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Executives from Price Chopper visited Professor Anthony Rotolo’s social media class at Syracuse University to discuss the incident documented here.

This report was broadcast by CNY Central News (CW 6, NBC 3) in Syracuse, NY.

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This blog was the subject of the Talk@10 discussion on CW6, October 5, 2010, following Price Chopper’s visit to Professor Rotolo’s class.

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Price Chopper Class Visit, Twitter Digest

On October 5, 2010, Price Chopper (@PriceChopperNY) visited Professor Rotolo’s Social Media class to discuss the incident covered on this blog, as well as the Price Chopper’s social media initiatives in general. Price Chopper President and COO, Jerry Golub, along with Heidi Reale and two other members of the Price Chopper Consumer Insights team accepted Professor Rotolo’s invitation to speak.

The class was closed to professional media at the request of Price Chopper. Reporters were asked to wait outside the classroom for comments from the professor and class participants afterward.

As is common practice in Professor Rotolo’s class, students used Twitter to chat online during the discussion. The public was invited to join the conversation by following the class hashtag, #RotoloClass. Kelly Lux, Social Media Manager for the Syracuse University School of Information Studies, moderated the Twitter chat.

DIGEST OF #ROTOLOCLASS TWITTER DISCUSSION:

Opening Remarks by Jerry Golub, COO of Price Chopper:

KellyLux: Heidi Reale & Jerry Golub of @pricechopperny are introducing their presentation.

Sdisston: Kind of cool to hear from the president and COO of @pricechopperny

Dhrosen: “We are close to the customer, we feed and take care of the customer”

KellyLux:  “How we approach social media is a natural extension of how we approach our business” –Jerry Golub

KiminCuse: I think having the President and COO of @pricechopperny in #rotoloclass really shows this is a HUGE deal for them

Sdisston: There will always be employees who go “off the reservation”-president and COO of @pricechopperny

D_Seidman: Employees at @PricechopperNY called teammates rather than employees. Interesting

Alyssa Henry: This is a sign from @pricechopperny showing social media presence http://plixi.com/p/48901429

Rotolo: “If you’re not relevant to your customers, you’re not going to be successful as a company” –Jerry Golub, @pricechopperny

AlyssaHenry: Personal integrity, social responsibility, respect is expected by everyone who is involved with @pricechopperny, says COO

Dhrosen: @pricechopperny COO seems pretty sincere… wonder if others feel the same way too

KellyLux: “What happened 2 wks ago w/ an employee sending an email to the employer of a customer goes against everything we stand for”

AlyssaHenry: “Social media has changed the way people communicate, and you have to be a part of the discussion” @pricechopperny

Rotolo: “Social media has been integrated into the way we do business—it was important for me to come here today to let u know that

KellyLux: Jerry Golub wants to talk about responsibility. Where does the responsibility begin and end with social media?

AndrewFarah:  I’d have a hard time trying to manage 24,000 employees. How about you? #rotoloclass. Props to COO of @pricechopperny

Jsgiarrusso:  COO of @pricechopperny spoke very well to #rotoloclass

Maxx626: @dhrosen COO seemed very genuine

 

Presentation by Heidi Reale, Director of Consumer Insights

SLE17: “We will take all your questions and be as open and honest with you as possible” @pricechopperny

AlyssaHenry: Heidi says normally would not answer a tweet like the one that started current situation, will get into details later

KellyLux: @Pricechopperny links their FB and Twitter followers. They’ve increased their “likes” since this incident.

Vantinamonte: @pricechopperny does do stuff right: Sunoco gas promotion had me sometimes going out of my way to shop PC over other supermrkts

KellyLux: No one from out company was cc’ed on the email to the employer – Heidi Reale

KellyLux: @pricechopperny initially responded to @jdross, since he was first to address them.  Then put comments on @rotolo’s blog.

Jill_HW: The employee at @pricechopperny acted as lone gun. Long time before co knew.

