In the socially and technologically advanced age of the 21st Century, “digital networks circulate information in ways which either authors or subjects are unable to trace or control” (Brock, 2016). This has created an internationally connected environment where information, agendas and ideologies can be shared on multiple platforms within seconds. Companies can take advantage of this rapid connectivity method to appeal to their customer base, build a professional status and gain recognition.
However, the pace of which information is now retrieved and dispersed has put an importance on when and how social ‘issues’ are handled. As much as the Web 2.0 can globalise the success of a brand, it also has the potential to globalise social ‘fails’. With companies gaining millions of followers online via social media platforms, one dissatisfied customer has a public podium to voice an opinion which could spark a representativeness held by an online community of thousands (Sambhi, 2012).
An example of a social media ‘fail’ can be observed through a recent situation with a disgruntled customer at ‘Cracker Barrel’ in Corydon Indiana. On a Tuesday morning, in early March at 8:42AM, a gentleman by the name of Bradley (Brad) Reid Byrd publicly proposed a question via Facebook post to the American Southern country themed restaurant chain.This question asked, “why did you fire my wife?”.
According to Brad and online social media sources such as ‘Mirror Online’, Brad’s wife, Nanette Byrd, was employed for 11 years by the company and was ‘let go’ without reason (Robson, 2017) on Brad’s birthday (Levine, 2017). ‘Cracker Barrel’ chose not to publicly respond or offer reason which subsequently resulted in an enormous social uproar of support for Brad and his wife through social memes, jokes, thousands of negative reviews on Facebook, trending Twitter hashtags, millions of comments and a petition with over 25,000 signatures seeking “justice for Brad’s Wife”.
According to BBC Business Editor, Tim Weber in 2010, marketing power has shifted into the hands of the consumer rather than the company.
“One witty Tweet, one clever blog post, one devastating video, forwarded to hundreds of friends at the click of a mouse, can snowball and kill a product or damage a company’s share price”.
In ‘Cracker Barrel’s’ situation, Brad’s post had not only gained a sizeable following of support but also inspired an accumulation of other negative experiences held by past customers to emerge on social media.
This resulted in the Corydon, Indiana Cracker Barrel Old Country Store’s public Facebook page receiving over 1.4k one-star rating’s following the dismissal of Brad’s wife, which now leaves the company’s ranking at 1.7 stars for customer service. Hashtags such as #BradsWife, #BradsWifeMatters and #JusticeForBradsWife began trending on Twitter and according to Brand24, as seen in Figure 1, these hashtags were shared by over 3 million individuals and gained a social media reach of over 2.5 million. According to Paul Gillin (Conner, 2013), “the customer activism trend is only going to accelerate because people get better results on Twitter than they ever got from the Better Business Bureau”.
The overall reach and interest in this situation was amplified again when internationally renowned American comedian, Amiri King, shared Brad’s original post on the 22nd of March, to his following of 2,179,177 people (Facebook, 2017). This post gained 1.1k likes, 150 shares and 393 comments from people seeking answers for Nanette. Soon ‘Brad’s Wife’ became an internet sensation with countless memes, YouTube videos, song tributes and social posts demanding answers and threatening to never eat at ‘Cracker Barrel’ again until Nanette is re-instated, or the matter is professionally resolved.
The greatest downfall of ‘Cracker Barrel’ was the lack of communication and strategy for crisis management on social platforms. By failing to communicate to firstly employee Nanette, secondly to her husband Brad when he publicly questioned her dismissal and thirdly to the millions of people who tuned in online and became invested in the issue’s resolution. By avoiding the topic ‘Cracker Barrel’ has created a bigger and more publicly displayed issue which has tarnished its brand image.
According to Dave Kerpen (2014), the correct procedure to properly handle a customer complaint, or crisis situation on social media is to never delete the negative feedback, listen to the complaint, apologise, resolve the matter and thank those involved. ‘Cracker Barrel’ essentially took the opposite approach when responding to this social media ‘fail’. ‘Cracker Barrel’ deleted the initial post from Brad questioning why his wife was fired, disallowed posts to be left publicly on their Facebook wall and avoided a public or, as far as online sources know, private response to Nanette Byrd with details as to why she was fired.
