Business and Aversion to New Media

My wife and I were at a cafe for a meeting earlier this week. As I approached the counter to order, coffee was brewing in siphons and I asked the baristas if I could take a few photos. I wanted to take the opportunity, since siphon brewing was something I didn’t encounter everyday.

They declined, though. I’m not sure if it was because my camera was a digital SLR, or if it was simply company policy not to allow picture taking. With the wide use of camera-enabled mobile phones and small digital cameras these days, you’d think it’s useless to enforce a ban on picture-taking, as you’d have to ban almost all cellphones from the premises! Becaue of this, some theaters and establishments would usually limit the ban to “professional” cameras. I doubt, though, if my Canon 400D qualifies as a “professional” camera (and I do think being professional had more to do with the person rather than the equipment).

Most establishments that I know to have such a policy are mostly theaters, jewelry shops, banks and the like, where picture taking potentially compromised security or privacy. But I tend to think that restaurants, cafes and similar businesses could actually benefit from the publicity of photos being posted online by patrons. I’ve been posting food shots on my Flickr account whenever my family eats out, and I’m actually starting a food-related blog. And I must admit that some of my dining decisions were influenced by what I read online.

This experience reminds me of how some businesses today are still averse to new media. While many have embraced the use of blogs, social networks and the like as viral marketing tools, there are those that would threaten to pursue legal action against bloggers who write about their products and services–particularly if these were mostly negative, although honest, reviews.

And then there are those businesses that effect a ban on their employees from blogging, for fear of disclosing corporate secrets. You probably know of one or two high-profile consumer electronics companies that have resorted to legal action against bloggers for this very reason.

In a company I previously worked for, I was involved in drafting a reasonable blogging policy that we asked everyone to sign and agree to. It was not so full of legalese, but it basically said we could blog about anything as long as it did not involve disclosing trade secrets, and as long as it did not defame the company or other people within the organization. I think this makes for a sound blogging policy for any business.

I know it’s much harder to control what gets published when it’s a third-party who posts stuff online. I have encountered a few newspaper websites that actually have a no-link policy. Not only do they not want you to copy snippets of their content on your blog. They don’t even want you to link to them at all!

I have one advice for the cafe that tried to prevent me from taking photos. They could have just asked for my email address or mobile number, and where I intend to post these photos. Perhaps that way, they can provide feedback if and when I did post those photos and write about their coffee (which was really good, by the way).

In the end, I was still able to take a few shots, but only with my mobile phone. Fact is that cameras are becoming smaller and smaller and phone-cams are becoming better and better at taking quality pictures. This means businesses would find it increasingly difficult to control snapshots taken from within their grounds. And, of course, with the written word, it’s not that simple to ask people not to write about your company or product.

So what’s a business got to do? Instead of shying away, why not embrace new media?

2 thoughts on “Business and Aversion to New Media

  1. It’s just simply weird that some businesses enforce this silly policy. Maybe they’re too paranoid that some terrorist might just plant a bomb using right under the siphon. It’s free advertisement, for crying out loud! Who doesn’t want free stuff these days?

  2. Great insight here. Attempting to protect your business from Social Media, as long as it doesn’t reflect your business in a bad light, is just plain stupid. In Matthew 5:15, Jesus Christ himself pointed out the foolishness of hiding a light under a basket. He was talking about spiritual things, but it applies to all forms of marketing, as well.

    In the early days of the internet, I was adverse to using my real name, preferring to keep myself anonymous. Then I realized that the ones who were really getting ahead in this new medium were the ones whose names were out there, attached to their comments. What kind of marketing effect do you get from “name and address withheld” comments?

    It applies to especially to small businesses. In the case you cite, the business was turning away free advertising. Unless the cafe was dirty and unappealing, what possible reason could they have for wanting photos of their establishment NOT to appear online? Even if it was a somewhat scruffy looking place, the images still could help business. I don’t recall who is credited for first saying it, but there is a very old marketing slogan that goes like this: “It doesn’t matter how you get your name in the papers, just get your name in the papers.”

    The idea is that if you name appears in print, it will be an asset to you, no matter what the context. If you doubt the effectiveness of that statement, look no further than Paris Hilton or Martha Stewart. Their highly publicized jail sentences haven’t had much of negative impact on their careers.

    Sadly, most small businesses, like the cafe you mention, prefer to operate under the radar by restricting all mention of their company in the media, unless they pay for an actual ad. Unfortunately for them, they will probably be the businesses shutting their doors during the current economic downturn. The small businesses that make it will learn how to promote themselves and take full advantage of social media.

    Again, great post!
    Regards, Tom


    Tom Bonner is the author of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A300/A350 Digital Field Guide from Wiley press. He blogs regularly at

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