Facebook reviews… turns out you cannot have your cake and eat it

(UPDATE: In the wake of this blog The Shed sought to retain Morgan PR to manage this situation. It is significant that at no stage has the client asked for this blog, or critical comments we made on social media,  to be removed.)

There is an interesting social media car crash spinning in the carriageway of the web traffic, with a bistro in Bath objecting rather strongly to a customer’s negative comments.

A negative review on The Shed’s Facebook page from a paying customer, which still gave the venue three stars (the average is three-and-a-half stars based on 46 reviews) prompted an astonishing foul-mouthed response from the venue.

You can see the screengrab right where Helen Forsyth, a sales consultant from Bath had coffee there on Friday, but was clearly a little worried about the cakes…

“The cakes looked amazing and I wanted to try every single one BUT the cakes were on very open display with every customer essentially leaning over them to order. So all the cakes were getting breathed on (or worse) by every single passing person, plus the staff. Which is a crying shame as they really did look extremely good. And at £3 per standard sized brownie, they really do need to be good too! But due to the above, we just had coffee.”

Fair enough? Sure it is going to smart if you own the joint, but does it warrant this nuclear response to a mosquito bite? A response that singlehandedly guaranteed that this tale would go viral.

The Shed responded:

“Please don’t come back – your feedback is b****cks ! You would need to be a midget with a neck of a giraffe to be able to breath (sic) over them – stupid woman!”

(Those expletive undermining stars are ours by the way, they actually swore at paying customer on Facebook!).

And so it began… News crews are probably coming back from the floods in Somerset to cover this debacle and while many people will hear of The Shed, how many who are local will take a view on whether to visit?

Twitter, far more than Facebook, is where this story is unfolding with @theshedbath seemingly responding to every tweet with gusto.

At Morgan PR we often have businesses come to us when negative reviews or online material has been published and the first thing we try to do is quote George Bernard Shaw.

“Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”

That usually gives them pause to think and honestly that is what you need to do if you get negative reviews.

How differently would it have gone if The Shed had thanked Helen for her feedback and mentioned displaying cakes in this way meets with food safety standards (everyone does it so it surely must?).

There is a trend for venues to go postal against negative reviewers and they nearly always make the headlines. Who is left the most dirty by this depends on the content of the negative review – if the response is proportionate it tends to come out in favour of the venue. However if as in this case when it seems somewhat over the top…

Incidentally, it is worth examining the law surrounding defamation as The Shed is making all sorts of threats relating to what is calls “libellous/defamatory comments”.

The Defamation Act 2013 came into force at the start of the year and has substantially changed the defences to claims of libel, chief among them is the ‘Requirement of Serious Harm’ – which would need The Shed to prove serious financial loss. Assuming such loss occurred I wonder how much would be deemed to be caused by their responses rather than the original comment?

The customers leaving a review also have the defence of ‘Truth’ if what they have said is actually true, however it may be more straightforward to rely upon

If it was an ‘honest opinion’ then they have a defence. This hefty protection replaced ‘Fair Comment’ but remains the reviewer’s friend. The defence of honest opinion will apply where the defendant can show that the following three conditions are met: 

  • That the statement complained of was a statement of opinion;
  • That an honest person could have held the opinion on the basis of any fact which existed at the time the statement complained of was published.
  • That an honest person could have held the opinion on the basis of any fact which existed at the time the statement complained of was published

So speaking as a journalist quick test based on the available facts: Yes, it is an opinion. Yes the statement is the basis of the opinion and if the cakes were on show as they are in photos on The Shed’s Facebook page, it is an honest opinion that it could be unhygienic, whether or not it actually is.

So today’s social media car wreck is tomorrow’s forgotten bookmark and it is way too early in 2014 to know if this will make the top 10 social media fails just yet… but it might!

So if you want some advice before you go nuclear at some perceived slight contact Morgan PR for some friendly, professional advice – and be prepared for us to quote George Bernard Shaw.