The famed tech giant Yahoo is in trouble again. (You might say the company is living up to its name.) The most recent snafu involving new CEO Scott Thompson over his academic credentials is just one in a long list of odd decisions, broken promises, and unusual faux pas. The good news: Any small business owner can learn from the mistakes of big companies. (If you do make these mistakes, at least you can recover faster.)
1. Be honest about your skills
One of the problems with the academic history of Scott Thompson—that he reportedly does not have a computer science degree, but does have an accounting degree—is that the current board and every one of the millions of Yahoo users will now question his authority. Yet, his qualifications (including a stint at PayPal) surely make him ready for the post. Be honest about your past record and achievements or you'll lose credibility.
2. Keep it clean
Yahoo has a poor record of checking executive credentials. They should have known that Carol Bartz was already known as "the swearing CEO" when they hired her back in 2009. (In fact, they probably could have done a quick Web search using their own service to find out—today, when you search for the phrase her name appears in the first page of results.) Bartz went on to swear during multiple interviews, sometimes dropping the F-bomb. Don't forget: Interviews and video clips live on forever in the Internet age. At least keep it down in public.
3. Be careful with China
Over the past few years, critics have picked on Yahoo for its activities in China. While every major tech company has a presence there, and many have to abide by the local laws, Yahoo seems to find itself in a compromising position again and again. The lesson: If you do business in China, make sure you understand how your customers will perceive your actions. For example, local laws might force Web companies to reveal the identities of their users. If that could harm your business in the U.S., as a smaller company, you have the option to focus on other countries.
4. Control your advertising
Yahoo ads are more obnoxious than those on Google, and they proliferate across all of their Web properties including the Yahoo Mail service. (Thankfully, the Yahoo-owned site Flickr.com is not so inundated with ads.) Banners with flickering animations and less-than-subtle ploys are garish and reflect poorly on Yahoo. Using ads that are hard to ignore might mean short-term revenue bursts, but I'm convinced users eventually abandon ad-splattered accounts.