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

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