The Half-Life of a Social Media Meltdown

When I spoke in San Diego on Social Media Trolls, Crisis and Blunders, the most important aspect of the entire speech was the unnecessary fear that’s perpetuated through social media whenever a company slips up.

The half-life of a social media meltdown is directly related to how quickly the next company slips up.

And that’s happening every few minutes now. All the buzz this week is the post on Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale, Az. Now… before you go and read that post, just read through this post before moving on.

I was lucky enough (or unlucky enough) to work on the tech side of the restaurant industry a few years ago. Margins were tight, employee turnover was ridiculous, customers were rude, and the hours and pressures on restauranteurs were beyond reproach. I won’t ever open my own food-related company… ever. I have friends in the industry today and it’s truly a business that you have to love because there’s not too many other benefits.

amys-bakery-company

So, imagine you’ve finally started your dream and built your bistro. Imagine now that you’re struggling to keep your restaurant afloat and an opportunity comes by to get some public attention through a reality television show.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well… since the reality television show is a multi-million dollar enterprise in an of itself, there’s quite a bit. The job of Gordon Ramsey isn’t to take a restaurant and fine-tune it on his show. Viewers have come to appreciate the fact that he’s both rude and arrogant… that’s entertainment. And the purpose of the show is to ensure the restaurant is depicted in the worst possible light so that Mr. Ramsey can walk away looking like a champion.

It’s called Kitchen Nightmares, folks. And dare I say they’re loving the implosion… there’s a video of the episode on their home page.

That’s not an absolute criticism of Mr. Ramsey. I watch the show and, when he nails it, he nails it. But he’s still an entertainer/chef/businessman. The owners should have known what they were getting into. In this case, the show didn’t have a happy ending, Ramsey walked away from the restaurant, and the world responded through social media by attacking owners Samy and Amy Bouzaglo via Facebook.

UPDATE: For a great show on how reality television works, watch this incredible Charlie Brooker show:

And Amy Boozaglo responded (now read the Buzzfeed). It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it’s downright ugly.

That said, it’s not unwarranted. Amy’s Bakery Company isn’t a national chain, it’s a struggling bistro in Scottsdale, Arizona. The people attacking Amy’s Bakery Company haven’t eaten there, weren’t going to eat there, and would have never even known it existed until the episode on television.

Let the Fear-Mongering Begin

The next phase of a social media meltdown, of course, is for the social media pundits to all open their blogs and begin tap, tap, tapping away at how they would have rescued this company from pure demise and how terrible the owners were for defending themselves on social media the way they did. Sure… they didn’t do it well. But I can’t blame them. Imagine you were in their shoes, your life’s work was depicted as a nightmare on national television, and you were left with the legions of trolls on Reddit, Yelp and Facebook defacing your company.

I’d be pissed too. And I’d respond as well.

So What Did We Learn

The restaurant netted national attention, about 50k+ followers on Facebook, and – I can’t confirm this – but I’m sure they’re dining room is now full. Their website is so busy that it’s crashed. And of all the folks making reservations in Scottsdale to eat at ‘that place on Kitchen Nightmares’, I’m pretty sure that some of them are going to go home and say… ‘Wow, that was pretty good’!

And so goes the half-life of the social media meltdown. Far from the howls and screams of the social media pundits, you’ll find that the episode was nothing more than a fart in the wind. Sure, it smelled bad for a few minutes, but it will be okay soon.

Don’t believe the social media hype, folks. Every company can recover. And my prediction is that Amy’s Baking Company will rebound quite nicely.

9 Comments

  1. 1

    Internet scandals are normally like flash paper — they dissipate as quickly as they ignite. But it’s all in how you handle it. Amy’s Baking Company’s self-inflicted epic FAIL was assured when they responded to their critics with self-righteous sanctimony, schoolyard braggadocio, belligerent posturing, and — worst of all — low-brow personal attacks.

    The Bouzaglos had an opportunity to get public opinion on their side, but they blew it. They could have gotten over themselves just a little and responded to their critics with a mix of grace, humility and self-deprecating humor. Instead, their apoplectic, poorly-composed posts guaranteed a result like mixing hypergolic liquids in a rocket engine.

    By contrast, look at how that young newscaster handled his firing last month at a North Dakota TV station, following his live-mic F-bomb as he went on the air for the first (and last) time. Afterwards, he didn’t try to blame anyone but himself, he had no malice toward the station for firing him, and he humbly acknowledged his epic FAIL and laughed at himself for it.

    As a result, the public viewed him as a young, likable guy who made an honest flub. More people were upset over his firing than over his on-air profanity.

    That guy will rebound and do fine.

    But Amy’s Baking Company? I’m not so sure about that. They’ll probably enjoy a brief uptick in business from curiosity-seekers. Some of those folks might even try to goad the owners into a confrontation or getting kicked out. But it’s doubtful they’ll see a lot of repeat business if their food product is mediocre and overpriced, and they offer service with a snarl.

    But the biggest indicator against their future success is that the toxic, dysfunctional behavior they exhibit toward critics and employees likely spills over to their dealings with suppliers, bankers, and the surrounding community — in short, anyone and everyone who has a hand in keeping that business afloat.

