For the past two weeks, Peyton Manning’s release from the Indianapolis Colts has been the biggest story in the football world. However it wasn’t a football story that landed the star quarterback’s face on the front page of Yahoo! last week. Strangely enough, it was a story about the generous tip that Manning left his waiter after dining at a North Carolina steak house. In less than 48 hours, a photo of the tab went from seemingly innocent Facebook posting by a delighted waiter who just wanted to let his friends know what a class act the MVP quarterback was to front page news….and Manning’s waiter found himself on the unemployment line. That’s when the real drama started.
A quick search for the Angus Barn, the restaurant where Manning dined, shows a two star rating on Google reviews, and until late Monday, a similarly low rating appeared on Yelp (several negative reviews have since been removed by Yelp staff). Digging a bit deeper and reading the Google reviews shows that many of the negative ratings have come over the past few days since news of the waiter’s termination first showed up online. Until they were removed, the Yelp reviews had practically become a Craigslist Rants and Raves style flame war (see below for a sample of some of the reviews that have since been deleted).
This isn’t the first time that a story about an employee losing their job due to a breach of “social netiquette” has made headlines, and it certainly won’t be the last. Philadelphia area residents may recall the story of an Eagles game day employee who was let go after posting his disappointment in the team’s decision not to resign All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins on Facebook. Within the Stream office, a quick recap of the story immediately launched a lively debate about whether or not the employer was right to tell the offending waiter to hit the showers, or if the server should have known better than to post the photo.
The truth is, the whole situation probably should have been avoided and could have been if the business owner had laid out a social media usage game plan for the staff. However, instead of being able to publicly trumpet the fact that a future hall of famer was one of their patrons and creating a significant amount of positive buzz about their brand, the restaurant now runs the risk of both short and long term damage to its reputation and bottom line.
Similarly, there is an increased emphasis on sharing the post purchase experience (i.e. how did I arrive at my decision, am I happy with the decision) which will further influence future potential customers.
A year from now, people won’t remember the context that caused the Angus Barn to receive some negative reviews in March 2012, but they’ll still see these reviews reflected in the Google Places result when they search for the restaurant through Google. It just goes to show that in the digital age, your brands image can quickly spiral downward if you aren’t actively managing your digital footprint. This is especially true when it comes to social media where word of mouth is amplified exponentially. The sad truth is that when most businesses look at social media, they are only interested in ROI, seeking the magic bullet that will turn “Likes” into increased sales. While that is certainly one use for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or YouTube, many times people neglect to think about all of the other aspects of social media that can have much longer lasting impact on your brand and your revenue.
Had the Angus Barn not been able to get the negative Yelp reviews removed from their listing (a process that any restaurant owner will tell you is no simple feat otherwise they’d all do it) the damage from the negative posts could have been felt for years to come. While that may seem ridiculous, the fact remains that the emergence of the connected consumer means that it’s becoming more and more common for customers to tap into social resources to influence their decision making.