A Facebook Disaster

Social media is a great way for retailers to engage their customers. When done well, customers even engage one another. But believe it or not, that same level of engagement can work against you when something goes wrong.

This is what one of our readers recently experienced when what seemed like a simple request turned into a Facebook disaster. Here is what happened, along withsteps you can take if you ever experience something similar.

One day a locally owned store was asked if they would post in their window a flyer about a lost dog. (You can probably already see where this is going.) Although this retailer does a lot with and for the local community, they have a policy of not placing community material in their windows. They said they would be unable to post the flyer.

Before they knew it what seemed like an innocent decision, consistent with a long-standing policy, blew up online. All of a sudden it seemed that every dog lover in the community was posting vitriolic comments about the store’s unwillingness to place a flyer in the window. It was the social media equivalent of a vigilante gang, and it got very ugly very fast.

What would you do in this case? Okay, maybe you would have posted the flyer, but the same thing could happen if you turn down a request for donation or other possible reasons.

Here are some things to consider:

1. Assess the potential damage. Could what happened blow up into something bigger? Is this something that the mainstream press might pick up and run? Are you in danger of losing large number of customers?


In this instance, I don’t think that was the case. There was a group of passionate pet owners who were upset with the store, but the overall long-term threat wasn’t high. If this was a pet store and they hadn’t helped, the potential damage would be off the charts.

2. Apologize for what happened. Remember, saying you’re sorry doesn’t mean you’re saying you did something wrong. In this case, I don’t think the retailer should apologize for not placing the flyer in the window. The retailer can say she’s sorry that people are upset and apologize for the store not considering other ways to assist the owners of the lost dog. The store could even offer up some new ideas on how they can help.

Here’s what’s interesting. This store did apologize, offered to take some action, and the comments only got more negative. Which takes me to my next point.

3. Remember, just because someone is loud doesn’t mean they speak for all of your customers. This is true whether they’re in your store or online. Sometimes loud people are just passionately opinionated. Sometimes, frankly, they are bullies. Either way, they don’t represent all customers. Our customers know we’re not perfect, and as long as we apologize if something goes wrong they’ll stay with us. That said, we do need to address the loud voices.

4. Own the storyline. A social media disaster happens when the store or brand loses control of the story. You can’t afford to argue with customers online. A Boston chef did that after a woman posted a poor review on Yelp, and the bad press just about put him out of business. What you can do is own the storyline.

If you’ve apologized and someone still posts a negative comment, directly address his/her comment. Own the storyline so the other person can’t keep fanning the flames even after you’ve apologized.

I might say something like, “I’m sorry that you’re still upset even though we did apologize for what happened. I’d love to talk with you offline to discuss what else I could do to rectify the situation. Please call me at the store at your earliest convenience” It’s highly unlikely you’ll hear from them, and your customers will see that you’ve extended the olive branch.

5. Last but not least, time is a great healer. People go on with their lives, and customers will still come into your store. That is, as long as you’ve addressed a negative situation as it happened.

The good news is that most of us won’t experience our own social media disaster, but if it does happen, I hope you’re now better prepared to manage it.

Post by Doug Fleener

Doug Fleener is founder of the Dynamic Experiences Group. He is a veteran retailer with more than 25 years of hands-on retail experience with world-class retailers including Bose Corporation and The Sharper Image. He has also owned and operated his own specialty stores. His new book, The Profitable Retailer: 56 surprisingly simple and effective lessons to boost your sales and profits published by Acanthus Publishing.

Doug is now president and managing partner of Dynamic Experiences Group LLC, a Lexington based retail consulting firm dedicated to helping retailers create unique customer experiences that results in higher sales and profits.  Learn more at www.dynamicexperiencesgroup.com or call Doug at 866-535-6331.

Fleener also shares his knowledge of experience based retailing in a series of custom key notes and workshops designed for stores, businesses, corporations, non-profits, and trade associations of all sizes. His casual style and quick wit make him not just a crowd pleaser but also an incredible motivator, encouraging people to take action and deliver extraordinary experiences to customers and employees alike.  Learn more at www.dougfleener.com.


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