Recently, Google upgraded its terms of service to explicitly inform its customers they have automated systems analyzing content in order to deliver relevant ads and provide customization and security. General Mills in a separate, yet oddly related move, has changed its terms of service to inform customers who “like” their products on Facebook that they have given up their right to take the company to court if there’s a problem with the product.
As mentioned in previous articles, Google is already camped out in courtrooms for these business practices, and I am confident that General Mills will find similar legal challenges over their new draconian policies, which potentially create an adversarial relationship with their customers.
In both of these scenarios, and for our company, when the need arises to make changes to our policies, the new language is probably more enlightening to current customers, followers and subscribers than it is giving future customers sufficient warning—after all, when was the last time you read the terms of service of a new company with whom you’ve chosen to follow or create an account? Most of us are good about sending notices when we have a change in policy, and our subscribers are much more likely to read that than the original TOS.
The Trust Factor
Companies such as Google and General Mills have the means to defend their companies against customers who object to the TOS changes, but for those of us who represent small- to medium-size businesses, lawsuits challenging a policy change could easily bankrupt even the most successful. What’s more, negative policy changes put us at odds with the very persons with whom we are trying to build a trusting relationship; and that is likely to land us, like Google and General Mills, on the social-media hot seat.
While truthfulness in our policies is necessary, it’s also important to give consideration to the delivery. Of course there is a need to have a TOS that protects us when a beautiful relationship becomes discourse, but a candy coating can make it that much easier for our customers to swallow. For a great take on how to deliver your TOS or make changes or updates to it, Daily Conversions did a great piece on this topic a couple years ago.
Treat your recipients with respect—and humor when you can—and you will continue to create a nurturing, healthy, trustful relationship.
UPDATE: After I completed this article, General Mills announced (due to the severe roasting they took in social-media platforms), they will reverse their new policy. You can now safely like General Mills and reserve your right to sue them—not as though there was a whisper of a chance they could have defended their position in court, IMO.