How Social Media Ignorance Can Damage Brands

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Guest Post by: Mathew Vattolil

The recent copywrite snafu by Cooks Source shows how social media ignorance can make or break brands. The lesson: don’t get involved in social media if you haven’t taken the steps to understand it.

Social media is a great tool for building buzz and positive conversation about a brand. But as much as social media can help brands thrive against the competition, it can also do great harm to their reputations in the long and short term.

Case in point: the recent Cooks Source Magazine debacle. The story involves university student Monica Gaudio whose copywrite complaint sparked public outrage against the magazine’s editor and its Facebook page.

Here’s a recap of how the story unfolded:

  • In 2005, Monica Gaudio posts an article to cookery website “A tale of Two Tarts”.
  • In October 2010, a friend calls to congratulate her on getting her piece published in Cooks Source. However, the call comes as a surprise to Ms.Gaudio who did not give the magazine permission to publish it. She decides to investigate: “…some basic Google-fu lead me to find them online and on Facebook. In fact, after looking at the Cooks Source Facebook page, I found the article with my name on it on on “Page 10″ of the Cooks Source Pumpkin fest issue.”
  • Ms.Gaudio contacts the magazine and asks for “an apology on Facebook, a printed apology in the magazine and $130 donation…to be given to the Columbia School of Journalism.”
  • Judith Griggs sends a scathing reply: “…honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article…you should compensate me!”
  • Enraged, Ms.Gaudio shared the story on her livejournal. Within hours, the story went viral with a specifically created hashtag #crookssource. It was taken up in Facebook, reddit and a large number of blogs.

This story of how little guy rose against the bully is the stuff viral dreams are made of. Among the scathing comments were:

“I work in publishing and book publicity. I’ve forwarded this link to every industry site and writer I know. Hope they enjoy the “publicity” they’ll get.”

“I own a restaurant/bar in Avon, CT. This afternoon, I will be stopping by each one to ask my friends to stopping giving out Cooks Source magazine”

“2nd Street Baking Co. has retracted their support of magazine. Here are the contacts of companies advertising in the posted issue: […] Ask them to withdraw their ads from Cooks Source until Monica is satisfied that the matter is closed.”

While it’s fairly clear that Ms. Griggs handled the issue poorly, there remains a very powerful lesson here for brands involved with social media: take the time to understand your choice of social media platform. And if you don’t, be prepared to face the consequences.

Cooks Source would have fared much better had Ms. Griggs understood a few critical facts about social media engagement.

Sentiment matters

Ms. Griggs’ patronising comments (“Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades”) started the fire, but her follow-up statements on Facebook only stoked the flame.

Why have a Facebook page if you have no desire to connect with your audience? Cooks Source would have been far better off without any Facebook presence at all.

Response must be swift and customer-centric

If Mrs. Griggs had her eye on the internet, she would have quickly understood where the story was headed and could have taken remedial measures early on.

The story shows that even the little guys can benefit from real-time analysis of social media. Even something as simple as Google Alerts could have helped Ms. Griggs grasp the seriousness of the matter and reach an amicable solution with Ms. Gaudio and the broader internet.

Not all traffic is good traffic

Cooks Source Magazine is a small cookery magazine and its Facebook page had very few visitors prior to the copywrite debacle. For better or worse, this mix-up has brought thousands of visitors to the site and the magazine is not as unheard-of as it was before.

If Ms. Griggs could muster up enough courage to tender an open apology for her misdoings, and maybe offer something more than what Ms. Gaudio asked for, she could turn this episode to her advantage by retaining quite a few of the current visitors.

Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case, as her recent Facebook post suggests:

Hi Folks!

Well, here I am with egg on my face! I did apologise to Monica via email, but aparently it wasnt enough for her. To all of you, thank you for your interest in Cooks Source and Again, to Monica, I am sorry — my bad!

You did find a way to get your “pound of flesh…” we used to have 110 “friends,” we now have 1,870… wow!

…Best to all, Judith

Clearly, Griggs doesn’t get social media, but hopefully the rest of us do. Social media can make brands, but as Cooks Source shows, it can break them, too. Our best defence is to be knowledgable about the tools we use and the people who use them.

Image by: Leo Reynolds

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