In the olden days (about five years ago), if your big corporate company was nasty to someone, the only recourse was to write an angry letter to the local newspaper and hope their ‘consumer champion’ could take it up on your behalf. Sometimes, fearing the bad publicity that could come from such articles, many companies would concede and hold out an olive branch of hope.
Often though, knowing that advertising-hungry newspapers were unlikely to bite the hands that feed them, they’d simply point to their terms and conditions and flick a couple of corporate fingers up to them.
Social media has changed all that.
Y’see, on the 20th Jan, The Guardian ran a piece about a couple who were locked into a contract with LA Fitness but as she was about to give birth and her husband lost his job, they couldn’t pay it. They had £780 to pay and they just couldn’t afford it but LA Fitness wouldn’t relent – no, they were sticking to their guns and she had to pay the lot.
The Guardian took up the cause and tried repeatedly to get LA Fitness to give in and let them off the bill – surely for compassionate reasons they should simply waiver it?
Well, they decided to give them £420 off which although it helps, it’s not enough – they just couldn’t afford it.
In Steps Twitter
Ben Goldacre who is a huge Twitter fan posted this:
That there is the online equivalent of lighting a fuse. What followed was an explosion of rage and outpouring of emotion that took LA Fitness by storm:
Oops. A whole angry mob taking virtual pitchforks to LA Fitness and asking people to cancel or just not sign up.
LA Fitness have now said the family don’t have to pay, but what about all the anger and vitriol they’ve suffered? Does this equal bad publicity and was it really worth them putting up such a fight? Moreover, do big businesses have something to fear from Twitter or any other social network for that matter?
Thing is, social networks give people people a voice and they’re not swayed by advertising revenue so they can’t be bought. If you or your brand does something dispicable, you’re at risk of being called out by many people who would like to take you to task and ruin your online brand. You can’t control what people say about you online, even if you have a massive publicity department, the vast numbers of people you don’t have control over will make sure the bad news gets out – the rules have changed.
Just be nice.