The request for help from a Public Relation Agency caught my eye Tuesday morning because it was unusual.
Kaufer DMC subscribes to an online service that matches businesses looking for marketing or PR with agencies who can reach out to contact them to learn more about their needs and see if there’s a fit.
The requests don’t include many questions and Lana in Tacoma, WA answered them as quickly and candidly as possible:
How long are you looking for services?
* Just a one-off
What industry is your business in?
* damage control
Which PR Service(s) do you need?
* Reputation management
Do you have any additional details?
* The two owners (us) made a very unfortunate decision to verbally attack a customer online. The screenshots are everywhere. We need some help immediately
It sounded like a clear social media crisis communications issue – even though we had no idea what kind of business/industry Lana was in. But we soon found out via Twitter as tweets appeared talking about the controversy brewing (so to speak) in Tacoma.
As Seattle Magazine reported, Tacoma brewery Dystopian State Brewing Company found itself on the receiving end of online backlash over how its owners handled criticism from a patron in a public Facebook Group dedicated to local beer-lovers.
The 10,000 square-foot location was just over a year old – and had Facebook reviews that averaged an impressive 4.7 (out of 5 stars) before the controversy. Today it sits at 2.1 stars and continues to fall as 1-star reviews from all over the country continue to swarm the page.
So what happened? It seems that a single online comment on the Facebook page for beer-lovers set off one of the owners:
The patron described Dystopian State as the “only place I have spit beer back into a glass.”
No, it’s not what you want to hear when you brew your own beer and take pride in your product. But this is yet another lesson to everyone about how your (online) words can come back to haunt you.
Rather than reaching out and asking for constructive feedback (or simply ignoring the comment) one of the owners of Dystopian sent the commenter a private message on Facebook that was definitely NSFW. In it, he threatened the patron and made a derogatory homophobic comment. The patron took screenshots of the message and began to share online via social media. The firestorm and backlash were swift and strong.
In response to the controversy, Dystopian State posted an apology Monday night on Facebook:
“We really screwed up. We lashed out to one of our customers who made a negative comment about our beer on a beer group on social media. We made it personal. And have sent him messages in very poor taste. This is unacceptable and it was wrong.”
Judging by the comments that followed after the apology, many people didn’t buy it.
It should be noted that the original commenter and recipient of the hate speech posted on Facebook that he forgave the brewery for a “slip in judgment.” He encouraged people to visit the Tacoma taproom and try the beer for themselves before passing judgment.
But people clearly aren’t listening. You can check out the Facebook page and see that comments and reviews are continuing at a consistent rate – even 3 days after the exchange.
It should go without saying but it bears repeating: no matter how private you think your communication with others maybe – if it’s in writing (and online), it can be shared and turned against you. Be careful!
If you receive negative reviews – don’t retaliate publicly. If you feel like the review was unfair (or wrong), look for constructive ways to engage the reviewer. Or remember that all input (good, bad or otherwise) is an opportunity to consider that we all have our own taste (and preference).
So what should Dystopian State do now? I think they need to continue their public mea culpa but in a more open and personal manner.
- Record and post a video sincerely apologizing for the encounter. People respond much better to real people talking – not simply a comment on Facebook. Right now the owners appear to be faceless bigots to most people trashing them on Facebook. If they can see and hear (genuine) remorse and realize this is their business and livelihood – they might be more forgiving.
- Look for a way to engage with the Tacoma LGBTQ community in a positive and ongoing manner. Maybe offer to host an open forum and listen to their LGBTQ patrons explain why comments such as those shared in the private message happen more than they should – and how they can help improve the community. Actions speak louder than words.
- Consider disabling reviews and comments on the Facebook and let the dust settle. The majority of feedback at this point is not from real customers – it’s from people who have heard about the controversy and want to pile on. Work on improving making amends, improving relationships and demonstrating the business is committed to serving this community in a better/more productive manner than was shown in this online exchange.
This experience demonstrates why its important for businesses to have professionals managing their external communications – whether it’s their social media community or email marketing. We realize that situations like this happen every day although less publicly and on a smaller level and many businesses don’t know how to handle less than stellar reviews. KDMC provides reputation management and online review management to help companies of all sizes either prevent – or manage – these types of crises.