Crazy Over Social Media
Chris Whife 8th December 2016
Social media can be a small business’s best friend, and nowhere more so than in the hospitality industry. Whether you’re running a restaurant or pub, have a room to rent through Airbnb, or own a hotel or guest house of any kind. Treat your customers well and give them decent quality food, drinks and accommodations, and you’re bound to get good reviews on your Facebook page, Twitter feed, Yelp account and even on Google, boosting your business unimaginably.
Treat those same customers poorly, or provide them with poor quality food and accommodations, however, and the internet is unforgiving. You will get bad reviews, people will notice them and you will lose business. Nonetheless, If you handle those negative reviews well, you can still save yourself. A well-worded, heartfelt public apology, accompanied by some form of compensation, even if only a token, and delivering on your promise to improve will garner you respect and a converted customer.
But of course, there is always that one company that simply refuses to play by the rules of social media; the hotel that threatens to fine guests if they leave negative reviews, for example, or the restaurant that decided there was nothing wrong with their food or service, and that they were the victims of cyber-bullying. Of course, when they called in the big guns, it turned into a full-scale social, online and traditional media circus.
The Worst Nightmare
In May 2013, a very special episode of Gordon Ramsey’s show, Kitchen Nightmares, hit the airwaves. In this popular show, Ramsey aims to help failing restaurateurs revitalise their businesses by revamping their menus, clearing up the messes and dazzling the guests. At Amy’s baking company in Arizona, he discovered a pristine restaurant with top-quality cakes on display and questioned why they would need his help.
It soon became evident, however, that the food coming out of the kitchen left much to be desired. On top of that, the husband-and-wife owner team was not only unashamedly pocketing the servers’ tips, but whenever Ramsey tried to point out the flaws in their system, the wife – the chef – would deflect all criticism, eventually accusing Ramsey of attacking her. For the first time in the series’ history, Gordon Ramsey walked out, refusing to help them.
The episode aired, showing the owners in all their screaming, fighting, dysfunctional glory and soon, their Facebook page was inundated with less-than-generous commentary. Amy’s Baking Company opted to respond in the worst possible way.
Commenters were called stupid, haters, morons, oppressors, told they didn’t know what good food was and a host of other insults. Of course, nothing inflames social media better than a good fight, and the storm blew across to Twitter, Reddit, Yelp and more.
Instead of realising they’d made a mistake and trying to mitigate the damage, the owners started issuing threats, with claims they were taking names, opening cases, having a full-scale anti-cyber bullying investigation launched by the FBI, and other increasingly ridiculous claims. In short order, YouTube user Jaxamoto created a parody video and the papaya officially hit the air conditioner. Memes and blogs abounded and everyone was talking about this restauranting disaster.
Soon, the restaurateurs tried their level best to defuse the situation by claiming their Facebook page had been hacked and that none of the comments were theirs. Sadly, nobody believed them and used this latest gaffe as additional fuel for their fire.
It was a social media viral storm of epic proportions, which was further inflamed by a follow-up episode of Kitchen Nightmares and even an appearance on Doctor Phil – an appearance which did absolutely nothing to help either their image or their very obvious inability to take even the most constructive criticism.
For a further two years following the episode, the restaurant stayed open, volleying insult after insult at their critics, half-heartedly trying to cash in on the notoriety, fielding numerous accusations of stealing copyrighted images to promote as their own food and reselling store-bought items as home-made foods. Eventually, however, they buckled under the pressure and closed down, selling off the restaurant and moving onto other ventures.
What they did wrong
The first wrong step they took was refusing to accept genuine negative reviews and use them as constructive criticism to guide improvement. Had the company simply accepted that their product and service was lacking and taken steps to improve it, the entire issue might have fallen away there and then.
The second wrong step was to level accusations of cyber-bullying against their critics instead of addressing their concerns directly, apologising and offering to make it up to them somehow. Anything, really, would have been better, even if simply offering a free round of drinks next time they came to visit, and offering quality food.
The third wrong step was to voluntarily open themselves to criticism. By appearing on an internationally popular television series known for exposing restauranting disasters, they invited the criticism they so passionately hated. They seemed truly flabbergasted that Gordon Ramsey didn’t think they were as wonderful as they considered themselves and accused him of fakery and planting actors and bullies.
What they did right
Sadly, nothing, The owners of Amy’s Baking Company handled their social media situation extremely badly. There are simply no redeeming factors to their meltdown.
If criticism is levelled at your company via social media, respond politely, contritely and with some acceptance of the customer’s viewpoints. Negative responses to criticism online never go down well and, far from being seen as standing up for yourself, are simply seen as further evidence of your incompetence, arrogance and non-customer-centricity.