PattyMayz: Great insight as to what happens on the business end of a social media crisis. Thnx to @pricechopperny

Tricialing: “in fact we are still listening. We are here and we are here to listen” @pricechopperny

AlyssaHenry: My problem with response was the mass-apology tweets that were sent out- everyone got same tweet. Not personal enough

Dhrosen: “Should we stay on Facebook, should we stay on Twitter? My answer is yes!” –Heidi @pricechopperny

Laurel_Moz: key learning no.1: ensure your employees know how to filter themselves

KellyLux: Key Learnings 1) Let the public know u r listening. (Tweets were coming fast & furious, but they needed time to learn facts.)

KellyLux: Anyone who uses a personal account for company business needs to get permission from @pricechopperny

KellyLux: Key Learning: Social Media policies and procedures must be in place and clear to all associates.

Rotolo: A company should never hide their head in the sand and not address these issues” – Heidi Reale

 

Questions about Price Chopper Employee

Jpedde: Wondering why no one ever talked to Ameerah (PR Director) about good Twitter practices

Thebenfink: @pricechopperny So where’s Ameerah at? I’d like to hear from the person who started this whole debacle. What was her endgame?

Dhrosen: @thebenfink Don’t think that we will ever know what happened to Ameerah…

AlyssaHenry: Seems like everyone’s wondering same thing- what happened to employee Ameerah? Will try and ask asap!

Thebenfink: @dhrosen it’s a good question, wonder if Ameerah still works for @pricechopperny. Did they give her the boot?

AlyssaHenry: Hmm, @pricechopperny took “disciplinary action” in regard to employee… what does that mean?

KellyLux: The @pricechopperny emp issued an apology to the original tweeter, posted an apology on the blog & faced disciplinary action

Maxx626: think the apology was genuine, or written for her by @pricechopperny?

Meglish: As for Ameerah, I know I’ve looked for comments about my employer online. I get the intent, just not the follow through

PJASchultz: @dhrosen the apology totally sounded canned, scripted, and completely non-genuine. Typical PR BS @pricechopperny

KellyLux: They cannot talk about HR issues with relation to the associate in question. Other topics are open for discussion.

Jeff13164: I hope the “employee” wasn’t fired, don’t wish that on anyone. A mistake was made, they’re trying to fix it.

KellyLux: How much did @pricechopperny have to do with their errant employee’s apology? According to Heidi, they had nothing to do w/ it

Dhrosen: The employee (Ameerah) may have spoken with her direct manager about it, but we did not write it for her.

Jpedde: Ameerah’s prof was a PC background, bio was all Price Chopper/MBA related. Was that a part of @pricechopperny’s policy?

PattyMayz: An employee’s duty to its employer doesn’t end when you leave the office… it ends when you leave the company…

Thebenfink: I still say, tell us about Ameerah! @pricechopperny

BPMacKenzie: This was not the only time Ameerah worked off twitter acct. On 9/19,  @ameerahcetawayo answered. @MrDustinS

Jilo7: I wonder if Ameerah got fired or is getting some type of SM training?

Wjkievit: Did @pricechopperny force @ameerahcetawayo twitter account protected? If so, maybe they now cross the line they try to draw

BPMackenzie: So what empowered 2ameerahcetawayo to take over the @pricechopperny twitter account? What policy was not in place

Jpedde: @BPMacKenzie She didn’t. She was using her personal acct. Which is what part of this discussion has been.

Dhrosen: She never tweeted from the @pricechopperny account, was using her personal account, representing the company

BPMacKenzie: @dhrosen yes, but why did she feel she had the power to do that? She did help @MRDustinS via twitter before this incident.

Dhrosen: @BPMacKenzie No, she was acting without the company’s knowledge

 

Question and Answer, Discussion from Participants:

AlyssaHenry: My question besides disciplinary action is does @pricechopperny have official social media policy? Is it shared w/ employees?

