We’ve had a few weeks to see how each of the indicted online poker sites would handle themselves in a crisis and I think it’s been long enough that one can grade their performance. Below I’ve given each poker site a grade and explain why they received the grade.

PokerStars

C-

While PokerStars was not the worst of the bunch their reaction to Black Friday left a lot to be desired. They should be given credit for being the first room to begin issuing cash outs to US players but the infrequent and often vague communications from the company at a time when players needed it most and the internet was awash in false rumors is too hard to overlook. For instance, how is it possible the DOJ was able to turn around a press release, post it, and have it circulating around the internet before Stars can get an email out to US players is simply unacceptable.

This could have been a huge PR win for them. All they had to do was send out daily updates to US players and affiliates. Even if you have no major news to announce people do have lots of money tied up on the site and it is nearly impossible to over communicate at a time like that. This is a company probably making a billion a year or more in revenues and they handled their corporate communications like a mom and pop shop.

Lastly, the handling of the affiliates saying that US affiliates will not be paid for commissions already earned before Black Friday because of some legal mumbo jumbo BS is completely amateurish. Nor has it been made clear how they will even pay US affiliates who bring them non-US traffic but the company line is to keep sending them the traffic and they’ll sort it out later.

Full Tilt Poker

D-

Full Tilt draws more of the same criticisms as PokerStars except they score even worse due to the fact that they haven’t yet begun paying out players and are even more cryptic in their player communications. It’s one thing to have FTPDoug answer questions on 2+2 but Full Tilt has not opted to email that same information to the other 90% of players with money still tied up on FTP. Worse, dates seem to change with no reason being given nor any acknowledgement that they missed the last promised date.

What both Party (my bad, total non-Freudian slip there) Stars and Tilt need to realize is that some players just had their main source of income taken away. Many affiliates have just had a sizable chunk of their monthly revenue taken away. Telling everybody to rest assured that their funds are safe with no details is not the kind of communication people want. It’s the kind of communication brain dead PR people send out who have no empathy with the people that they’re writing to.

UB / Absolute

F-

I wish their was a lower score to give but this organization has had a long history of being full of nothing but hot air, greed, and self-interest. Their decision to not work on a speedy settlement with the DOJ and to limit cash outs even for their non-US players is inexcusable. Furthermore painting a flowery picture to customers and the press while the company is contemplating filing for bankruptcy is simply nothing more than yet another example of their less than honest communications with players.

One of the things that becomes glaringly obvious after Black Friday is the reason these companies fail at social media is because they don’t know how to talk to their customers unless they’re selling them something. I give some props to Al Can’t Hang for trying to change that but the problem is that it isn’t in their DNA. Knowing how to talk with your customers, engage them, and interact with them is not a skill set that the poker rooms seem to have adopted.

It’s not about if you use Twitter, Facebook, or even a blog. It’s about your desire to share information with people. Not just when your next tournament starts but also about you as a company. To show your customers that your company has a personality.

For instance, look at PokerStars reaction to Black Friday. There was a brief announcement:

Official PokerStars Statement is available by logging into the PokerStars Client

Summary as follows: 1) We have had to suspend real money poker for people based in the US due to legal developments there

2) Please be assured, players balances are safe, there is no cause for concern

3) For players outside the US, its business as usual

4) PokerStars Support can be contacted at Support@PokerStars.eu

And then a bunch of replies to people asking questions basically saying that they don’t know and that the customer should contact customer support. Then by April 19 it’s business as usual on the Twitter feed promoting tournaments and rail birding events on Stars. They even announced a server restart but not a single update from what I just posted above. No mention of the settlement with the DOJ. No mention of the processing of cash outs. Nothing.

I’m not saying divulge company secrets or put the company in a legally difficult situation but how about the following tweets?

Just got an email telling me that we’re about 6 hours away from beginning cash outs for US customers

Support is now processing cash outs

We have a backlog of about 10,000 cash out requests which support agents are working on

Should be all caught up with cash out requests by Friday

Nothing there is harmful to the company but keeps customers up to date with what’s going on. In fact, why didn’t they give out their Twitter feed URL in the warning message you got when you logged in from the US? They could have headed off a lot of rumors and false information by controlling what information is out there.

But that kind of thinking has to come from the top which is why I said it’s not in their DNA. It’s not in the company attitude towards their customers or in how they think about the customer’s role in their success.

I sincerely hope this changes in the industry going forward because it is one of the things that has been obvious to players and affiliates for a long time.

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