What should you do if someone attacks your brand with a fake blog that makes fun of your brand messaging?
Spoof sites are becoming a popular trend and every PR professional should be crafting a response for their clients in case they end up on the wrong end of one.
Here’s one example.
Queensland Rail launched a series called “Train Etiquette” which uses posters and videos to explain train etiquette in the style of a children’s book, supposedly because it’s “super simple stuff”.
Some wags who found the posters insulting set up a Facebook group QR Memes, “created to collate and generate images around travelling on the Queensland public rail network”. Within 5 days of starting the Facebook group, it had achieved 50,000 likes. As of the date of this post, it has more than 73,000 likes. By comparison, the official QLD Rail Facebook page has a mere 5,000 likes.
The success of the Facebook page lead to the spin-off “Queensland Fail” website. It started with was then created to sell merchandise based on the QLD Fail meme. Their posters make fun of the train ettiquette posters and of QLD Rail itself.
When you have 73,000 customers liking a site that is making fun of your brand – what should you do? Is this a legal problem, a PR problem or a customer service problem? Or all three perhaps?
Like the recent “Arctic Ready” Shell spoof site (courtesy of Greenpeace), the QLD Fail site is simultaneously attacking both the brand messaging strategy as well as critiquing the company’s values.
I wonder if QLD Rail had a crisis control strategy for an online attack on their brand before this happened?
What should they do? Wait for it to die down and disappear? Possibly, but once 73,000 people have subscribed to updates on Facebook, it has some legs. More importantly, there is something going on here. The creators of the site have obviously tapped into a vein of discontent in your customer base. You have to take it seriously.
If they were a client, I would be advising they do a few things straight away.
1. Find out who is behind the spoof site and invite them over for coffee. As Don Corleone said, “Keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer”. Let this person sit down with your senior staff in PR and customer service. Find out what their grievances are. Use it as a learning opportunity. Definitely no threats and no lawyers in the room. Ask questions. Listen.
2. Try to find a way to hire the person / people behind the site. I know you can’t just hire anyone who says something nasty about you, but these people obviously understand your customers and their grievances. Perhaps they can take an advisory role working for your General Manager of Customer Service? This isn’t a tactic designed to shut them up – it’s all about trying to get them to help you understand your customers better.
The QLD Fail people have started a conversation with you and 73,000 of your customers. How you conduct yourself in the conservation will, to a large degree, determine how the rest of the conversation proceeds.