This week’s story of Mark Bowyer’s battle to get his Rusty Compass website reinstated on Google Adwords is unfortunately a common one.
In the past we’ve discussed businesses thrown off online services because a doll has shown too much flesh and the current Facebook breastfeeding controversy is another example of the often bizarre and arbitrary behaviour of these web platforms.
What we’re seeing are risks of relying on any one service or site for revenue or as a service provider.
Get daily business news.
The latest stories, funding information, and expert advice. Free to sign up.
Despite this, businesses need these services and find they are relying on them. So how should we deal with a problem like Mark Bowyer encountered?
Understand the terms and conditions
It’s best to avoid problems in the first place, so knowing what the rules are is a good start.
All online services have terms and conditions, so read and understand these as this will flag areas where you should tread carefully.
If in doubt, ask someone who knows or post a question on one of the many web forums where these issues are discussed.
Web companies like Google and Facebook are formula driven; one of the reasons their businesses are so profitable is many of their functions are run by software and barely touched by humans at all.
If their algorithm decides you are breaching the rules – even if you aren’t – you will be suspended, often without notice, and the first time you’ll find out about being in the bad books is when things stop working.
Read the messages
Usually there will be an email or message on your page saying that the account has been suspended and possibly an obscure reason given or some reference to a rule.
If there is a reason given, consider how your account may have broken that rule. Unfortunately the clauses often aren’t clear or the interpretations are inconsistent with the written rules.
All the popular services have online forums where users discuss problems. Google actually link to these sites rather than providing direct support. You may get some useful ideas on where the problem lies from others who’ve already been through the process.
Once you think you’ve found the problem, fix it and resubmit. Be prepared to wait.
While Silicon Valley businesses are lauded as innovative companies of the future, the bizarre thing is their internal bureaucracies have more in common with the 1950s Soviet Union than modern corporations.
In short, be prepared to wait. Their internal systems are slow and usually take time to make a decision on reinstating you. It could take weeks or years and they may not tell you when they have made a decision.
This is the toughie, almost all of these web 2.0 companies discourage users from contacting them – because you aren’t paying then you aren’t considered a customer or worthy of help.
You can try contacting their local office, use any email addresses you can dig up or attempt to contact people in the relevant departments through social media services.
Unfortunately, this is unlikely to work. Just like in the Soviet Union, the bureaucrats like to stay anonymous behind the edifice. It doesn’t hurt to try though.
Escalate the process
This is where Mark made his move; he had to complain to his state Fair Trading office and Google responds to government agencies. If your state’s Fair Trading Office won’t help, then approach the ACCC.
Some industry bodies have good contacts inside these organisations as well so if you’re a member of a trade association you might want to approach them for advice.
Finally, there is the media and the story of a small business being bullied by a big, fat multinational is usually attractive. Make sure you have your facts right so you don’t waste a journalist’s scarce time.
Mark’s story of being cut off arbitrarily is becoming common as more businesses rely on web 2.0 services like Google, Facebook, PayPal and eBay.
The important thing is to diversify your revenue and business platforms so you don’t find your business held hostage to the vagaries of an complex, obscure algorithm being enforced by a bunch of Soviet-minded bureaucrats.
Business Tech Talk explores how technology is changing our companies, markets and society. Business owner, blogger and broadcaster Paul Wallbank looks at how we can use the net, computers and smartphones to make our businesses more profitable and competitive.