    • 2

      My point is absolutely not to excuse their behavior. I’m only arguing the lasting impact it will have on their business. My prediction is that business will be amazing… for a while. —
      Sent from Mailbox for iPhone

      • 3

        I think you’re both right, Douglas. Business will pick up for a while, but Facebook Likes and website hits don’t mean much for long-term business in a situation like this. Could they spin this into something positive later down the road? Absolutely. If this turns out to be genuine, will their current business prosper? Probably not without a major rebranding.

        Now, they are claiming that they were hacked; so if that was the case, and they’re actually very gracious hosts, this could turn out very well for them.

  2. 4

    Business isn’t picking up at all. They’re temporarily closed.

    They have been getting horrible reviews on Yelp for the past 2 years for verbally abusing and kicking out customers who complained when they got bad food or very slow service.

    They arrogantly contacted Ramseys show so he could ‘tell the world how good their food is.’ I think they thought he would wind up fawning over them.

    Did you watch the episode, at least the first five minutes? These are not two poor restaurant owners, they are just pure and simple nuts.

  3. 5

    Thing is, the reason this all blew up in the first place is because both food and service were terrible. This isn’t a social media bushfire, this is a company that doesn’t deliver a quality product. Instead of working on what matters they called in Ramsay so he could get the critics off their back. It was both supremely arrogant and manipulating.

    This wasn’t somehow started by social media trolls. This was started by the owners. My prediction is that your prediction of recovery isn’t going to work out. 🙂

  4. 6

    As some of the other comments have noted, if you had actually watched the episode, you would recognize that Amy and Sammy Bouzaglo are not the victims in the situation. Rather, it’s the customers and staff who have been treated poorly. Serving frozen food marketed as fresh at a higher price point? Bad business. Harassing customers both verbally and physically for complaining or sending food back? Bad business. Taking employee tips without informing the customers? Bad business. And the owners’ responses to complaints and poor reviews speak for themselves. They’ve also been stealing photos from other restaurants and posting them on their Facebook and website as their own food. That is clearly theft of intellectual property. Many of the businesses they’ve stolen photos from have since posted on their Facebook requesting that the images be removed. Even the PR firm they hired stated in an interview that the business was not salvageable and that they would be better off shutting down now and cutting their losses.

    I don’t see a way for them to come back from this. The bad publicity that came from the KN episode was only the tip of the iceberg. The high number of Facebook followers, and subsequently the number of reservations booked for tomorrow’s reopening event are primarily people who are expecting the trainwreck to get even messier. There’s even a change.org petition circulating to get the Dept. of Labor to investigate the company for confiscating employee tips. The attention also got them more notoriety for past infractions: Amy Bouzaglo was convicted of identity theft years ago when she tried to open a line of credit with someone’s SSN.

    My expectation is that they are going to stay open until they’re forced to file for bankruptcy. They are too stubborn to close due to the bad press, but between what they’re paying the PR firm and the number of lawsuits they’re supposedly filing against the internet trolls, the money they have is not going to last long.

    • 7

      @facebook-769091638:disqus I watched the entire episode recently… it appears to be a trainwreck (as per the “Kitchen Nightmares” theme of the show), but you’re jumping on the bandwagon just as everyone else has taking the “Reality TV” episode as absolute evidence. A key point of my response is that the show is only evidence of great editing. The irony is that Ramsey opened the show talking highly of their baked goods (they’re a bakery) and the kitchen cleanliness.

      I’m not condoning their behavior, nor their response. My point is that we don’t have a week’s worth of film to review that led up to the sections that were edited and spliced together to exaggerate this situation. I think it’s unfortunate that so many people are cheering for the demise of these people. It’s as sad, if not more sad, than these peoples’ treatment of others in the episode. As I said in the post, if I had pumped my life savings of over a million dollars and my company was going down in a ball of fire, I’m not sure I’d be responding well, either.

  5. 8

    This is the first article I’ve read that is sympathetic, or at least
    objective, regarding Amy’s Baking. As a imgurian (reddit cousin), yelper and fb follower of Amy’s Baking, I would absolutely say that those likes
    were all part of a social “transaction.” For example, I “like” your facebook in hopes of receiving more insane rants that are entertaining, and you get to infiltrate my news feed. Once they are “liked” they can say whatever they want and I’ll all ears (eyes in this case) until I grow bored of them. They could take this trainwreck and turn it into gold, but will they? Very unlikely. Through horrible behavior, they have gained over 50k facebook likes in just a few short days. When I liked them, they were in the 5-10k range. This has given them an opportunity to become a mouth piece of comedy (of feigned wickedness- just pick a target and wail) which could easily turn into a catalyst to bolster online sales. Ben & Jerry make ice cream to honor people, i.e. Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream. They could make desserts of ridicule or silly new menu items and post the pictures. “Ann Coulter is a Mean Taco Salad.” Stuff like that would keep me watching, but you need to keep us entertained because we forget quickly. I frequently forget what show I am watching during the commercials. An internet trainwreck isn’t a pit, it’s a ladder. 😉

    • 9

      Update: Likes: 96,231, and counting, 10 new since I began writing this update.

      All horrible things removed from wall except this post from October: “We like to call them the ‘Camel Toe Mafia’ just a bunch Pussies hiding behind a computer screen. Or working for YELP”

      Looks like my dream of a new active comedic internet villain has ended just as abruptly as it began. Time to unlike them and go crawling back to Colonel Meow. MEOW!

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