by Briana Campbell (@MsMatchGirl)
You might not pay much attention to the world of small coffee roasters. You might not really care where your coffee goes between the farmer and the place you get your java fix, and because of this, you might have missed the controversy that rose up around Brown Coffee Company (out of San Antonio, TX) and RBC (a coffee shop in NYC).
On July 24th, @browncoffeeco (a Twitter feed that has since been made private) Tweeted the following:
Which led to RBC posting the Tweet on their Tumblr and their own Twitter feed. And to them publicly disavowing their coffee supplier and announcing that they would no longer do business with Brown, based on Brown’s tweet. They wrote: Although we won’t tell you what RBC stands for, we’ll let you know it doesn’t stand for intolerance and bigotry, therefore we will not be doing business with The Brown Coffee Co. anymore.
The Tweet was picked up by coffee blogs like Sprudge, who wrote about the Tweet and then went on to write an open letter to the Brown Coffee Company (after Brown Coffee Co posted a public statement on their own blog), got a write-up on the Huffington Post and was mentioned by celebrities like Anthony Bourdain who had his own choice words for the company.
Whether you agree or disagree with Brown Coffee Company – and a lot of people will tell you that a company’s Twitter page is no place for personal/political/philosophical musings (I think that depends on the company and its culture, personally) – they made a couple of serious social media mistakes.
Mistake one: They took their Twitter account from public to private (after deleting the offending Tweet)
Mistake two: They offered an apology that was not an “apology” at all.
Mistake three: They went on the attack.
Aaron Blanco’s statement can be read in full on his company’s blog. Blaming the reaction of the general public tends to be a pretty bad idea. Generically calling out people (with no links, no proof, no reference) for adding “their own lies to the post” and saying they “have been viciously maligned for something we never said” can’t work out well for Brown Coffee Company. If the public did misinterpret a Tweet, deleting it and blocking an entire feed is simply a bad tactic. It makes them look guilty (I will refrain from mentioning everyone’s favorite former Congressman from New York and his recent Twitter trials). To go on the defensive is not smart. To attack those you’re trying to get back on your side is usually not the way to win people over.
Here’s how Blanco and Brown Coffee Company could have handled things better:
1. Keep the Twitter feed open. Encourage a healthy debate. Your clients and customers don’t need to agree with you, but blocking them out of the feed goes against the whole point of a business being on Twitter – to engage with the customer. If Brown had kept their feed opened they could really listen to what people were saying a have a dialogue with their detractors.
2. Actually apologize. If the proprietor of Brown Coffee Company thought he owed the public an apology, then he should have apologized. Just like when you were a kid and you were mean to your brother, your mom would get mad if you said “I’m sorry, but…” “I’m sorry” doesn’t count if you follow it with a qualifying statement.
3. Or not. If Aaron Blanco stands by his statement, he should stand by it. If he meant it only as a statement of philosophy (Tweeted with appallingly poor timing) or if he believes it to his innermost core, instead of offering a sorry excuse for an apology, he should have sent a statement where he was confident in his Tweet, his beliefs and himself – without attacking those who disagreed with or misinterpreted his Tweet.
There is the old adage to not mix business with pleasure and that goes doubly for the internet. In Tweeting in the guise of one’s company – proprietor, community manager, employee with the Twitter password – one needs to think carefully about what will be communicated, as the face of the company, to the world as a whole.
There is no “undo” button on the internet. Once something is out there, it’s out there. You can delete it from your Twitter feed (many have before you) but, especially if you offend the wrong person, it will inevitably come back to bite you in the bum.