joyent-header

Last week reddit went down, a somewhat common occurrence for the site. The long period of downtime inspired Joyent, a cloud infrastructure for running real-time web and mobile applications, to write an open letter to the news site titled “If I was your cloud provider, I’d never let you down.”

The letter was written by a member of Joyent’s marketing and communications team and was an obvious yet somewhat amusing courtship to try and get reddit’s business. It started off by saying, “We heard about what happened today with that other guy, and it just breaks our heart to see you down,” then went into 10 meme and reddit joke-filled reasons why reddit should switch over to them. Someone submitted the open letter to reddit once the site was back up and the submission got nearly 1,400 upvotes.

From a branding perspective, Joyent saw an opportunity and pounced. Intervening when their competitors (in this case, Amazon’s Elastic Block Store service) drop the ball and reaching out to potential customers to try and switch over is a smart business move. It’s even smarter when you’re trying to court one of the most popular websites in the world and can play to the site’s ego get some free exposure (though I think Joyent veered too far into the “trying too hard” territory with the forced memes and inside jokes).

However, if you employ this tactic, you better be prepared for some scrutiny. In the Joyent letter submission thread, some users pointed out that Joyent has had some problems of their own and highlighted some poor customer service incidents. Others were turned off by Joyent’s “desperate” attempt to impress reddit and didn’t like how they shoehorned too many memes and mentions to try and seem hip and cool. And some had an issue with the mere title of the letter, which should have read, “If I were your cloud provider…”

Joyent made a good attempt, but reddit is a fickle bunch. I think they would have responded even more positively if Joyent were more honest about how they’re not perfect, either, but that they strive to correct any issues that arise and want to work with reddit to provide them a stable cloud hosting solution. A few clever jokes would have done more to support their cause than jamming in as many as they could think of. Obviously they’re not going to impress every single reddit user no matter how well thought out their pitch is, but after researching the community and getting to know their behavior a bit, I think a smarter approach could have been made.

Nonetheless, their tactic was a good idea and one you should consider if you have competitors who are letting their customers down. If you see an opportunity to capitalize on your competition’s shortcomings, reach out to their unhappy users and see if there’s an opportunity for you. Highlight what your competitor is doing wrong and how you can do it right. Come up with a discount or special offer to try and sweeten the deal. NameCheap did a great job of this and announced “Move Your Domain Day” with a special transfer price of $6.99 ($1 of which would go to the Electronic Frontier Foundation). Their stunt was a subtle dig at Go Daddy, which was under scrutiny from its customers and millions of web users after they found out that the domain registrar supported SOPA.

There are great opportunities for your business to win customers away from the competition, but you have to know their audience and speak to them in a language they understand; otherwise, you risk alienating them further and seeming overly desperate and vulture-like.