Consider your audience’s response.
That’s a cardinal rule for consumer brands when developing digital content. But does the same now go for consumers aiming to critique these brands online?
In an age in which critics have become brands unto themselves, that notion is certainly an interesting one. And one of my favorite Denver restaurants provides a captivating case study.
If you’re a brunch junkie, you’ve done yourself a disservice if you haven’t been to Onefold in Denver, a quaint spot that artfully weaves comfort foods of the Asian, French and Mexican persuasions. That is to say, there’s always a line out the door and it’s highly likely you’ll be dining amidst a sea of chambray and skinny jeans.
Near as I can tell, influencers tend to run in these crowds. Onefold owner Mark Nery knows that all too well.
Nery lived through the birth of the influencer, as well as its evolution from Yelper to Instagrammer to grown-up with kids. And he’s given an earful to pretty much all of them.
To the Yelper who posted in an online review that he had to split Onefold’s breakfast burrito with his girlfriend because it was “too pricey,” Nery quipped: “Taco Bell definitely has a bomb bean burrito for like $1.29, and if you split it with your girlfriend it will only be like 30 cents each or something.”
To the Instagrammer who tagged Onefold and wrote she “would not recommend this place to friends visiting Denver,” Nery responded “Not recommending this place to your friends is a purely hypothetical situation. First you will probably need friends then second you will have to be likable enough for them to visit you in Denver.”
But Nery’s latest response may have taken the cake.
In March, a customer tagged Onefold on her personal Facebook page and wrote that a waitress had given her husband a cup of coffee with the lid improperly secured. That led to her husband spilling the coffee on himself, burning his chest and abdomen and nearly burning the couple’s child, as well.
This customer continued to say that none of Onefold’s employees assisted her husband — not even to offer a “do you need anything?” or a “sorry that happened to you”, in her recollection.
Later in the day, Onefold posted a screenshot of the woman’s Facebook post, claiming her husband squeezed the coffee so hard the lid popped off and that it’s “probably not a great parenting choice to drink coffee with your baby below.”
Shortly thereafter, Onefold upped the ante, posting surveillance video of the alleged incident. The time-stamped video seemed to show the same man pictured in the woman’s Facebook post spilling coffee, being attended to quickly by a waitress and later laughing about the incident with restaurant staff.
That led to a messy back-and-forth between the woman, the restaurant and a sea of online lookie-loos — the majority of which sided with the restaurant.
But Nery’s online responses are a bit like cronuts – they’re thriving despite breaking all the conventional rules of decency. That said, it doesn’t mean you should try to be Nery. Just because pushing back at online reviewers has gained him somewhat of a cult following doesn’t mean it will work for you.
We would never (and, I repeat, NEVER) recommend a client respond to a negative customer review the way Nery so often does. It also bears mentioning that he has resorted to name calling and vulgarity. He has seen his Yelp page temporarily suspended and has even been threatened with a defamation lawsuit in relation to one effort to critique a critic. Anything he might be gaining from his antagonism simply isn’t worth that potential risk, in our humble collective opinion.
But to Nery’s significant credit, there’s still a line out the door for Onefold’s brunch every weekend. So if nothing else, he seems to understand his audience well enough to have not driven them away with his efforts to troll those who would troll him.
And, perhaps most importantly, Nery has shown that online reviews are no longer a one-way street. Brands are more equipped than ever to track the consumer journey, and some may feel emboldened enough to use that information against a particularly noisy critic.
So the next time you think about putting a brand on blast, the same advice we give to those brands may well apply to you: Know your audience and critique at your own risk.