The Terrible Tale of the Technology Tyrants & Tips to Avoid Them

by Adam Helweh |

If you are a marketer or business owner who is is in charge of hiring someone to help develop and manage your digital marketing, whether it be just a simple web site or a larger social media initiative, then please stick around. This post is for you. But first, I want to take a moment to talk directly to a small group of people out there who you look to for guidance and expertise in doing your job in the age of digital marketing.

I am talking about all of you folks who make a profession out of helping folks build their web sites, manage their social media and generally deal with the technology-driven needs that digital marketing requires.

The vast majority of you are doing professional work, but there is a crowd of you out there that should know better and others that use the lack of your client’s technical knowledge against them to make a few dollars.

In the last decade, I can’t tell you how many times I have been told the terrible tale. I meet a new client who explains to me what they are trying to accomplish by building a new web site or managing content on a social media channel. The terrible tale starts when I start to ask the client questions about their existing digital marketing properties. Questions like: “Who do I talk to to get the original artwork for your branding? Can you provide us access to your domain and web host? Do you have the user name and password information for that account?” are answered with “Ummm, I think our previous guys,” referring to a consultant they worked with in the past.

Bodiam Castle in Sussex UK
Image via Wikipedia

The worst of the terrible tales blossom into stories about folks who work under the guise of digital marketing consultants and web designers who have all but taken every password, file and piece of information hostage in order to keep the client under their thumb. I have personally had to hunt down domains, snag marketing files from certain death on other’s servers and lock down access to accounts so that malicious individuals cannot cause any more harm to unknowing business owners. Just last week I was talking to someone who took a new position marketing a sport fishing business in Southern California. The person they previously entrusted to help them with their online marketing in the form of a web site not only owns the client’s domain and hosting accounts, but has also linked to their site to competitor’s web sites, stealing search engine page rank and likely business from the trusting couple who own the place. I won’t go on, but let’s just say I have heard of much worse than this happening.

Again, I know there are many of you that do not mean to do anything malicious to those who hire you. You may have registered a client’s domain in your name to assist them with something that they are not comfortable with. You might have just kindly watched over their digital brand assets like their logos and other files that they need to create content or develop marketing materials. They could always call or email you anytime to get them, yes? But what happens when you’re not around? You become sick or, God forbid, worse. Does your client even know how important the information you have is?

It might feel that I am being a bit overly dramatic. The reality of it all is that those of you who have lived the terrible tale will understand, those who have yet to live it might think a little differently after reading this. Additionally, the professionals out there who are entrusted with looking out for their client’s interests might consider how to better inform and take care of their customers.

This all said, here are a few of my tips for those of you who hire and depend on the previously mentioned consultants:

  1. Don’t hand over the keys to the castle
    When selecting web based services for your company try your best to choose a service that offers multi-user access. For example, web hosting providers like, or others, only use one user-name and password to access the entire hosting account. In this scenario, if you want to provide an outside consultant access to your hosting account to help you with your blog or website you essentially have to provide them the “keys to the castle”. In many cases their may be sensitive information, like your partial billing information, accessible with just that one password. Instead, consider using services that allow you to create a separate user-name and password for others on your team, including consultants. If it is your hosting account, then you can likely give different consultants and team members access to selective files so they can do their job without interfering with anything else. A WordPress-based blog is a good example of a platform that allows you to provide specific levels of access to different users. You might not want someone involved in writing blog posts to have full reign of your blog settings. Not because they would do something malicious, but simply to reduce the risk of an accidental click causing your blog to go down.
  2. Put your name on the lease
    If there is a need to register for an online service or a consultant has offered to register  you for an online service, make sure to ask for the administrative account access information. Usually that is simply a user-name and password. One of the most common problems I have seen is when a company depends blindly on a consultant to register and purchase their web domain. Years or months later when that company decides they need to change something related to that domain they believed they purchased, they come to realize that they don’t have access to it. Worse yet, the consultant they previously used has moved away and become unresponsive to emails or phone calls. Hunting down where your domain was registered is easy. Convincing them that you own the domain when the consultant’s name is the one listed as the administrator and yours is nowhere to be found is a huge problem. 

    Similar situations could happen with your Google Adwords, Facebook, Twitter, social media monitoring platforms, file sharing, your blog and plenty of other services. No matter who helps you get up and running, make sure you ask for the administrative keys.

  3. Get Involved, Ask Questions
    Ultimately, your best defense against being a part of the terrible tale is to get involved when consultants need access or want to set up new accounts for you on behalf of your business. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like “How does the service you’re recommending handle user access?”  “How long will you need access for?” and “Why don’t we make time during our next meeting for us to register for that service together?”. Make it a point to ask for all of the account and access information needed to manage any account a consultant registers on your behalf. Once you have admin access, consider changing the top level administrative access and create a user for your consultant to do his/her job.

Again, I have run into this issue far too many times to believe that many of you out there have not already had to deal with what I mentioned. For many of the tools and technology related to digital marketing, access equals ownership. Access also equals the ability or inability to adequately manage your digital activity and be responsive when things happen.

There is nothing sexy or fun about having to help a client hunt down information like this from previous consultants or agencies. Especially when it’s not registered under the name of the business.

As consultants, we should do a few simple things. Informing our clients about the importance of the account information they need or have, provide sound recommendations that will enable clients to manage access on their own if needed and finally provide them the account information so they can tuck it away or use it as they wish.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you have a “Terrible Tale” to tell? As a consultant, have you had to help rescue a client from a situation like this? The comments are yours.


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About the Author

Adam Helweh

Adam is CEO of Secret Sushi Creative Inc, a strategic design, digital and social media marketing agency. He specializes in the convergence of design and technology to provide businesses with more intelligent and interactive ways to connect with customers and grow. His clients have included Edelman, Broadcom, Stanford Federal Credit Union, the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Bunchball and others. He's also the co-host of the "SoLoMo Show", a weekly digital marketing podcast, and he has shared the stage with professionals from companies including Facebook, Virgin Airlines, Paypal, Dell and 24 Hour Fitness.