AlyssaHenry: @pricechopperny has social media policy, hasn’t changed since incident. Can’t use personal accounts for professional reasons

KellyLux: Associates allowed to use LinkedIn personal account, but not personal SM account to conduct company business

Wjkievit: I would like to know if they have tried or have plans to try to resolve the situation with the victim’s employer?

Mitch_M: @wjkievit They said they contacted the customer’s employer to apologize

Mprattico: How does Price Chopper use Twitter and Facebook to help increase sale and noticeable changes?

Jpedde: Question: Did/does @pricechopperny train employees in social media policies/crisis management?

SunnyinSyracuse: How many people are on the @pricechopperNY Social Media team?

PriceChopperNY: We’re all here in #rotoloclass!

KellyLux: @sunnyinsyracuse there are 3 people here from the team.

Gahugle: Why would @pricechopperny not bring a hard or digital copy of its social media policies with their presentation?

KellyLux: Is sm training part of the on-boarding process at Price Chopper?

KellyLux: A. Part of that is addressed in our employee training.

KellyLux: “If someone decides to do something that is against company policy, what can you do?” – Heidi Reale

Rotolo: “Our new onboarding process teaches associates how to represent the brand, and social media is a part of that” – Heidi Reale

Mprattico: Does the use of Facebook cut down the need to advertise in local newspapers? Does that save costs?

Shaycolson: How much time between when @pricechopperny became aware of the email and C-level involvement? Did C-level contact employer?

KellyLux: How long before C-level involvement? About 3 hours per Jerry Golub. They went to that level as soon as they had the details.

Jdross: Q for @pricechopperny in #rotoloclass – What tools do you use to listen, manage and measure your social media presences?

PriceChopperNY: @jdross We use TweetDeck to manage Twitter, and are on FB all the time. Looking into new tools all the time.

KellyLux: How do you draw the line between employees repping the company & not running employee’s lives?

KellyLux: Heidi Reale admits this is a tough question to answer. Talks about not wanting to link her personal/professional FB accounts.

Gahugel: really good point from Heidi, keep personal life away from corporate while using SM. Don’t want customers seeing wrong things

Meglish: “Nothing is considered private, regardless of your privacy settings.” That’s really @pricechopperny policy?

KellyLux: @rotolo asks: is the @pricechopperny sm policy more reactive or proactive?

KellyLux: Heidi Reale says policy seeks to do both: to make employees aware of social media, and to tell them what is & is not acceptable

KellyLux: Q. Are you glad in any way that this happened? A. No, not at all, not for anyone involved.

KellyLux: Wish we had a chance to address this prior to it going viral. There was a lot of misinformation out there. –Heidi Reale

Dhrosen: After this happened “security at the stores in Syracuse had to be raised” –Heidi Reale

Dhrosen: “This did not have any impact on store sales”

Dhrosen: “While we are not happy this happened, we did take away many learnings from this” –Jerry Golub, @pricechopperny COO

KellyLux: There has been blurring between professional & personal life. Also, PR & Consumer Response is becoming blurred.

PriceChopperNY: We did learn a lot, as you can see!

Jeff13164: Once something is viral, misinformation or not is irrelevant. It’s out there, people will run with it, fact or not

Jpedde: Maybe going viral gave @pricechopperny the push it needed to really look at their policies/procedures. Teachable moment for all

KellyLux: Things have been put in categories, and now they have melded (ie PR and customer relations) – Jerry Golub

KellyLux: Do u think it’s realistic to use SM in a way that u will consistently be pleased with? Via @jill_hw. Heidi Reale – probably not

KellyLux: “The behavior hasn’t changed – the way we communicate has” –Heidi Reale

D_Seidman: When did SM get so complicated?

