Don’t make your customers Gasp

I think we’d struggle to find a person in Australia right now that isn’t at least somewhat across the Gasp situation.  In an immaculate display of the power of the internet, a snarky reply by the fashion retailer to a customer complaint via email has gone viral.  Twitter’s trending #gaspfail.  Facebook friends are making pacts to boycott.  You know you’ve hit the big time when Today Tonight comes knocking on your door.

While most of the commentary expresses consumer outrage, there are a few that have been quick to question whether this is yet another sensationalist marketing ploy by a crafty PR agency.  While I can’t comment with any certainty on its authenticity, I do think this may be the real deal.  Capital R, capital D. I have actually met the customer at the centre of the storm, Keara – she’s a friend of a friend.   (And not the proverbial ‘friend of a friend’ who gets wheeled out to add some weight to every urban legend, I met her recently at a Hen’s party.)

The resulting media storm might have some businesses tightening the reins on their social media activities; it was after all, the fuel that propelled this story to such dizzying heights.  But instead of ducking for cover, learn from Gasp’s mistakes, and safeguard your brand image now.


Gasp’s Massive Mistake #1 – Censoring Facebook

When the proverbial hit the fan, punters around the nation took to the retailer’s Facebook wall in droves.  The Gasp PR team was quick to respond.  By deleting all posts relating to the controversy.  Furious fans continued to post, their outrage fueled.  At one point, I feared the poor soul responsible for deleting the posts was at risk of RSI.  By about 4pm in the afternoon, the Gasp Facebook page was removed completely.

Do not delete negative feedback left on Facebook.   Censoring posts so that only the good stuff shines through is akin to hanging up on every customer that calls to complain.  Use the opportunity to right your wrong.  It’s completely acceptable to let comments sit for a few hours while you formulate your response.  It’s even ok to disable comments for awhile if you’re having a hard time keeping up.  Just make sure you’re being transparent.  A simple ‘Hey folks, thanks for visiting our page.  Due to the high traffic, we’ve temporarily disabled comments.  We’ll be back with a statement on the situation soon’ ought to do the trick.


Gasp’s Massive Mistake #2 – Not maintaining a presence on all social channels

I’m a firm believer that all companies should, at the very least, have active listening activities across all social media networks.  Even if you’re not ready to start tweeting, set up a passive account and keep your ears to the ground by running a search on your brand daily, if you can.  While Gasp has a Facebook page, they don’t have a presence on Twitter, where debate raged a good few hours before it hit the mainstream news outlets.  At the very least, it will allow you to snag your brand’s IP, so that should things turn sour an opportunistic foe can’t open an account and add to the fire.  We all remember what happened to BP on Twitter during the recent oil spill.  There’s already a @gaspstaffer stirring the pot.


Gasp’s Massive Mistake #3 – Failing to make friends

In some situations, bloggers can have more influence than the traditional news outlets.  Online viral controversies are one of those situations.  Find out who are the most influential bloggers in your industry are, and get to know them.  Retweet their stories, comment on their blog and engage with them.  They’re usually the first in the know when something breaks, and they’re more likely to ask for a statement or offer the right of reply to those that they have good relationships with.  Having the ability to present your side of the story can be invaluable in an otherwise damning situation.


Whether the brand has taken its last gasp in the Australian market is yet to be seen (pun intended).  But it’s sure to cause irreversible damage to a fashion retailer that’s already feeling the effects of overseas competition and increasingly savvy consumers.  Don’t make the same mistakes.  Learn, prepare and tread thoughtfully.

Do you have a social media disaster plan in place?  If the worst was to happen, are you confident in your team’s ability to handle the negative PR?  What is your take on the current ‘Gasp Gate’, a massive customer service fail, or a desperate attempt at publicity?


Emma Mulquiney | Online Editor – MYOB