Twitter and Facebook are ablaze. A wronged blogger has mobilized her online community (and their online community. And so on. And so on. Like a Faberge organic shampoo commercial). Her grievances have gone viral and her supporters are attacking the brand at the source of her frustration. As a PR practitioner guiding my clients into the world of social media, I see this as an opportunity for brands to (once again) learn from the very very big mistakes of others. In the age of social media, bad policy and bad customer service can bring unparalleled damage to the brand whose image you work so hard to protect. There is no escaping scrutiny and the wrath of angry consumers when a complaint captures the attention of the online community.
In case you’ve missed the drama, here’s a recap:
Monica Gaudio found out through a friend that one of her blog posts had been reprinted without her permission by foodie magazine Cooks Source (the Internet is also ablaze about the lack of an apostrophe, but that’s another story). As she explains in her blog post, she contacted the editor of Cooks Source in an attempt to understand how her article had ended up in print. Upon realizing it had been plagarized, she asked for a public apology on Facebook and in the magazine as well as monetary compensation in the form of a symbolic donation to the Columbia School of Journalism.
Editor Judith Griggs responded by email as follows:
« Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was « my bad » indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.
But honestly Monica, the web is considered « public domain » and you should be happy we just didn’t « lift » your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free! »
Dismissive. Arrogant. Condescending. Factually wrong (content published online is NOT public domain and copyright free). Just bad from start to finish. From a PR – not to mention customer service — point of view, this reply is riddled with strategic landmines. We can only hope Ms Griggs’ eyes and mind were tired when she wrote it …
So where do things stand a little over 24 hours after Monica Gaudio posted her story?
- Her blog post has 17 pages of comments (and counting)
- The Cooks Source Facebook page has gone from about 130 « fans » to 2988 « fans » … although judging from the slew of negative comments on the page’s wall, Facebook needs to come up with an option other than « like » for pages. It is painfully obvious that these are not fans.
- Guy Fawkes is currently Twitter’s trending topic … but Cooks Source and the newly developed hashtags #cooksource #crookssource and #crooksource are getting their share of Twitter’s attention. The brand is being coopted by others (@crookssource) and fake Twitter accounts are being set up : @cooksource and @cookssource (at least I _hope_ that last one is fake).
Lessons to be learned:
1. Your staff are your ambassadors. They become very visible ambassadors when what they say (or write) is published online. Educate them about new realities. It’s possible that like Ms Griggs, they’ve been doing things ‘that way’ for 30 years. Times have changed and it’s high time everyone knows it.
2. Understand that what happens in Vegas no longer stays in Vegas. Your customer service emails can be published online in a blink of an eye. So can your customer service calls, for that matter. And talk to Comcast about the power of video. Make sure the quality of your customer service is always something of which you can be proud.
3. Even if you’re not ready to enter into the social media space, it’s wise to stake your claim on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. If you don’t, someone else will. And you might not like what they decide to do with it.
4. Learn from the successes of others. Companies like Best Buy, Dell and Comcast have managed to turn disgruntled bloggers into brand ambassadors simply by acknowledging mistakes and by starting to work towards rebuilding bridges. They’ve entered into the conversation in a real way and it’s paid off.
5. Apologize. Sincerely. Then try to move on. There are good stories to share, so share them. And let your natural ambassadors .. your employees, your fans … share them too.
6. A fundamental shift in communication has happened in the last few years. Free yourself from the illusion of control. Invest in authentic conversations with your clients.
A message to Cooks Source Magazine and its editor: It’s time to face the music. Trust me. You don’t want to end up like Nestle, who temporarily abandoned the Facebook ship after a Greenpeace led campaign mobilized the online community and bogged down their page. Hundreds of negative comments on your Facebook wall can seem overwhelming, but it’s feedback worth listening to. Embrace the opportunity.
I write this blog post in the middle of the night, having been violently awakened by the realization that my siamese cat had gone hunting in my country home and brought a half-dead mouse back into my bed. I see parallels, don’t you? Your brand deserves a better fate than the gift my warrior-feline presented to me tonight. Don’t let social media keep you up at night. Make sure you and all your employees manage your brand’s image online as well as off by respecting your clients, by apologizing to them when required and by demonstrating that you’re attentive to their concerns.
Social media offers you an unprecedented opportunity to engage in conversation with existing and potential clients. Grab it.
MAJ: the Internet is having fun with Cooks Source by accusing them of any of a thousand different things. My personal favourites:
Cooksource was on the Grassy Knoll
Cooks Source’s keyboard has 3 buttons: C, V and Ctrl