Laurel_Moz: you’re representing your organization no matter what. I don’t get why people think they’re exempt from it online

Dhrosen: “Most of the tweets we do answer, we didn’t see the need to answer that one”

Wjkievit: SM in corp is like private school’s 365 day policy: bad behavior outside school can still affect status in school

KellyLux: We do about 1.5 million transactions per week. –Jerry Golub

KellyLux: @rotolo Are you finding SM to be useful in ways that your surveys are not?

KellyLux: Heidi Reale – FB and blogs have been very helpful in getting into people’s heads and finding out what they really think

Jill_HW: @pricechopperny believes that employees should act in co’s best interest when using personal social media accounts

D_seidman: Cool to see how a company like @pricechopperny interacts with all its customers

Jeff13164: Whether you like using SM or not, it is how it is these days. Companies need to adapt. Just the way it is.

KellyLux: @pricechopperny has 36k+ FB likes, 2,600 twitter followers, and a database of bloggers (moms, deal-seekers, health/nutrition)

Rotolo: “Social media lets us get into (customer’s) life, see how they’re using food, what they need…” –Heidi Reale @pricechopperny

Jpedde: It’s pretty great that @pricechopperny came and talked to this class today. Students are lucky to see biz in action.

PattyMayz: bashing a former employer would do more damage to your personal brand… who wants to hire a potential threat?

Sunnyshynn: It seems like Heidi doesn’t enjoy social media, she just has to use it because its part of the new social norm

Andygsuch: SO TRUE “while it’s a @pricechopperny facebook page, it’s the customers place to talk” – Heidi Reale

KellyLux: @pricechopperny is showing real examples of customer solutions and resolutions from their Price Chopper FB page.

M00c0w13: if you don’t want your company to have an issue with what you say on social media, don’t list your company on personal account.

Jill_HW: @pricechopperny thinks hard about which comments to address. Sadly think they might stay out of useful conversations.

KellyLux: Have a personality and a sense of humor. Customers r ur fans/followers 4 a reason & you need to keep them coming back for more

PattyMayz: Companies who make customers and employees happy = lots and lots of $$$

PriceChopperNY: We LOVE Social Media!!!

Jpedde: Being “real” in your social media empowers those who are your fans to be your brand ambassadors. They sell it for you.

KellyLux: It’s easy to hate on a company, and easy to pile on.” -  Jerry Golub

KellyLux: Jerry Golub asks what is the responsibility of pp in sm to no both sides of the story before we respond- as citizen journalists?

KellyLux: If you are consistently tweeting negative or false info, you won’t be creating trust & will be tuned out via @katiepunkin

Jpedde: Well hopefully now people will write about how @pricechopperny took good steps to talk about this situation. I know I will.

KellyLux: Jerry Golub asks @rotolo do you wish you would have contacted the company first before going viral?

KellyLux: @rotolo answers no – because the responsibility is not on the consumer.

PriceChopperNY: #rotoloclass is awesome, hope to join in class discussions in the future

Meglish: “Social media has leveled the playing field.” –Jerry Golub No truer words.

KellyLux: Traditional media took the story and asked our side of the story & published both.” –Heidi Reale

KellyLux: “There was not a story here until the blog was posted”

KellyLux: Was there any kind of reportable incident here? If u subscribe 2 the idea that this was 1 emp who made a mistake? Jerry Golub

Jpedde: @KellyLux Um, when a customer’s livelihood was at stake, very reportable

KellyLux: If something ‘goes viral’ that means by default that it is ‘viral-worthy’ @andrewfarah

KellyLux: Great conversation going on now regarding social media guidelines and what the parameters are, btw @pricechopperny & @rotolo

PriceChopperNY: Thanks for having us #rotoloclass!!

ElizHoltan: Great #rotoloclass with @pricechopperny. Demonstrates now more than ever that PR is a 2-way communication system, even if it’s asymmetrical.

 

Media Coverage:
MattMulcahy: @rotolo where is your class? Can we send a tv/cnycentral reporter up to grab participants and PC folks?

