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From Controversy To Catastrophe – How To Avoid A Brand Meltdown

I’d like to start today’s piece off with a question – how many of you are avid watchers of Chef Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmare? As a follow up, do any of you remember when, a few years back, the good chef decided to visit Amy’s Baking Company? Don’t worry, there is actually a point to these questions.

For those of you who don’t know, Kitchen Nightmare is one example of a new breed of reality TV where an expert consultant is hired on to save a seemingly hopeless venue from its clueless managers, ignorant owners, and half-cocked staff. Since the cameras are left rolling pretty much the whole time, viewers tend to get a look at some pretty extreme personalities…but none have ever been more extreme than the owners of Amy’s Baking Company, Amy and Samy Bouzaglos. They were the first clients that caused Ramsay to legitimately walk out.

A Nuclear Brand Meltdown

That would have caused enough damage to their reputation in and of itself, but they then decided to take to Facebook in an effort to “defend” themselves. What followed was one of the most spectacular brand meltdowns in the history of social media.  Their reactions grew more and more extreme, eventually culminating in a series of insane, profanity-laden, all-caps messages involving God, the police, and Wonder Woman.

Later, they tried to claim their social media accounts were hacked – I highly doubt they managed to fool anyone. Although the business today is still limping along, the owners have become laughingstocks; their brand synonymous with arrogance, instability, and poor customer service. More importantly, they’ve become the poster children for how not to handle yourself as a small business owner, online or off.

The problem with Amy and Samy is that neither of them were capable of accepting criticism, nor could either keep a cool head. They were so quick to anger – and so full of themselves besides – that even the barest suggestion that they might be doing something wrong was met with abject hostility. They treated their customers poorly, and their staff even worse.

Their public meltdown was simply an extension of that attitude, unfiltered through the virtue of social media.

Thankfully, there’s one silver lining in this unmitigated catastrophe. More intelligent businesspeople can learn from them; Amy and Samy’s conduct essentially reads like a playbook of what not to do as a small business owner. By looking at their spectacular freakout, you can pretty easily form an idea of how to avoid one of your own.

Keeping Cool In The Face Of A Meltdown

If your small business has any sort of presence on the Internet (it should), then you’re going to encounter a bit of negativity. You’re going to see negative reviews, you’re going to be slammed by unreasonable customers and hateful trolls who’ve nothing better to do with their lives. In the face of all this hostility, you need to remember one thing: keep it professional.

In other words, no matter how great the urge, do not get yourself involved in an argument – but don’t ignore bad reviews, either.

If someone says something negative about your organization, get in touch with them and apologize for their experience.  Ask them if there’s anything you can do to make up for it – or anything you can do to improve the service for next time. Assuming they aren’t just out to make your life difficult, they’ll likely be happy to cooperate with you – if not a little floored that you’re actually taking the time to address their concerns.

Of course, sometimes you’re going to find yourself on the verge of a crisis – and at that point, all you can do is damage control. If your brand or one of its representatives does something stupid, own up to it. Apologize to the public for your conduct, and do whatever you can to calm people’s ire as quickly as possible.

If you manage it correctly – with transparency, empathy, and professionalism – you can avoid breaking your brand altogether.

In Closing

Every small business owner is going to have to deal with controversy at one point or another – whether the result of a difficult customer, unprofessional conduct, or negative review. One’s conduct in the face of that controversy can make or break a brand. Learn from the mistakes of others, so you can avoid making them yourself.

Image credit: darkday

Justin Blanchard

Justin Blanchard

Justin Blanchard is the CMO of ServerMania.