How The Promise Of Free Coffee Crushed A Brand On Facebook

I have always been very hesitant to deal with brands on Facebook. There is something disconcerting about how brands can delete and ‘manage’ the content on their brand pages. This rubs me the wrong way for a number of reasons—the most obvious being when something negative is said against the brand, there is no surefire way to ensure the brand is not deleting these negative comments. Hence, why I always double-check a brand’s Twitter feed to see what is really being said about the brand. On Twitter, there is no way to delete a mention. So love it or hate it, positive or negative, the mention stays. Brand interaction on Twitter means even non-fans can follow an issue and through the conversation see firsthand how the brand deals with it. Deletion of negative comments or posts goes against the very grain of real-time action and authenticity woven into the fabric of social media.


Screen shot from Timothy's Facebook page

Today I became aware of a situation on Facebook that was shaping up to big brand headache. According to this blog post, Timothy’s Coffee recently launched a Facebook promotion where in exchange for personal information (short of a retinal scan and bank account information, of course) participants would receive two free samples in the mail. Well, wouldn’t you know it, the promotion was so successful Timothy’s Coffee declared they had “run out” of the free samples. No big deal, right? Just offer customers something else free as a substitute, right? That makes the most common sense, right? That would please disappointed customers and show some brand empathy in wanting to make the situation right in favour of the customer, right? Oh, how WRONG Timothy’s Coffee chose to play this.
Instead of confessing their shortsightedness right off the hop by not having enough samples on hand and that they would be substituting another free item, Timothy’s Coffee thought it appropriate to follow-up with a BOGO promo. This is where is starts to get ugly, folks. Customers were not just disappointed now, they were ticked off. Comments ranged from: “You made a promise you couldn’t keep and now you want ME to PAY for something I was supposed to be getting for free?!” to “Social media failure! Unscrupulous means of obtaining customer information. Shame on you!” I told you it got ugly. And then it got uglier. The Timothy’s Coffee Facebook page started to erase the negative comments. Not just one or two, it was deleting scores of them for over 2 hours, according to one former fan. Not good. Talk about going from bad to worse.


Why is it so hard for Brands to think about treating their customers like they would like to be treated? People don’t like to be made to feel stupid. They also don’t like handing out private personal information in exchange for nothing. Furthermore, they don’t like their voices being muzzled when expressing their displeasure and expecting some form of apology or resolution. In other words, pretty much every brand mistake that could be made in social media was made by one brand on Facebook–the most popular social medium–today. In the Twitterverse, we call that an #epicfail.


Of course, there are always legal and compliance issues that go along with running a social media contest or promotion. This is why many legal departments are kept busy these days. But what confounds me is how these contingencies were not built into the original promotional plan in the first place? How could running out of samples not have been a part of the plan and then Part B shows where customers are notified of the shortage and subsequently rewarded appropriately? Notice I didn’t say rewarded in the exact same way, but in an equitable and appropriate way. This helps customers feel cherished, respected, and heard. This brings your customers closer to your brand. What happened today with Timothy’s Coffee served to erect a giant alligator-filled moat between the brand and its (former) fans. You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling, alright.


Brands need to give their heads a collective shake. In today’s example, in the ultra-competitive coffee market *any* brand cannot afford to lose market share. However, today, Timothy’s Coffee gave their customers a number of reasons to never patronize their stores again. Timothy’s Coffee gave themselves a LARGE ‘ick’-factor (ick as in icky) by deleting the negative comments and not dealing with the questions and speculations head-on.


My advice to any brand in the social media space today is not to be perfect. It’s not that I expect no mistakes. Rather I expect brands to be HUMAN before they are anything else. It’s what social media is about—relating, engaging, and exchanging. Therefore, don’t position your brand on social media in order to serve YOUR purposes. We already know what your purpose is—to make money and continue brand existence. Successful brands on social media (and there are truly very few, IMHO) serve their customers first and foremost. Putting the customer first means brands must be accountable, present, and fearless. Anything less means brands are not only cheating their customers but themselves. And no one ‘likes’ a cheater.

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