KellyLux: @MattMulcahy Hinds Hall 111

AlyssaHenry: @MattMulcahy Think it’s closed to media. @rotolo?

KellyLux: @Mattmulcahy they will be available after class to speak with press.

KellyLux: @AlyssaHenry The media is welcome to speak to participants after class.

PriceChopperNY: @SunnyinSyracuse No tv/news reporters, please!

KellyLux: @rotolo is available to speak to media, however @pricechopperny will not be.

Deafgeoff: Loved following @pricechopperNY’s #socialmedia discussion with @Kellylux & @rotolo in #rotoloclass – recap coming soon on www.syracuse.com

Syracusedotcom: @pricechopperny discuccses social media practices with @SyracuseU iSchool students http://ht.ly/2OZbc

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Answers to Frequent Questions

posted by Anthony Rotolo (@rotolo)

(Read the original post that started this discussion: Price Chopper Attacks Customer’s Job Over Negative Tweet)


Photo originally from The Shrewsbury Lantern

The goal of this blog is to discuss the business and social media issues made visible by the controversial actions taken by Price Chopper against a customer who complained about their grocery store via Twitter. Since first blogging about this story three days ago, there has been a great deal of discussion within the comments on this site and other blogs/news sites. The continuing dialogue is indeed a valuable learning experience.

The discussion has raised several additional questions over the last three days. Many have been addressed in the comments section (by me, and also in official statements by Price Chopper). In an effort to clarify, I’ve summarized some of the common questions/comments and provided answers below.

Did this really happen, or is this a social media stunt?
Unfortunately, this really happened. Price Chopper has also confirmed and apologized for the situation.

What is the intention of this blog?
This blog was created to start a discussion about the business and social media issues related to the controversial actions taken by Price Chopper against a customer who complained about their store via social media. This blog is written by an educator who studies social media in enterprise organizations. Although the author personally believes that Price Chopper’s actions were inappropriate, the goal of this blog is to include all perspectives — including those of Price Chopper — to help others approach similar situations from an informed position.

How was the blog author involved in the situation with Price Chopper?
As stated in the original article, the customer who was targeted by Price Chopper is a real-life friend of the author. Since the author studies and teaches about social media in business, the customer contacted his friend to consult on the situation as it occurred. However, all information posted by the author was confirmed with the individuals involved, and the statements made by the Price Chopper associate were reviewed in writing. This blog was not written based on the word of a friend alone.

Does the customer’s employer have a business relationship with Price Chopper?
No. The customer’s employer does not have a business relationship with Price Chopper.

Are the comments/responses from Price Chopper legit?
Responses on this site from “Heidi Reale” and “Ameerah” have been confirmed. Comments posted under those names are coming from official representatives of Price Chopper. This was verified through direct communication with Heidi Reale.

Why isn’t the email Price Chopper sent to the customer’s employer posted here?
The email was not posted here in an effort to shield the identity of the individuals involved, including the Price Chopper representative who took this unfortunate action. Price Chopper has confirmed (on this blog) that their associate did indeed contact the employer via email.

Price Chopper says this was the fault of a single, unauthorized employee…
Heidi Reale, on behalf of Price Chopper, stated (on this blog) that their associate was not authorized to speak for the company or to contact the customer’s employer. Price Chopper has also stated that the associate is not a member of the “Customer Insights” team that manages the @PriceChopperNY Twitter account. However, there has been no explanation of how the associate became involved, or why the Twitter team was not aware of the customer’s complaint or actions taken.

Why wasn’t anyone else at Price Chopper contacted before this story was shared online?
Price Chopper had been in contact with the customer and his employer directly. The Price Chopper associate contacted the employer from an “@pricechopper.com” email address and represented herself as a “Public Relations Specialist” at Price Chopper. She does, in fact, hold that position at the company. By the very nature of her position, the associate is authorized to speak for Price Chopper. She was very clear about the company’s position — in writing — and there was no reason to question her role as spokesperson for Price Chopper. The fact that Price Chopper corporate is not supportive of the associate’s actions in hindsight does not change the fact that she acted in an official capacity on behalf of their organization.

