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The Crisis Intelligence Blog

Take a Cue from Browns: How NOT to Respond to a Social Media Crisis

28 Jun

Yesterday afternoon, an online friend of mine, Richard Hall, brought a rising social media crisis to my attention: #BoycottBrowns.

With tweets coming in by the minute, 82,000+ Facebook group members boycotting the bar, and people showing distaste and utter bewilderment across the social media board, Browns Independent Bar, in Coventry, England, was sure wishing they hadn’t turned away those grieving soldiers earlier this week…

Yup, you heard me! Apparently this little bar in Coventry has a policy where they do not serve men and women in uniform. This bewildering policy came to light when soldiers in uniform, pall bearers at the funeral of their friend and brother, Corporal Michael Thacker, a soldier who died in Afghanistan on June 1st, entered the bar looking for a warm beverage before the funeral. Imagine their astonishment when they were denied entrance because the bar had this policy of not serving anyone in uniform. Imagine the world’s astonishment when the news came out, or better yet, witness the world’s astonishment and disgust on Twitter, where #BoycottBrowns has been trending for days; and Facebook, where 82,000+ people have joined the “Boycott Browns in Coventry” group.

It’s an emotional and irrational situation that immediately sprung to social media and formed a heavy and real-time crisis for this little, corner bar.

Because it’s an emotional and irrational issue (the ‘irrational’ is to the policy itself), I was interested to see how the owner of this bar, the one who put this policy in place in the first place, was responding to all of the negative press he’s been receiving. Once I saw his response it was clear to me: this blog post needed to be titled “Take a Cue from Browns: How NOT to respond to a social media crisis”!

Take a look for yourself:

Click here to view official response made by Brown.
(Sorry, Vimeo has restricted access to embed this video onto other sites, which means I am unable to embed the video here for your convenience.)

How many failures can you count in this short 41 second response?

First and foremost, where is the sincerity? Two grieving soldiers were basically shamed and turned away from receiving service. After having fought for their country and losing a brother and friend, they were turned away due to a policy that refuses to serve men and women in uniform.

The first thing that we would have expected from Brown was a sincere apology, shame and remorse. He could have shown this by 1) memorizing his lines, and 2) looking straight into the camera with a little more than an air of “this is a total inconvenience for me”.

Attempting to justify the actions by stating a policy that the whole world does not understand in the first place, does little to help his case. As does stating that “had I known of the circumstances, I would have served them”.

He goes on to say that he is “now looking to review this policy”, which is his attempt to state that he has learned the errors of his ways. Though with the lack of sincerity and conviction in his voice and actions, he might as well not have said it. As a general rule, if it’s believed that you’re making a change simply because you were caught and forced to, it’s a null action – it will have little to no positive impact.

This was Brown’s one chance at potentially turning the situation around. Had he done the complete opposite within his response, he may have had a fighting chance. But with the lack of sincerity, 82,000+ people boycotting the bar on Facebook, and the sentiment on Twitter, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw this little bar close its doors sometime in the near future.

This is yet another great example of one wrong action causing a viral social media crisis – and another perfect example of how NOT to respond to said crisis.

What are your thoughts on the way Brown has chosen to handle this crisis, and what repercussions do you expect to see on account of his (non)actions? Share your thoughts with me below!

More links:
Corp David Allison’s thoughts on the incident

Photo credit: ITV Central

7 Responses to “Take a Cue from Browns: How NOT to Respond to a Social Media Crisis”

  1. Javier Arronis June 28, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    The major lesson we can extract from this fact is that with today’s social media amplification power any inappropriate conduct can lead to a unexpected risk of exposure to a reputational damage.

    It is clear than the policy of not not serve men and women in uniform was crazy and irrational but it reached to an extreme when the entrance was denied to a couple of soldiers before the funeral of a friend and brother dead in Afganistan, Then what in the old times would not be surely more than an incident with only local transcendence has today involved a vast part of the social network whose reaction has forced the owner of the bar to make a public appeareance in order to make a not really sincere or credible apologize.

    Nothing more to say about the owner of the bar response that you, Melissa has well described, it was really pathetic the way he was reading his response without looking at the camera, he surely did not understand the real trascendence of what has happened, just looking at him you can extract the conclussion that as I said at the begining, in modern times, with the existance of the social media network, any inappropiate behavior may end in a very severe crisis and damage.

  2. Javier Arronis June 29, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    Thanks for your response Melissa, Yes, it´s true a total lack of media training 101.

    I´ve thinking about this issue and I would like to make you a question: I believe that you wouldn’t have an ideology if you are not disposed to defend it until it’s last consequences.

    That´s not what did make the owner of the bar. If he is an antimilitarist and his customers know this policy and are agree with it they may constitute what is called a market niche formed by people whit an antimilitarist ideology.

    what about if he had made a totally different public appearance making complete and sincere explanation on his motivations of this policy, he could also express his sincere condolences to the family of the dead soldier, he also could appologize for denied the entrance to the soldiers but making a justification of it based on the imposibility of make and exception to his policy and finally he could start some kind of colaboration whith any organization helping war veterans, or to soldier families or something similar.

    Do you believe that if he have done well it would have engaged his customers niche?

  3. Javier Arronis June 30, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    Thanks you for your response Melissa, you explained it well and I agree with you. What I criticize is that after this incident and the people reaction, it is not etic to make a public appearance and say like Groucho Marx: 'These are my principles and if you don't like them…well, I have others.'

  4. Javier Arronis July 2, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    I've been a little worried if I had not explained well what I really meant in my last comments, so I´ll try to explain it better:

    What I was trying to express was the idea that an apology is credible only when it comes from someone who has made ​​a mistake by acting in a way that is unusual for him or go against their ideas and thus sincerely regrets of what he has done.

    But the apology is not credible when who asks for forgiveness is a person that has very radical ideas and has acted according to his ideology, which is the usual form of him, since it seems to apologize only because people have been angry with him.

    This is why I say that this way of acting may seem like to say: well these are my principles, but if you get angry with me, then I change to other principles. Then, obviously, this apologies do not seem credible.

    • Melissa Agnes July 2, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

      Hi Javier,

      No worries, I knew what you meant! What it comes down to, in this particular case, are a few things:

      - Sincerity goes a LONG way.
      - If you are not sincere, don't show your face – it will only cause more damage.
      - Be strong and stick by your policies, unless you truly feel that they need reevaluation, in
      which case, adapt and change for the right reasons.
      - Good, old fashion common sense and customer service are the backbone of a company (especially those within the service industry).

      Thanks, Javier!

  5. Melissa Agnes June 28, 2012 at 10:46 pm #

    It's media training 101, isn't it, Javier!… and a complete and utter #fail!

    Yes, the power of social media and viral potential is really shown in this case. An unfortunate situation that happened in the UK is screaming and streaming across several continents, and has wound up on a Montrealer's blog, only 4 days later!

    Thanks, once again for your great comment, Javier!

  6. Melissa Agnes June 29, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    Great thought and question, Javier!

    Though, honestly, no. In other situations, this type of approach can work. In this situation, it's just not rational and the whole world would have criticized him even more. Because he didn't take that approach, it shows that he knows his policy is, dare I say, wrong?!

    And from what I've heard from other readers who know the bar, his behaviour and the way he runs his bar has always been this way. I think the people of Coventry feel that this crisis was due, and they would not have stood by him no matter what his approach was.

    In this particular case, he would have done better not to have appeared on Camera at all.

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