Even when the mob is “right,” its behavior is scary. If the offending party is a business or business owner, a lapse in judgment can quickly cost them their reputation, customers, even the business itself and the livelihoods of those it employs.
Do you think mob behavior affects only those unsophisticated inhabitants of the world’s premodern backwaters? Think again.
This week saw another example of what’s becoming a common Internet phenomenon: an unrelenting, morally- or politically-charged online mob beatdown directed at a business or individual who posted something offensive on social media. (Remember #HasJustineLandedYet?)
Even when the mob is “right,” its behavior is scary. If the offending party is a business or business owner, a lapse in judgment can quickly cost them their reputation, customers, even the business itself and the livelihoods of those it employs. And as the sagacious Mike Blumenthal also points out in his post today, a company’s online reviews are increasingly used as a battleground in these wars of words.
Why? Presumably because bad reviews do a ton of real damage. At Grade.us, we refer to a disgruntled customer who skewers a company on Google+ or Yelp as exercising “the nuclear option.” In case it’s any wonder why, pull up a chair and let me tell you the story of this latest fiasco.
The Saga of One Block West Restaurant
This week, it was chef/owner Ed Matthews of One Block West in Winchester, Virginia, who made a misguided post to Facebook regarding an all-change tip left by a customer:
Now, Matthews is no stranger to making colorful comments in his online dialogue with patrons of the restaurant. But this one struck a nerve. While some in the food industry might see Matthews as “protecting his own,” he made a brash and public complaint about a customer–described as “ladies,” perhaps as in “little old ladies”–who left an odd tip under unknown circumstances. From a customer’s point of view, Matthews just sounds like an arrogant, ungrateful, mean-spirited jerk. A prick, if you will. A bastard. A prick-bastard.
Are you with me? Yes? So let the punishment begin: Prior to this post, One Block West had a star rating on Facebook in the high 4s, and recent reviews were going swimmingly:
Then, on June 4, a few hours after Matthews’s ill-fated post, something happened. One Block West’s star rating plummeted into the 2s on Facebook. In a span of 2 hours and 15 minutes, 60 new reviews were posted, all of them 1-star ratings accompanied by a large dose of moral upbraiding or vitriol–and occasional mention of the restaurant’s food selection and service. Here’s what that particular kind of terror looks like on a spreadsheet:
Now, it’s clear that this mob of “reviewers” largely believes that they are exacting some kind of proper justice for the “wrong” of Matthews’s post. They seem perfectly at ease with the idea that their reviews will do real damage–perhaps even destroy–the business, and that Matthews has committed “suicide by Facebook” with his errant post:
The barrage continued for a little more than a day before One Block West successfully removed not just the offending post but the reviews widget from its Facebook page. Eventually, a small backlash of supporters arrived to post a handful of 5-star reviews, apparently in an effort to do damage control:
But the damage was done. It remains to be seen how well One Black West recovers. In the immortal words of Warren Buffet,
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
You can still find the whole One Block West episode played out here.