Last night I got a DM from a guy I know asking if I was still in the business of “online reputation management”. I replied that it’s one aspect of what we do for clients – after all, a good marketing strategy thinks about your online reputation.
He proceeded to tell me a story about a mate of his who nearly tanked his business yesterday as a result of an altercation that went viral on Facebook.
I’m not going to mention the business or the “victim”, because, we you’ll read, it’s on the path to resolution and I don’t want to inflame the issue. But we can still learn from the example.
So here’s what happened.
Let’s call the business owner “Max”. Let’s call the victim “Jane”.
Now, for reasons I don’t fully understand, Max’s customers have been complaining about the lack of parking out the front of this shop (Max owns a shop). And for reasons I don’t fully understand, Jane was parked out the front of Max’s shop. I believe her car had broken down and she had been there for some time.
Apparently Max was having a pretty bad day, because he allegedly went out the front of the shop and yelled at Jane about moving her car. Jane wasn’t a customer – in fact, I don’t think she even lives in the same town. She was just passing through.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), Jane (or one of her 8 kids) caught his tirade on video and posted it to Facebook.
Not great for Max or his business. It gets worse. People started threatening acts of violence against him. Things started to turn quite nasty. Fortunately for Max, they guy who DM’d me gave him some good basic advice. He told him to contact Jane and apologise. He told him to point out that he was having a bad day and that he really isn’t a bad guy – in fact, he’s got a great reputation in his local area. I can back that up. A few months ago, I was involved in running a charity BBQ for the homeless in his area and I went to Max’s shop to buy some good for the BBQ. Max didn’t know me from a bar of soap, but when I mentioned the organisation I was working with, he promptly and without further discussion gave us a significant discount on the products we needed. He has a well-earned reputation for such largesse for the needy. So it was totally out of character for him to lose it with Jane.
Jane read a new past news articles about his charity work and agreed to accept his apology. She took down her original post and posted a new story about how she had accepted his apology and urging people to let it go.
So far, so good. My advice to Max was to go further and make a grand gesture for Jane and the local community – throw a charity event of some sort (to support whatever charity Jane feels strongly about) and to come out on the front foot about how he acted. Get out there and say “hey I screwed up, I was having a very bad day – but that’s no excuse, and I’m going to do self-prescribed penance so I learn my lesson”. If you beat yourself up harder than anyone else can, it’s hard for others to pile it on. If people think you’ve learned your lesson, they will tend to cut you a break.
Anyway, the lessons here are pretty obvious.
So, more than ever, it’s important that you treat them right.
What are you going to do if/when someone in your business (it might be you or a staff member) who irks a customer and it leads to a viral story that could damage your brand? It’s better to have the strategy thought-out before that happens than to have to make it up on the fly. Max seems to have been lucky that Jane sounds like a reasonable lady. You might not be so lucky.