Michelle Sullivan Communications

Cooks Source’s annus horribilis: a Marley-esque warning for CEOs and Community Managers

Last month, I walked you through the firestorm surrounding Cooks Source. The editor of this food magazine had unleashed the wrath of bloggers (and those who love them) first for copyright infringement, then by mishandling the blogger she had wronged.

Time for an update.

The protest launched by the online community in support of blogger Monica Gaudio and critical of Cooks Source editor Judith Griggs not only bombarded the Cooks Source Facebook page with negative comments, making it virtually unusable, it was picked up as a story by traditional media. Cooks Source began to lose advertisers and, consequently, revenue. In an interview with a far-too-sympathetic journalist from the  Daily Hampshire Gazette, Griggs explains the impact the online campaign has had on her publication as well as on her, personally.

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of a death knell.

Cooks Source magazine closed mid November. Its Thanksgiving edition was, apparently, its last. Toronto Star/Montreal Gazette contributor Craig Silverman sums it up in his Crunks 2010 : The Year in Media Errors and Corrections piece : Error of the year? Cooks Source Magazine!

While Sarah Lacy of Techcrunch is critical of the online campaign in her « Congrats, Self-Righteous Internet Mob. You killed a magazine » blog post, Caitlan Fitzsimmons of the All Facebook blog has another take on Cooks Source’s disappearance, laying blame squarely on the shoulders of editor Griggs.

What does this dramatic saga tell CEOs and Community Managers?

Big Brother is actually Little Brothers .. and they’re watching you. Orwell warned that Big Brother would be watching. I doubt he imagined that Big Brother would in fact end up being made up of millions of Little Brothers with the power to share information and mobilize online to affect change. Corporate conduct, whether it be from a customer relations point of view, or social engagement point of view, can now be amplified — either positively or negatively — through social media. There’s no such thing as  letting a single disgruntled client go anymore because, after all, how much harm can he do? Angry clients might have complained to their immediate circle ten years ago. Today, they’re complaining to their 600 Facebook friends and Twitter followers. CEOs and Community managers must be aware that poor behaviour is of even greater consequence in a social media world.

The Internet isn’t a huge place. It’s a village. And people talk. Before the average person travelled particularly far, the village he lived in was his world. There was no television, radio or Internet to keep people indoors. Villagers would look for ways to connect with one another, whether it be on the church steps after mass or spending evenings dancing to the music of a single violin at a neighbour’s house. Everyone knew everyone else’s business. Online communities aren’t that different from those villages. Divided into niche groups, they form relatively small circles with tools at their disposal to speak to one another and to share information. CEOs and community managers need to tap into their tribes and listen to them. More than that, they need to join the tribe.

It’s wise not to lose sight of the Wisdom of crowds. James Surowiecki coined the phrase, and it is applicable to the Cooks Source scenario. The crowd not only rallied against Cooks Source’s editor Judith  Griggs, it mobilized to fact check, research, dig up other copyright infringements attributed to Cooks Source and publish a list of its advertisers. The crowd pulled its resources together to make the protest movement a reality. Had Griggs apologized sincerely and humbly, she might have quieted the opposition. Her unfortunate attitude, however, only served to fuel the fire. CEOs and community managers should not underestimate the wisdom of crowds, their ability to self-mediate and, especially, their potential for intelligent mobilisation.

You have to react to a building crisis and react quickly. Cooks Source proves that a situation can turn into a crisis within a matter of hours. CEOs and Community managers need to stay on top of their online reputation by ongoing monitoring. Setting up something as easy as a Google Alerts is a quick way to monitor your brand. More sophisticated tools like Sysomos’ Heartbeat and Radian6 comb social media platforms for you and pull together conversations into buzzgraphs and share of voice. Whichever you choose, know that the key to nipping an impending crisis in the bud is staying ahead of it. Address complaints head on, apologize when appropriate and, if Judith Griggs has taught you anything, always communicate with respect and humility. Arrogance does not go over well, and you’ll end up looking like an ass.

Know your tribe. Really know them. If you don’t already engage with the online community that is interested in your industry or market, you’re missing an opportunity to build goodwill before a crisis can happen. Become a respected member of the community and people will not only give you the benefit of the doubt, they’ll come to your defence. Nothing should please a CEO or Community Manager more than to see that the community has his back.

Cooks Source editor Judith Griggs will certainly consider 2010 as her annus horribilis. The damage she created for her brand not only through her initial mistake but through her mishandling of the online community cause her brand irreparable damage. This all sounds very ominous, but it shouldn’t. The good news for CEOs and Community Manager paying attention to the Cooks Source soap opera? They’ll take it as yet another sign that companies and brands appreciated by consumers, who treat them right, and who engage in dialogue with them, will come out as winners in the social media space. Cultivating and working hard to deserve and maintain a good reputation has never been more important as in the age of social media.

Because I’d never heard of Cooks Source two months ago. Had you? Now it has its own wikipedia page. And not for the right reasons.

Did you know: Griggs is now a verb. As in « Why’d you get an F on that essay? » « I griggs’d the professor’s doctoral thesis from her website, and I even cleaned it up for her and told her she should give me an A, but she failed me anyway. »

Let Judith Griggs be your Jacob Marley. Repent, Scrooge. Repent!

Commentaires

  1. Tweets that mention Michelle Sullivan Communications | Cooks Source’s annus horribilis: a Marley-esque warning for CEOs and Community Managers -- Topsy.com

    2010.12.14 @ 06:25

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Frantz Cator, BeSoSocial. BeSoSocial said: RT @msullivan Cooks Source’s annus horribilis: a Marley-esque warning for CEOs and Community Managers http://bit.ly/dSxkon […]

  2. 40deuce

    2010.12.14 @ 11:51

    Although we always appreciate when someone recommends our Sysomos software in a blog post, I’d hate to say it, but even our tool probably couldn’t help in that situation. =)
    Although you do make a great point, CEOs and community managers should be using some sort of tool to monitor and get an overall feel for what is going on in their community. It’s very easy to gauge the overall feel from a community by using just a few tools that are available out there (both paid and free tools) and in today’s society it’s almost imperative to do so. Things spread and spiral very quickly on the internet, but by monitoring you can hopefully see some of these problems coming and try to nip them in the bud before they get out of control.
    Another tip I would give though, is to not write condescending letters to bloggers with the power and will to publish them. =)

    Cheers,
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  3. Cory Hartlen

    2010.12.15 @ 13:27

    I’m with Sheldon on this one, the best software in the world couldn’t have helped Judith’s communication style. But listening would have been a great place to start, then she may have better understood the scale of her communities voice. Brand advocates are your little brothers and sisters in the social space and can greatly affect brand awareness, in good times and most importantly during a crisis. Thanks again for this update and the mention, I’ll be passing this on, have a great week.
    Cheers,
    Cory Hartlen, community manager, Radian6

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