Perhaps you’ve heard the story of a bridal boutique in Saskatoon who’s owner has elected to make some very poor choices (yes, putting it mildly). First it was indicated that she turned away a wheelchair bound patron because the wheelchair wheels were wet and dirtying up the bridal boutique's floor.
Next, things really hit the fan when the CBC published a story about this same business owner turning away a transgendered individual who wanted to try on wedding dresses for her upcoming wedding. The bridal boutique owner was not willing to recognize the transgendered person as a woman and, believing other customers would be uncomfortable, asked the woman to leave.
You can read the full story here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/story/2013/05/03/sk-transgender-follow-up-130503.html
Now, to summarize the 5 easy steps for complete and utter online implosion:
Step 1: Behave inappropriately (or even illegally).
Step 2: Respond to complaints by reaffirming your behaviour.
Step 3: Once inundated with online complaints delete your social media profiles.
Step 4: Force other businesses with similar names to clarify online that they are NOT YOU.
Step 5: Hand over complete control of your brand to critics by removing yourself from the equation – resulting in every Google search result now pointing to negative stories, blogs, and feedback.
Examining this case study it is easy to see that the first (and most significant) mistake was behaving in a way that (in my mind) personifies bigotry and prejudice. Of course, there are those who suggest that the business owner should be allowed to do business with whomever she chooses. Well, I won’t speak to this issue as it reaches well beyond the purpose of this blog.
The second big mistake was deleting their existing social media profiles.
Here you can see that Google maintains an indexed version of the bridal boutique's original Facebook Page. However, the link now just drops you off at Facebook’s homepage (indicating the profile was deleted).
Why is deleting their Facebook Page a mistake you ask? Well, in theory, by deleting these profiles Jenny’s Bridal probably feels as though they can limit the criticism. However, removing yourself from the equation doesn’t limit the damage or mitigate the problems.
Certainly, maintaining a Facebook Page won't help someone who doesn’t realize there’s a problem. Social media can’t transform a bad business with terrible practices into a success. But, by eliminating their voice and perspective from this conversation the businesses’ reputation is now completely and irrevocably in the hands of critics.
By maintaining their own profiles (even in the face of an onslaught of attacks) the boutique might have been able to benefit from the support of advocates, friends, and loyal clients. They could have issued apologies and attempted to regain some degree of credibility. With the deletion of their Facebook page the opportunity to reconcile (however slight given the actual circumstances) is lost.
As it stands today, the only result of this bridal boutique’s Facebook Page deletion is that others have now setup profiles on the businesses behalf… where people are presently bombarding the business with terrible reviews and feedback.
Originally a Facebook Page had been setup where people were posting attacks and criticism. This page has apparently been deleted in the last 24 hours - assumedly by Facebook - so I can't highlight it's short-lived impact.
However, a Google+ profile was also setup (and remains active) where 34 negatives reviews have been posted all focusing on this news story. The overall rating for this business is now a 2 out of 30:
Note the terrible feedback:
The rancor and anger expressed by people online towards the Saskatoon bridal boutique has apparently been such a big problem that unaffiliated businesses with similar names in the U.S. and U.K. have had to comment on the situation via their own Facebook Pages:
Businesses often express a fear about exposing themselves to attacks like this online.
The reality is simple: if you are a bad business with terrible products and horrible practices then, yes, social media will shine a light on you in the worst possible way.
However, if you are a good business with good products who runs into an unfortunate situation where a customer has a bad experience then social media actually offers a great opportunity. Social media becomes a stage for you to demonstrate your customer service skills and even enables your advocates and supporters to rally around you.
Ultimately, bad online feedback doesn’t destroy a business if the net result is that the business addresses and fixes the problem. If you dismiss the criticism or hide from it by not participating online then you will most certainly suffer from negative online results.
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