fraud" online that Charlie Wenzel will forevermore be remembered as a fraud, unless he does something cosmically-impressive to crowd out those search results-like discovering life on other planets.
Someone actually found Charlie Wenzel's yearbook photo, scanned it and made t-shirts with the photo that says: "Handtool." The t-shirts are selling. Just writing that makes me chuckle.
So, when Mr. Wenzel's children and grand-children want to learn more about him, they'll go online and discover that grandpa was...a low-class, fraudulent hand tool. And, there is nothing he can do about it.
Most people have a strong sense of social justice. Now, they have the tools to inflict justice. I love how the new rules of social media are in fact old-school.
Mr. Wenzel isn't old school-and in this new media, he got punished for that. He was dishonest and deceptive in his dealings with the buyer. The community made him pay more than $100, plus shipping. He paid with his reputation, plus humiliation.
All Tweets for All Eternity
Here's a sobering thought: On April 14, 2010, the Library of Congress announced on Twitter that it would digitally preserve each and every public Tweet ever made:
"Library to acquire ENTIRE Twitter archive - ALL public tweets, ever, since March 2006! Details to follow."
The institution deems Tweets important enough to use the archives "to learn about ourselves and the world around us." The news is significant and reinforces the importance of what we decide to share in social media.
For example, employers are looking at potential candidates' social profiles to learn more about them. That makes sense. Think about it: a resume is an endlessly-iterated, polished document showcasing the best parts of ourselves. But, if you really want to know about someone, Google them. Study their Twitter timeline, scour their Facebook page, flip throughtheir Flickr photos. You'd be amazed at the discrepancy between what's on their resume and what's online.
Before you engage in social media, heed the wise words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character."
Put out content that inspires, informs, entertains or elevates in some tangible way. Be the best version of yourself. You will be judged by every post-and believe me when I say: you never know who's listening.
The same goes for business. For decades, corporate marketers have pulled the wool over our eyes and sold us things we didn't necessarily need. They convinced us, in our late-night vulnerability, that we needed an electronic abdominizer, which we bought and didn't use- except to dry wet clothes.
If we felt we had been had, the only recourse was to contact a call center (labyrinth), send an email to customer service (vortex) or file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (bureaucracy).
Times have changed.
Websites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Yelp, Complaints Board and Rip-off Report are immensely powerful because they can reach a worldwide audience, and negative posts on sites like this stick to search results like Gorilla-Glue, eroding a company's brand equity, 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week, 365 days-a-year. Companies must now tell the truth, live up to their promises and treat customers with the care and respect they deserve.
Business has changed forever. The companies that refuse to accept the new paradigm are at grave risk of being left behind with blinding speed, because consumers simply won't put up with shenanigans anymore.
Old school wins in this new media because what goes around, comes around- and it stays around. This timeless truth doesn't merely apply to social media, it applies to business- and life:
If you take, you will lose. If you give, you will win.
Eric Harr is the Founder & CEO of Resonate Social Media. His new book is due out in September:The REAL TRUTH About Social Media: Confessions of a Social Media CEO: 8 timeless truths that will save you time, boost your business-and enrich your life. And, 8 monumental myths that can waste your time, destroy your business-and ruin your life. Learn more atwww.resonatesocial.com.