The double-edged sword of Social Media
For those who don’t know me, here’s a bit of backstory.
I love eating out. It’s probably one of the greatest joys I have in life, that and taking photos and documenting food. I probably eat out way more often than I should and if I ever decided to sit down and work out how much I spend in a month on dining, well, let’s not pull at that thread!
When I was younger, I worked in customer service. I’m one of those weird people that actually get a kick out of helping people, so it suited me great. My first job was in the fresh produce section of a supermarket chain back in Australia when I was still at school to earn some extra pocket money. When I started university I became a call centre operator, working on both outbound and inbound campaigns, followed by hospitality, waitering in 5-star restaurants, casinos and other venues. I did this for a good few years before landing a dream job as a front of house usher in Melbourne’s Arts Centre. I was studying performing arts at the time so working in this environment with other likeminded individuals, seeing the shows that came in and serving customers that valued the arts was a fantastic experience.
I was at the Arts Centre for approximately 3-4 years before landing a full-time job with Opera Australia in their chorus. After a few years performing with them at the Sydney Opera House I travelled to the UK where I studied a little before going freelance. Whilst in this transition, I went back into customer service at the Apollo Theatre in the West End and then the Royal Opera House as an Usher Manager where I remained until my opera work took over.
You’re probably wondering why am I telling you all this seeing as this is supposed to be a food blog? Well, I guess it comes down to context. I also want to establish my credentials so you understand where I’m coming from. To this day I’ve had over 15 years customer service training and experience. To sum it up, having had all this training and experience means that I hold very high standards when it comes to service. This is not to say I expect 5-star treatment at every place I visit, but I am passionate about it and do notice when service isn’t where it should be.
Backstory over. Now back to the topic at hand: Social Media.
I think social media platforms, especially the likes of Instagram, have done absolute wonders for the food and beverage industry. Businesses are able to reach vast audiences and showcase themselves online for free in ways they couldn’t have done previously. According to Wikipedia, since its launch in 2010, Instagram gained one million registered users within two months, 10 million within a year, and one billion as of May 2019. Needless to say, if your business is not using Instagram, you’re missing out on a huge market.
Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are wonderful, however they can also be a double edged sword if you’re not careful. Whilst they give your business the ability to promote and show the world the wonderful things you’re doing, they also give customers the ability to pick up and tag/comment on things that might not be so great.
The benefit of the doubt.
When I was at university, I recall sitting through a random lecture about information technology and social media. Now, I was doing a music degree, so at the time I didn’t understand how this was in any way relevant to me performing on a stage so I tuned most of it out. It’s been a while since I was at university, but years later I still remember one specific thing the lecturer said that has stayed with me: “Always give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to what you read digitally”.
What did he mean? Keep in mind this was before the days of emojis, but simply put, he meant unlike having a face to face conversation, nuance, tone and body language (among other things) aren’t obvious or even visible when it comes to reading text on a screen. Before jumping to conclusions and reading things ‘wrong’, one should always give the benefit of the doubt and not assume the worst case scenario (unless it’s blatantly obvious).
Nowadays, anybody with a mobile phone has the potential to be a reviewer so you need to always be at your best.
There’s a cafe that my partner and I have been to a number of times over the past 2 years. The food has always been great, but the service has been a bit hit and miss. In my opinion, their staff have too much of a hipster ‘too cool for school’ attitude to service. Now, as mentioned before, I grew up in Melbourne, so I know all about hipster attitude within hospitality, but the difference here is that Australians back it up with top-notch service to boot.
After having brunch there, I decided to post about our experience. Now keep in mind I’m not a food reviewer and I’ve never felt the need to overly criticise a business. If there’s something slightly negative I’ve experienced though, I’ll always try to balance it with something positive. The post went something like this:
“I have a slight love/hate relationship with [redacted]. Their food is definitely good and delicious but the staff’s attitude to service has always let it down in my opinion. They’ve always been too hipster / too cool for school! 🤓 Anyway, as I said the food has always been good. Here’s the [redacted], [redacted] and [redacted] 😋”
Within an hour I received two separate messages through Instagram and also my e-mail address from the owner asking why I “hate our service standards”?
I’m not going to go into full detail of what was said, but I apologised and explained that I never said I “hated” their service but rather used a turn of phrase to give nuance. I also provided three examples explaining why I thought their service was lacking during a number of visits to their establishment. I even said this wouldn’t stop me from returning as I genuinely enjoyed their food and liked to support independent businesses. They responded by apologising for my experiences but then made a personal attack on my behaviour and then blocked my Instagram account.
Now, I can understand that nobody likes to receive bad reviews. I’m a performing artist and have had my share of bad reviews so I get it. However, I’m not a food reviewer. I’m just a guy with a camera and an Instagram account who, in my opinion, left a fair and balanced review. If this is how a business reacts when a ‘nobody’ on Instagram posts, one can only imagine what would happen if a food reviewer from an actual tabloid came in and gave them a bad review.
At the end of the day you’re not going to please everybody, but you should at least try.
We live in a time where all it takes is a negative post from people of note or (nowadays) ‘influencers’ to result in detrimental consequences to a business. It wasn’t all that long ago that Kylie Jenner posted to say she no longer used the Snapchat app because she wasn’t happy at the app’s redesign. That post alone wiped $1.3 billion from Snapchat’s market value. This is an extreme example but I think you get my point.
My advice to my clients on social media is simple: Be present, be relevant and engage. Social media has made the world slightly narcissistic so people will notice the little things like your comments to their posts, retweets and “likes/loves”. A simple sentence and thank you in reply to a positive or negative review on sites like TripAdvisor or Google can make customers feel valued and/or make them feel like their concerns are being listened to. As a good friend once told me, “The business belongs to the customers. Without them, we’re nothing!”
Words to live by.