Are you trying to get the Price Chopper associate in trouble? Is this blog revenge?
Absolutely not. The name of the Price Chopper associate who was responsible for this action was never revealed by this blog. Price Chopper has revealed her name, and that was their decision. There is no desire to see any action taken against the individual Price Chopper associate(s) involved. 

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Additional Media Coverage of the Price Chopper Fail
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Price Chopper Attacks Customer’s Job Over Negative Tweet

posted by Anthony Rotolo (@rotolo)

Social media is relatively new to business, and we’re all still learning the rules of the road. Since these tools continue to evolve, there’s certainly going to be mistakes made along the way, and most people are willing to forgive honest misunderstandings when they occur.

But once in a while there are social media failures that defy logic and basic common sense. These types of mistakes, like the infamous Nestle Meltdown, go way beyond a rookie misstep. They demonstrate a serious lack of judgement by those who supposedly understand social media well enough to represent their company in these spaces. These epic social media failures leave customers, bloggers and competitors shaking their heads in disbelief.

Last week, Price Chopper, a grocery store chain in the Northeast, went against all established best practices of social media (and basic human decency), after they received this negative tweet from a customer.


(Note: I’ve chosen to remove the name of the twitter user, although the tweet was posted publicly. Read on and you will understand why.)

After receiving this complaint, Price Chopper’s public relations team did the unthinkable — they contacted the customer’s employer (which was mentioned in the individual’s twitter bio) requesting disciplinary action be taken against the individual for their negative post!

In an effort to protect the customer from further damage, I will not name the individual or the employer in this story. However, to be as transparent as possible, I will note that the individual Price Chopper targeted is a real-life friend. As a result, I was consulted and given a firsthand account of the situation after it unfolded.

Although Price Chopper did reply to the customer directly, they did not wait for a response before dragging the individual’s employer into the mix. In an email addressed to a seemingly random list of executives at the customer’s workplace, including the customer’s supervisor, Price Chopper labeled the individual as destructive and negative. They suggested that this individual’s distaste for their stores could jeopardize the relationship between Price Chopper and the company where the individual is employed, and they requested action be taken against the individual.

As an educator and academic who studies social media, I am surprised and intrigued by the way Price Chopper handled this situation, and I consider this a teachable moment. As a social media user and human being, I am horrified.

Millions of Twitter users worldwide understand that the ability to express personal opinions about a brand or product is one of the most powerful aspects of social media. These conversations and the information they provide are some of the biggest reasons why companies are launching their own Twitter accounts. The goal is to establish a relationship with customers that is based on trust, to learn from customer opinions (positive and negative) and realize that not every individual will be converted to your viewpoint.

Twitter users commonly list professional affiliation within their account bios, and social media can be used to great success for professional relationship building. However, this does not mean that every individual who tweets is speaking for his or her employer. Many companies are trying to grasp this new dynamic, and Price Chopper’s actions highlight the importance of developing policies that will protect employees as well as employers.

What Price Chopper did in this situation suggests a failure to understand even the most basic principles of social media. They did not address the customer’s concerns or attempt to build a relationship. Instead, they chose to carry out what appears to be a vindictive and mean-spirited attack designed to silence a detractor.

Although Price Chopper’s actions cannot be excused, I believe they should be discussed as a learning opportunity. I invite readers to comment and engage in an open dialogue about this issue…

… and I invite the people at Price Chopper to explain themselves.

In the meantime, if your employer is mentioned on your Twitter page or other public profile, I would recommend adding a statement that makes clear your account is personal and does not represent your employer’s opinions. Something like….
 

Note: This message has been posted to a personal Tumblr account. These thoughts are my own (I’m talking to you, Price Chopper), and they do not represent the views of my employer.

UPDATE: Answers to Frequent Questions