We love to chronicle the “what not to do’s.”

You know, the personal Facebook rant that was mistakenly posted to the company account. Or the advertising campaign that accidentally singled out a particular race or ethnic group. A contact of mine recently admitted to sending out a personalized direct mail campaign with the name and address being off by one field in the csv file.  Real personal huh?

It’s not a matter of “if” you mess up.  It’s a matter of when.

Perfectionism is a tough road. We need to stop living as if every campaign we design is sure to be funny, viral, exciting, or interesting. It might be downright offensive, but in light of recent circumstances for the ever-so-awesome online training company Treehouse (www.teamtreehouse.com) – it’s what you do after the screw-up that makes the difference.

“Install this so we can stalk you”

Well, that’s not what the email said. But that’s how many people felt.  Treehouse wanted to gather more data about their students: their online habits, what sites they visit, what type of information they read, etc.  They even tried to justify it for the end user’s benefit. We know Google already does this, but to voluntarily download something that gives someone access to this type of data? Probably not.

Here’s a glimpse at the original email:


Kind of creepy right? Evidently, many people thought so. And they insisted on telling the company that they didn’t think this was a good idea.

Cut the company some slack though, because customers expressed their opinion because they feel that Treehouse is awesome. The company takes a personal approach with all of their videos, content, communication and social media. Treehouse’s success stories have created a tribe-like following. If you are seeking inspiration for life change and a new career path, simply read http://teamtreehouse.com/stories.

The apology

The best part about this situation is the email that was issued a short time later.


Personal. Apologetic. Sincere.

Are some people still upset? Sure. But the company was willing to admit they were wrong, promptly address their audience, and work toward rebuilding trust. They admitted that the action was not fitting with their brand.

Many companies out there could learn how to write a good apology letter. And actually use it.

To reiterate what one client told me about his business, “They know they can trust me when I admit my mistakes.”

It’s true. Mistakes are inevitable.

So, how will you handle it WHEN (not IF) your company messes up? Let me know.