Social Media Gone Wrong Kills Small Business

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Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Case in point, the new found “voice” of the people, using the power of social media to make their disapproval as “customers” powerfully effective by destroying an innocent woman’s life. Over the Oct. 14-16 weekend a firestorm was ignited on Facebook when the daughter of coffee shop owner Kato Mele on HER PERSONAL page expressed HER PERSONAL opinion that the Lynn Ma business would never host a ‘‘Coffee with a Cop’’ event.

{Coffee With A Cop is a nationwide project seeking to build trust between police departments and citizens that they serve.}

Being that she was Manager, many people incorrectly assumed that this was an ownership decision and rapid-fire comments and criticism flew, ending with her saying stupid, hateful, vicious things like police were “bullies and racists.”

Upset responders, some quite possibly hiding under the smokescreen of internet anonymity (bots & fake names) shot back with death threats, sexual taunts and un-called for boycotts of the White Rose Coffeehouse.

Just as social media can be a highly positive force for social engagement with customers of a small business, it can also be bastardized into a destructive virus attacking indiscriminately.

The people with the pitchforks insured the coffee shop’s painful death by attacking the small business.

According to an article in the Boston Globe:

They got into the cafe’s Facebook page, leaving hundreds of bad reviews to drive its five-star rating down. Mele’s daughter received rape threats. On Monday, the cafe was slammed with abusive callers, saying horrific things: They hoped Mele and her daughter are ruined, that they never work again, that her daughter drowns. An especially charming bunch of them, parroting a line from the hateful website that played on “coffee with a cop,” said they wanted to have coffee with a c-word.

Regular customers stayed away, whether by fear of attacks on them or because they were misled into believing it was company policy. Their lack of strong support helped nail the doors shut. Nobody apparently bothered to check the facts. Shoot first, ask questions later.

Had the protestors followed rule of law, that someone is innocent until proven guilty, they would have seen that the owner:

  1. ordered her daughter to take down the page,
  2. sent the police a personal apology,
  3. tagged the remarks as ‘‘distasteful, biased and hateful,’’
  4. invited officers to the shop for coffee as a sign they were indeed welcome,
  5. And— fired her daughter.

What Should/Could Be Done?

If an employee of your business was rude & crude to a customer, who then complained on social media, an acceptable response from your business would be an apology, a come back to our biz and we will comp your meal, or outright termination of the employee. And most customers would be satisfied.

Not in this case. Customer flow has trickled down to nothing and as of press time the owner is reported to have decided to close down, packing up perishable inventory for donations to a food shelter. Her dream turned into a nightmare.

And customers have had “their” place taken away by “non-customers.”  The power of social media gone wrong.

What could you do to avoid the damage? Advise employees that although they are free to express their opinions on their social media outlets, do not mention your business or represent an opinion to be representative of the business.

What could you do to contain the damage? Short of having a public relations team or a competent social media manager, depend on the good will, and support of your customers.

Word to the wise, continually build strong customer engagement with your customer base. They are your last, best defense on the social media battlefield.

{Note: Although the offending Facebook comments have been deleted, the Daily Mail managed to dig some up if you want to read what started the fireworks.}

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