By ignoring the situation and deleting Brad’s post, ‘Cracker Barrel’ provided very little in the ways of customer service and “invited those involved to find another forum to voice their opinions louder” (Kerpen, 2014). This is exactly what happened. Since March, thousands continue to leave witty and negative comments on the company Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram posts, hashtag #JusticeForBradsWife on Twitter, create YouTube videos and one individual even edited the company Wikipedia page to acknowledge the business employee count to be “70,000 minus Brad’s Wife”.
This crisis has now reached international status with comments being received from individuals who don’t even have the restaurant chain in their own country. This situation has shed a negative light on ‘Cracker Barrel’s’ customer service as well as professionalism regarding how they approach customer complaints and requests online.
If I were to oversee the social media and crisis management strategy surrounding this social media ‘fail’, I would first and foremost privately message Nanette and Brad Byrd with a formal invitation to discuss her previous position in the company and reasoning behind her dismissal. I would then issue a media release and formal apology on behalf of ‘Cracker Barrel’. This would acknowledge the ongoing community support for the Byrd family and a public notice stating the family has been privately contacted by ‘Cracker Barrel’s’ HR team to coordinate a meeting to discuss Nanette’s dismissal.
According to Chris Norton (2011), a company’s level of service and professionalism can be measured in their response to negative feedback. As viral information travels within seconds and can be ‘trending’ before it even hits news stations, it is essential an “organisation can react quickly, with a spotlight focused at them and people analysing everything”. Without a prompt response time, it can be difficult for a company to recover and maintain a professional brand image.
In ‘Cracker Barrel’s’ situation, a response is yet to be delivered and the problem remains unresolved. The restaurant chain holds a social media reach of over 190,000 individuals, which is an excellent base for a business. However, maintaining a loyal customer base and a positive brand image is just as important as gaining a larger follower count. ‘Cracker Barrel’ has a long road to recovering from this social media ‘fail’ which has made news headlines worldwide.
Brock, George. (2016). “The Right To Be Forgotten: Privacy and the Media in the Digital Age” [EBL Version] Retrieved 31 May 2017 from https://blackboard.qut.edu.au/bbcswebdav/pid-6817597-dt-content-rid-8646706_1/courses/KCB206_17se1/The%20Right%20to%20be%20Forgotten%20Extract.pdf
Sambhi, Harpaul. (2012). “Negative Social Attention on you HR Brand”. Retrieved 31 May 2017 from HR Reporter: http://www.hrreporter.com/sharedwidgets/systools/_printpost_.aspx?articleid=483
Robson, Steve. (2017). “Who is Brad’s wife and why does the internet care so much that she got fired?”. Retrieved 31 May 2017 from Mirror Online: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/who-brads-wife-internet-care-10095403
Weber, Tim. (2010). “Why companies watch your every Facebook, YouTube, Twitter move”. Retrieved 31 May from BBC News: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-11450923
Levine, Daniel S. (2017). “Nannette Byrd, Brad’s Wife: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know. Retrieved 31 May 2017 from Heavy.com: http://heavy.com/news/2017/03/nanette-byrd-brads-wife-justiceforbradswife-cracker-barrel-bradley-reid-fired-why-viral/
Facebook, Amiri King. (2017). “Amiri King”. Retrieved 31 May from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10213307780797780&set=a.1339662020363.2050672.1495536389&type=3&theater
Kerpen, Dave. (2014). “How to Deal with Customer Complaints Online”. Retrieved 31 May 2017 from INC: https://www.inc.com/dave-kerpen/how-to-deal-with-customer-complaints-online.html
Conner, Cheryl. (2013). “The 5 Ways Companies Mishandle Online Complaints”. Retrieved 31 May 2017 from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2013/08/02/the-5-ways-companies-mishandle-online-complaints/#7e4113fa5222
Norton, Chris. (2011). “The Seven deadly disadvantages of Social Media”. Retrieved 1 June 2017 from Norton’s Notes: http://chrisnorton.biz/social-media/the-seven-deadly-disadvantages-of-social-media/