Why is commuinication something so many communications companies so bad at? It's something that they really need to get to grips with because in this age of instant communications, a story can be spreading out of control about a company almost before its employees have had their first cup of coffee.

Take two stories that we ran today: one about Fasthosts having trouble with DNS recognition, the other about Skype's protocol allegedly being breached. Two stories that could have caused companies problems and two stories that the two companies were prepared to see discussed, tweeted and batted around cyberspace.

Yet despite those stories doing the rounds, there's not a peep from the companies. To be fair to Fasthosts, they did at least keep their customers involved in what was going on - which is the important thing - and while it was strange that the company's official blog made no mention of the topic that was making Fasthosts such news, by all accounts everything else the company did was perfect; keeping customers in the loop and sending out Twitter updates.  It hasn't been perfect, there are still some unhappy users around, but it's been a decent effort.

But Skype is even stranger. A potentially damaging report was being repeated on blogs, websites and Twitter and the company was making no attempt to engage with the outside world - and unlike Fasthosts did not attempt to contact its customers to reassure them about the rumours affecting the service. It's unfair to pick on these two companies; there are plenty more examples and there have certainly been cases where rumours about a company have been allowed to spread over a period of some days.

Even a few years ago, such things could almost be brushed under the carpet These days however, every mistake can be highlighted, amplified, picked over and sent to thousands of surfers in seconds. An ISP going down? They know about it in Wollongong. A firewall cracked? It's all the gossip in St Petersburg. A flaw in ERP software? It's being discussed in Peoria. You might not want to tell something in Gath or publish it in Ashkelon but it will be picked up by everybody there before the day's out.

What should be even more concerning for companies is that rumours don't have to be linked to truth,as the old saying goes, a lie can get halfway round the world before the truth's got its boots on - these days, a lie could be winging back to the rumour-monger before half the gossips are awake.

We keep hearing how important web is for business but it should be important for its customers too. At a time when the government is encouraging public sector organisations to be more open with the general public, it's time the private sector engaged more too.


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